Business is dog-eat-dog. It’s about the pursuit of profits above everything else — a pitiless Darwinian exercise in which the strong survive by treating their workers like medieval serfs. While few business owners would agree with this description, a recent Gallup Daily report suggests that many employees regard it as “spot on.” According to the study, only 30 percent of America’s full-time employees are happy and engaged with their work.
And the rest? They are “phoning it in.”
Sixteen percent are actively disengaged, infecting those around them with their negative attitudes and behaviors, while the remaining 51 percent are simply “not engaged.” These people do just enough to keep from getting fired — i.e., they “phone it in.”
If your response to this news is, “Why should I care? I’m running a business, not a playground,” consider these additional survey findings. “A record 54 percent of the workforce says now is a good time to find a quality job, and more than half of employees (51 percent) are searching for new jobs or watching for openings.”
If business owners and managers don’t care about the happiness of employees, it’s likely that a substantial percentage of their most talented workers will leave. That’s one reason to care. The other is that happy, engaged workers are more likely to be creative, productive and customer-centric — ready and eager to contribute to your bottom line.
How do you promote happiness and engagement? In my experience, a greater focus on the following four areas will produce the best results:
- Demonstrate that you care.
Treat employees with respect to show that you value them as human beings. Too many companies treat their workers as fungible assets that can be divested at a moment’s notice. If you truly care about employees, interact with them frequently. Show that you care about each individual. This will inspire employees, engage or re-engage them and demonstrate that they have value to the organization. If you treat your employees well, they will treat your customers well and, in turn, the customers will be happier and buy more from your company, helping to drive a cycle of success. If workers are apathetic or angry, those emotions will spill over into their customer-service efforts.
2. Offer better pay and security.
Given today’s pace of change, no company can guarantee job security. But companies can offer a greater sense of security and above-average pay to attract — and retain — the best talent. Experience has taught me that it pays to pay wages that are five to 10 percent above the market average, assuming the applicant is qualified. At the same time, you can generate a heightened sense of security among workers by stressing that “we are all in this together.” Spread the message that if everyone delivers superior products and stays one step ahead of the competition, everyone will have a good job tomorrow. It’s important that everyone understand that job security isn’t somebody else’s concern. Each employee either contributes to, or diminishes, their own job security by helping the company succeed or not. Workers must recognize that they own their individual and collective future.
3. Foster a sense of shared mission.
Millennials are famous for demanding work that helps provide meaning and purpose for their lives, but this attitude is hardly unique to that generation. The most actively engaged workers are those who are goal-driven — people who show up for work on Mondays to accomplish something of personal value, beyond collecting a paycheck. By setting tangible and inspired goals for your employees, you can create a workforce of professionals who are fanatically committed to achieving a mission that’s larger than themselves. In turn, this promotes a unified culture dedicated to delivering great products/services. If everyone shares this sense of camaraderie, then everyone will be more inspired and more energized.
4. Provide growth opportunities.
Whether it’s the opportunity to develop new skills or advance within the organization, workers must believe that the company is helping them grow their careers and better themselves as individuals. Few employees will be satisfied — much less enthusiastic — about a dead end job. But if they are convinced that your company offers a path to a more fulfilling life, they will be more likely to be loyal and engaged members of your corporate family. HR professionals have long touted the advice above, but frankly, not enough executives have listened. As the competition for skilled and talented workers intensifies, however, it’s vital for employers to expand their recruitment and retention efforts beyond pay and benefits. It’s important to put more thought and effort into “soft” strategies, including employee recognition, awards and other incentive programs that will facilitate higher levels of engagement and job satisfaction.
Originally published in Entrepreneur