Employee Engagement: How to Create an Engaged Workplace?

January 27, 20168:44 am5419 views

Most employees join companies on a positive note. But current data seems to indicate that the workplace could quickly turn this positivity into disappointment and frustration, ultimately leading to disengagement. What is worrying is that this situation is currently at epidemic proportions.

Disengagement Epidemic

Gallup’s research on the State of the Global Workplace paints a grim picture with almost 90% of employees being indifferent or disengaged. This means that out of every 10 employees that join a company, 9 of them end up being disappointed and demotivated eventually.

What went wrong? The underlying causes and conditions can be multi-faceted and varied, ranging from issues relating to the external environment, to office politics, poor leadership and changing values and expectations of a new generation, to name a few. Thus, it is small wonder why HR practitioners find it a Herculean task in slaying this proverbial hydra headed employee engagement problem.

Unfulfilled Needs

Maslow’s theory on the hierarchy of needs strives to explain the basis of human motivation. From the theory, we learn that unfulfilled needs; be it physiological, safety, social, esteem or self-actualization needs, can have adverse effects on motivation.

In certain cases, it may be possible to draw reference from the concept and apply it to the context of the workplace. For instance, a rejected promotion and criticism from supervisors could affect your self-esteem, whereas being left out of an office clique could cause a feeling of social rejection.

Further extension to this perspective, it is logical to expect employees with unfulfilled needs, owing to unfavorable treatment at workplaces will react negatively by becoming indifferent or disengaged.

As explained by social exchange theory, we are by nature reciprocating. When we feel wronged, we bear grudge, seek redress or retaliate against the wrong and when we feel ingratiated, we repay our debt. This behaviour can perhaps be best described by the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” which means “something for something”.

So, if we try to approach the engagement issue from this angle and address the unfulfilled needs of employees, we might be able to get an inch closer to the ideal solution.

See: 16 Predictions for Employee Engagement in 2016

Human Engagement

Sometimes in the midst of the deadlines and clockwise efficiency of the organization, we lose sight of the fact that we are interacting and relating to fellow human beings, with emotional needs.

This requires us to transcend our roles as a supervisor or co-worker to treat and respect others the same way, we would like ourselves to be treated by fellow human beings.

Apparently, this has not been happening too often. According to a recent Harvard Business Review survey of close to 20,000 employees around the world, it was revealed that more than 50% of them often felt disrespected at the workplace.

While closer to home, in Singapore, the 2015 National Value Assessment reveals divergence in values between employers and employees, with the former focusing on productivity and cost reduction, and the latter hoping for more respect and recognition at the workplace,

Expectedly, when there is a perception of low respect at the workplace, the human need for self-esteem will undoubtedly be unfulfilled, generating negative sentiments and responses.

Hence, it might be beneficial for employers to consider ways to fulfill employees’ need for respect at the workplace in order to set a good stage for succeeding HR employee engagement initiatives.

Thoughts to Create an Engaged Workplace

Here are three ideas on creating a more respectful and engaged workplace.  Rising trends of cultural and generational diversity adds a lot more to the value mix then previous generations.

  1. It could be important for employees to seek to understand the differences and to embrace this diversity. For example, in case of last minute notice to stay back for meeting, baby boomers may likely accept, however younger workers or the Gen-X and Gen-Y might take it as an affront compromising on their private time. Thus, compromises or alternative arrangements have to be made. However, with the advent of technology things have changed.
  2. Web conferences and live chats have made life easy for professionals to allow flexibility in meeting time according to country-specific time zones. Also companies can start from the opposite angle by identifying disrespectful behaviours and sanctioning them. These could range from menial things like spamming emails, being loud on the phone, to more sublime forms like being condescending and not pulling one’s weight. Whatever they are, supervisors and employees can jointly work the items out and start to eliminate them.
  3. Everyone should see themselves as role models for others to follow. As discussed earlier, people tend to behave reciprocatively. If you treat yourself and others with respect, chances are they will do the same to you. People shape the culture of an organization. Why not you take the first step to initiate the change that you wish to see in others, the team and the organization as a whole?

Granted, there may be some who get stuck in life’s transition, hence it is important to not feel discouraged along the journey. Besides spreading awareness and building the frameworks and processes towards a more respectful and engaged workplace, HR practitioners can add further value by becoming role models and advocates as well.

Content attribution:

Chew Han Guan contributes articles regularly for the HR community, and is currently working as a Learning Development Manager with an aerospace company. He holds Ph.D in Material Science from NUS and an MBA with distinction from the University of Bradford.

Also read: How to Solve the Employee Engagement Problem

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