Many leaders aiming to have positively engaged employees, may be wasting their time.
In the latest edition of Australian Human Resource Director magazine, citing the Direct Health Solutions’ 2015 Absence Management and Wellbeing Survey, it was highlighted that the average amount (per employee) that a business loses to absenteeism annually is $2,984. This figure however is probably much bigger because it doesn’t allow for the costs to business for presenteeism – when the employees turn up but aren’t performing at their best and achieving the results expected and required of them.
It’s become a bit of a truism to say that leaders need to create work environments where their employees are engaged in their work. But what does that really mean – to be engaged in their work?
In their chapter on Positive Engagement in the Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work (edited by Linley, Harrington & Garcea (2013)), Martin Stairs and Martin Galpin define engagement as the extent to which employees:
- Thrive at work
- Are committed to their employer
- Motivated to do their best for the benefit of themselves and their organisation.
These authors suggest that employees who enjoy and are ‘happy’ doing their work, are challenged to use their signature strengths at work and find meaning in their work are more likely to be engaged in a way that fulfils their definition of positive engagement.
However, how possible is this for most employees?
When Work Is Not A Calling – And It’s NOT for most!
Researchers Wrzesniewski, McCauley, Rozin, and Schwartz (1997) suggest that 70% of workers do not consider their work as a ‘calling’ (where they see their work as being fulfilling and purposeful).
We know from the research of Martin Seligman that a sense of meaning is one of the essential elements for a person to be flourishing. This suggests there is the potential that up to 70% of all workers will find it difficult to flourish and thrive at work.
How can leaders help their employees develop a sense of meaning at work – especially when the work the employees might be doing is a far cry from a ‘calling’?
There is a range of positive psychology strategies for leaders to adopt, however, one way is to have genuine conversations about a higher purpose that the organisation is trying to achieve (beyond merely the profit, growth and shareholder return motives).
However, the bull***t sensors of most employees is pretty strong.
Employees get the truth of their leaders fairly quickly. The leaders’ intentions, promises, actions and results will quickly promote them as being trustworthy or expose them as being untrustworthy when it comes to the truth about an organisational higher purpose.
Focus On People Not Just The Work
That being said, a great place to start is to help individuals explore their work in terms of who they directly impact – whether that’s others in their work team, internal clients or external clients.
This takes the focus off the actual work, and on the worker having a real and direct impact on someone other than themselves.
Research shows that people develop a stronger sense of meaning when they are doing ‘good’ things for others.
Focus On People Benefits From The Work
Taking the next step, leaders can then focus the workers not only on who they impact through the work they do, but how the work they do positively impacts those people.
What this all boils down to is the simple truth that work really is impacted on every level by relationships.
It also clearly shows the importance of trust that needs to be developed between leaders and their employees. Without trust, or where trust is at risk, the real chance of a positively engaged workforce is extremely limited.
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