Engaged in All Seasons

Jack and Suzy Welch's book, The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career is an excellent, informative read from two icons in the business world. In an interview I heard the two talk about their book. It was intriguing.

The discussion focused on how employee engagement in American business is at an all-time low.  This particularly caught my attention because this is a topic that we have presented to audiences around the country for several years now. The numbers truly are alarming.

Unhappy Workers

According to Gallup's 2014 "State of the American Workplace" survey, 70 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged at work. This disengagement costs the U.S. $450 to $550 billion in lost production each year because employees are emotionally disconnected from the workplace.

Jack and Suzy discussed how the numbers of an unsatisfied workforce are dire.  They also said the impact it will have on our global economy may be staggering.  These points, I completely agree with. 

True Leadership

They also spoke eloquently about the two principles of successful leadership today, which are truth and trust.  I agree wholeheartedly.  For organizations to have impactful leadership, leaders must be truthful - truthful to themselves, their teams and the public.  This may be difficult in large, public companies or for those seeking to gain only publicity and career "advancement."  But truthfulness, defined as "no spin," will allow an organization to move quickly, earn trust and gain public support.  Truthfulness leads to trust. 

History is Our Guide

I was particularly intrigued when Mr. Welch was asked if this "new" unengaged employee phenomenon has existed for the last 40 years.  His response truly surprised me. It was "no." He said that the disengaged employee problem is a result of the 2008 recession.  He continued to explain that business has become "no fun." 

Even though the Gallup research may support Welch's view, this is where I respectfully disagree with Jack Welch. I believe that some things worth measuring are un-measurable, and some things that are measurable, don't matter!

While I do agree that the 2008 recession did create havoc both in the marketplace and in Americans' personal lives, I don't believe the challenges we face with emotionally disconnected employees are a direct result of the recession. Not this one, not the last one or not the next one.

Measuring Sustainability

Think about it. If business and business success can only be "fun" when those things that can be measured are strong and profitable, then who is to say when "tough times" come our way, life is unproductive, no fun and worth getting unengaged in?

I believe that happiness and engagement are not simply about money and the state of the economy.  There are plenty of Americans who love what they do and don't receive the big pay checks of corporate America or Wall Street, yet they are fully engaged and happy in their work.  I believe this is not a capitalism challenge; this is a human capital challenge, followed by a leadership void -- even a self-leadership void.

In order to create a truly engaged workforce, I believe it takes both strong leadership and focus on creating professional intimacy with employees, which takes truthfulness and vulnerability.  When you have a culture and work environment that fosters intimacy, having purpose and a feeling of connectedness among employees, you will increase employee engagement. As a result, employee production and organizational health will increase, regardless of the economic environment.  As a matter of fact, despite the current economic downturn, a well-respected, well-treated work force is more likely to over perform in downturns.

The Social Market Foundation and the University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy conducted a study in Britain. Researchers chose individuals at random and either showed them a 10-minute comedy clip or provided them with snacks and drinks. They then followed up with a series of questions to ensure that the “happiness shocks,” as they’re referred to in the report, actually made the subjects happy. When it was confirmed that they did, the researchers gave them tasks to measure their levels of productivity.

The experiment showed that productivity increased by an average of 12%, and reached as high as 20% above the control group. By way of comparison, Dr. Daniel Sgroi, the author of the report, noted that in regards to GDP and economic growth “rises of 3% or so are considered very large.”

The researchers also tracked how “real-world shocks,” such as mourning and family matters, affected workers. They found that there was a causal link between unhappiness and decreased productivity that had a lasting effect of about two years.

Dr. Sgroi concluded: “Having scientific support for generating happiness-productivity cycles within the workforce should … help managers to justify work-practices aimed at boosting happiness on productivity grounds.”

Like the differences between happiness and contentment, one must focus on duration -- or sustainability. Happiness ebbs and flows based on current circumstances. Contentment is a steady, consistent character that lasts once acquired. The reality is engaged employees produce more! Creating a culture of real community keeps employees engaged.

Let's start measuring what's worth measuring and not just measure the bottom line!



Tony DileonardiComment