Over the past 3 months, I’ve written numerous posts on employee engagement, and like me, you may be wondering: What else is possibly left to discuss? While the answer is “a great deal,” I’d like to wrap up our look into Gallup data on employee engagement with one final viewpoint: Generations.
If you were to visit one of my classrooms where the topics were coaching or managing employee performance over the past few years, you’d have thought the Millennial generation was going to be our undoing. Now, I don’t tolerate bashing of any generation, but we tend to encourage discussion and discovery about the youngest generation in our workplace because they’re the least known and most feared (and there are so many of them!). If you’re reading this Millennials, please hear me! Your slightly older and certainly wiser counterparts don’t necessarily dislike you, but they may fear you a little. Or a lot. And if my observations are correct, some are even envious. But you’re not off the hook! Many of you Millennials have a lot to learn from those of us who have been in the workforce a lot longer than you…and we have a lot to learn from you, too!
Back to the engagement topic, though. Gallup, has defined for us what an actively engaged employee is, “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” Not engaged employees are those who are emotionally checked out. They go through the motions, but their connection to the organization is faint. Actively disengaged employees are more than just “unhappy” at work. These employees undermine the organization and those around them.
The majority of Americans are not engaged (51%) or actively disengaged (17.5%), and thankfully, actively engaged (31.5%) figures remain steadily on the rise in recent years! But I’m interested to see which generation is the least engaged and which is most. Based on what I’ve heard in the classroom and seen play out in organizations I work closely with, it could be reasonably assumed that Millennials are the least engaged of all. They’re the least loyal, the most aloof, the most “just on their phones,” the ones who are “all about me.” According to older Gallup figures from 2013, that assumption is completely untrue.
Traditionalists have the highest engagement – but they make up less than 4% of the workforce today. The Millennials have a spread very similar to the national average, higher on the positive side! It’s the Boomers and Generation Xers who are less engaged. Not only are we less engaged, we’re the MOST actively disengaged. Boomers, you’re the ones we should be concerned about engaging. Maybe you’re the ones we need to harness – better. The key to engaging Boomers and Xers is to align their work and help them feel connected to the organization’s mission and values.
Interestingly, engagement is typically synonymous with retention. But with Millennials, this is less and less true. From a 2013 Gallup report,
“Despite their higher engagement levels, they are particularly prone to job hopping. Millennials are the most likely of all generations to say they will leave their company in the next 12 months if the job market improves. To increase retention among Millennials, [organizations] need to emphasize engagement and provide plenty of opportunities to learn and grow. While nearly half of actively disengaged Millennials want to find new jobs, only 17% of engaged ones do.”
While I think that the numbers are interesting, I honestly don’t think that there’s enough substance in them or what else I’ve found about generational engagement to substantiate a truly different approach to engaging people, regardless of which generation they were born into. In addition to the 4 Essentials of Engagement for Managers, provide folks development opportunities and help them connect to the big picture of your organization. To me, we all need these things, no matter how young or old-ahem-tenured we are.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of this Gallup report, State of the American Manager! It’s almost like, “Managing Employees For Dummies.” Well, that’s not entirely true – BUT – there are a few simple things that Gallup found that engaged employees said consistently of their managers. Gallup also tells us that 50% of adults have left a job to get away from their manager at some point in their career. The study says this, and I couldn’t say it better, “Having a bad manager is often a one-two punch: Employees feel miserable while at work, and that misery follows them home, compounding their stress and putting their well-being in peril.” I hope you personally haven’t had this experience, but chances are, half of you reading this have, and chances are, 50% of the employees in your organization feel or have felt this way. I’d like to help you understand how to avoid being the reason someone leaves you – not their job.
Step 1: Address Your Employees’ Strengths (not weaknesses)
Some factoids from the report:
- Employees who receive strengths feedback have 15% lower turnover rates than employees who do not receive feedback.
- People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job.
- Employees who learn to use their strengths are 7.8% more productive.
- Teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5% greater productivity.
Many organizations operate under the idea that a manager’s job is to identify what’s wrong with an employee and “fix them.” But Gallup has found that there is infinite potential in developing what is right with people versus fixing what is innately “wrong” with them.
High performing managers focus on strengths by leveraging and developing areas of strengths. A large amount of limited and functioning talent managers said that they emphasized a balance of strengths and weaknesses, while more limited talent managers focused on weaknesses alone. I understand that the Gallup terms may have jumbled this message, so let me be clear: managers with high talent and engaged, high performing employees focus on strengths, and strengths alone.
Step 2: Consistently Communicate
You’ve probably heard that communication must be regular and frequent from every management and leadership course you’ve ever taken. This report shows that the frequency of communication is not the key, nor the mode, but the consistency. Specifically, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them. Those managers who maintain daily contact using a combination of communication modes (in person, phone, email, text) have the highest engaged employees, but engagement rests largely on consistency alone. Consider this: if you have a meeting scheduled every Tuesday at 2:00 with your boss, and it is cancelled 25% of the time, or even 50%, what does that say to you? Or you’re told by your boss that they’ll call you (perhaps at your request, to discuss a specific project), and that call doesn’t occur – how do those irregularities affect your assessment of how your boss values you? I’m sure that your boss – and you – can justify the times that another call or another meeting took precedence over a standing meeting. But the effect of having regular meetings far outweighs the cancellation of them. Unless you like losing your top talent.
Step 3: Don an Authentic and Approachable Attitude
I’m a huge fan of authenticity. I like being myself. I like surrounding myself with people who aren’t fake. I delight in getting to know people (I know, my extroversion is showing…) I believe that real relationships can only occur when you’re your true self. Even at work, even when you’re the boss. I’m not saying that you have to share everything with your employees, but be a human! Share bits of your life with them, and encourage them to do the same. What are their hobbies, outside of work? If they have a family, ask about them periodically! You might find that you – gasp – actually like your employees! There’s a different level of trust developed when you’re real with people, and the Gallup study shows a correlation between people who answered that they felt that they could safely talk with their boss about non-work matters and those who answered that they felt they could ask their boss anything. Wouldn’t you rather your employees come to you with the questions they have, regardless of what the topic is? Rumor control, change management, quality control, priority of work, so many questions either aren’t asked or are asked of other people, but they could be asked of you. Be real with your people. You all deserve it.
Step 4: Proactively Provide Performance Coaching
For the most part, we have managing employee performance all wrong. There are a few organizations across the country, a handful of cities in Texas, starting to get things right. But even in well-designed performance management systems, individual managers can still mess things up. Employees whose managers help them set work priorities and goals are more actively engaged (though only 12% report their managers do), and employees whose managers don’t set these are most likely actively disengaged. The basics of performance coaching include clarity of expectations, understanding the employee’s role and how that fits into and aligns with the team and the larger organization, and frequent updates about priorities and progress (not just when HR requires a tool to be completed). So, regardless of what your organization mandated performance management system is, give your employees more. Have consistent, authentic coaching conversations about your employee’s strengths. It’s really that simple.
As we began looking at last week, according to Gallup’s State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report, there are 5 characteristics of a great manager:
Great managers possess a rare combination of five talents. They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company.” Gallup’s definition of a manager is “someone who is responsible for leading a team toward common objectives.
Statistically – and logically – engaged managers have more engaged employees. If you’ll recall from a previous blog on employee engagement, ultimately, female Baby Boomer managers with high school diplomas who live in Montana, in their first six months of work have the highest engagement in America! Furthermore, female employees working for female managers have the highest overall engagement (35%), while male employees who work for male managers have the lowest engagement (25%). Again, women are more engaged at work, and women are more engaged when they work for women!
Now, this is not a post about feminism or leaning in or girl power, but we do have to ask ourselves: if we desire employee engagement, which we all do, for many reasons, and it is proven that women managers cause greater engagement, why is there only 13% of women in top leadership roles in local government, the same percentage for 30 years!? Yes, you heard that correctly. The same percentage – 13 percent – of females in top local government leadership roles has not changed in 30 years.
We have an opportunity here. I’m not suggesting “reverse discrimination” by saying we should select more females than males just to change this number. According to the report that claims the 13 percent issue, there are larger pools of female talent in mid-level management positions to develop and select from (yet still far fewer than males). So I implore you to take a look at your applicant pool better the next time you’re hiring or promoting a manager. Are we passing by a great opportunity to blow the roof off our organizations’ engagement by passing by females for leadership roles? If so, why? Is there a cultural bias toward having males as managers? Perhaps. Is there some other reason that we don’t see more women step up and not even get considered for the top leadership roles? Why are women less prevalent in leadership if they are statistically more effective?
The issue was recently brought to light by an article in ICMA’s PM Magazine and is being explored in an ongoing series of blogs by the Emerging Local Government Leaders network in their #13percent initiative, which looks at how we can actually cause change in the unfortunate low percentages. Remember, women managers have greater engagement, so having fewer of them won’t fix the engagement problem.
I’ve had the benefit of working for four incredible female managers so far in my local government career. I’ve worked for more managers, but these four women were all exactly what I needed them to be so that I could grow, learn, and thrive in my position and career. These four did not hold the top positions in our organizations, but they could very well have. They motivated me, they built trusting and authentic relationships with me, they lived according to their own expectations and held our team accountable, and they were bold and guided our team through adversity, to success. Cindy, Kelly, Debi, and Krisa – thank you.
Employee engagement has an incredible impact on your organization – it can look like great customer service, high performing employee retention, a trust-filled environment, efficiencies and innovations at every turn, or it can be the complete opposite of those things. According to a Gallup study, managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement! Likely, if you’ve been following my blog series on employee engagement, you’ve thought about your employees, what they can do, and maybe what they should do. But now, I want you to take a look at yourself, managers and supervisors. And even more so, those of you at the highest level in the organization. We need to look at who we choose to be our managers. This is the tipping point in employee engagement.
In one of our live class presentations, I found a list detailing what an ideal boss/manager/leader is. An ideal boss is pleasant, approachable, understanding, caring, serves as an adviser and supporter, is flexible and open-minded, respects, values and appreciates employees, and has good management skills. If you’re like me, this resonates with you! Who wouldn’t want this? We all deserve to be valued, supported, and even cared for. In my experience, employees thrive in this type of environment! Now, it has to be balanced with boundaries and some structure. So I’ll pair this with more from Gallup. According to Gallup, a manager with better employee engagement beneath them is able to individualize, focus on each person’s needs and strengths, boldly review his or her team members on a regular (daily) basis, rally people around a cause, align team members with the organization’s mission, and execute efficient processes.
But here’s the kicker. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, shares a scary fact, “Authentic management talent is rare. Gallup’s research shows that just one in 10 have the natural, God-given talent to manage a team of people. They know how to motivate every individual on their team, boldly review performance, build relationships, overcome adversity and make decisions based on productivity — not politics. A manager with little talent for the job will deal with workplace problems through manipulation and unhelpful office politics. Gallup’s research has also found that another two in 10 people have some characteristics of functioning managerial talent and can perform at a high level if their company coaches and supports them.”
What I get from that is, we have 30% of our leadership who has or can have what it takes to be a great manager. I’m not – and Gallup isn’t – saying that the remaining 70% aren’t great people or great employees. But just because they were an expert in their field, does that mean we should make them a manager? As Ron Holifield says (loosely), and this is just one example, “Why do we make our top Engineers our Public Works Directors and expect them to be great people managers? They should stay Chief Line Drawers. That is what they’re great at.” So what are we to do? Who are we to recruit, assess, and develop? First, we need to understand what a good manager is.
According to Gallup’s State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report, there are 5 characteristics of a great manager, “Great managers possess a rare combination of five talents. They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships, and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company.”
We’ll continue to delve into this report in the coming weeks and see what makes a great manager. In the meantime, check yourself. Do an informal self-assessment or even ask your subordinates! How do you measure up to the characteristics mentioned above? Do you have the balance of providing both care and boundaries? Are you skilled at managing both people and processes? And remember, employee engagement hinges on you! No pressure…