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Workplace Engagement Is Getting Personal

A leading expert on employee engagement discusses the rapidly evolving relationship between employer and employee.

Employee engagement — loosely defined as the emotional commitment a worker has towards their employer — is low in the United States, hovering at just 36 percent. Worse, 13 percent of employees are what’s known as “actively disengaged” and likely to spread their discontent to coworkers.

Chester Elton has been speaking and writing on the subject of employee engagement for decades. A business motivational speaker and co-author of bestselling books like “All In,” and “Leading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results,” Elton discusses the new reality of employee engagement.

Chester Elton

Motivational Speaker and Co-Author, “All In” & “Leading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results,”

What is the value of employee engagement?

With employee engagement, you have a better attraction for talent, you have less turnover, and more productivity. However, workplace engagement has been in steady decline for 20 years. Even though this information has been out there for forever, I’m shocked by how few companies really embrace it and can execute it.

What’s challenging that engagement?

The employer-employee compact is broken. In my generation, if you had four or five jobs, it was a bad sign. Now, nobody cares that you have only been at a company for a year before moving on. Work is so fluid. I have no doubt that my kids will have 15 different jobs at least.

What needs to change?

So many companies make a lot of short-term decisions, and it tends to erode what they’re trying to do. What are your aspirations as a company? You want to treat your employees well; you want to provide a great service for your community. But then your ambitions get in the way. To hit the quarterly numbers, you suddenly have to lay off 10 percent of your employees — that destroys trust and engagement.

How did the pandemic impact employee engagement?

There’s a massive shift to personal engagement happening very quickly because of ”the Great Resignation.” All of a sudden, there’s an incredible shortage of employees. A company has to be much smarter in their flexibility, and say they are not going to equate hours worked with productivity. It’s time to equate productivity with productivity.

What steps can companies take to improve employee engagement?

Today, there’s only one characteristic leaders and companies need to have: empathy. If you don’t have this, it’s game over.

The way you communicate with your employees has to be ridiculously positive because everything else that they get through their phone is ridiculously negative. Communication within the company that’s uplifting, engaging, and positive — that’s a big thing. Something else companies have to do in terms of technology is shut it down. What I mean by that is you can’t be asking your staff to do stuff after hours and on the weekends. The brain needs a break.

Where does employee feedback fit in?

The trick with feedback is that you have to prove that you did something with it. The feedback loop has to go both ways. It’s not enough to make the changes — you have to tell everybody the changes that were made.

Only one in 10 employees feel safe talking about anxiety, and yet 75 percent of millennials and Gen Z have said they’ve left a job recently due to a mental health episode. Why do they leave? Because it’s not safe to talk about.

One of the best ways to deal with that is empathy, but it’s also gratitude. Leaders who lead with gratitude and use it to tamp down anxiety get phenomenal results, and when people are happy at work, they are 150 percent more likely to be happy in their personal lives.

The future of employee engagement and great companies is gratitude. It’s a better way to lead, and it’s a better way to live.

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