I had a conversation with a woman named Tina on the airplane recently. She told me that she has been working for her company for 30 years. They are about to go through their third restructuring in 5 years and while she’s given her heart and soul to the company she isn’t seeing a return on that investment. They treat her like a cog. They don’t meet the loyalty she’s shown them. They don’t take the time to know her strengths. So after years of loyal, 12-hour-a-day service, she has a new approach – do the minimum to do a good job because they don’t deserve her heart and soul. “There is no humanness in my work anymore. I will wait until the day they offer me a severance like so many others. They tell me it’s not personal. So I will try hard to no longer bring my full person to work.”
Much of the corporate world has created powerful systems that run everything. This has amazing benefits. Our payroll is automated. The earnings are forecast. We have employee ID numbers and badges that grant instant access to benefits and facilities. However, statistics aren’t showing people feeling more engaged because of all this automation. In fact less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014 (Source: Gallup).
A lot of us have begun to feel like cogs.
For some work may feel disconnected, lonely or frustrating – despite systems put in place to make things better. Many of us end up coming to the conclusion that the systems aren’t there to serve us, but to serve the corporation. And that feels bad. We don’t feel seen. We don’t feel engaged. It doesn’t feel human.
So what can we do?
Tackling employee engagement at the organizational level isn’t easy, as discussed in this HBR post “Why Companies Are So Bad at Treating Employees Like People”. Each new, well-intended initiative has unintended consequences that can swing a pendulum in unexpected ways.
But there is hope.
“All kinds of evils are excused with the insidious phrase ‘it’s not personal’. If you are a people manager the key thing to take away from this post is that everything you do as a leader IS personal.”
A good number of the team health issues I am called in to help with can be shifted by bringing back humanness.Whether you are addressing a feeling of disconnection, or getting to the root of low productivity, a new system is usually not the best first step. Instead your best bet is to take the time to see, really SEE, the people around you.
If you are a people manager, the hope is YOU. There is a lot you can do…TODAY. When we dig deeper into the stats around employee engagement there are factors that we see have tremendous power: people’s relationship with their direct manager and their belief in their leaders.
- 80% of employees dissatisfied with their direct manager are disengaged. (Source: Dale Carnegie)
- Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units. (Source: Gallup)
- In companies where both leaders and managers are perceived by employees as effective, 72% of employees are highly engaged. (Source:Towers Watson)
- Employees who feel valued by their employer are significantly more likely to report they are motivated to do their very best for their employer (93% vs. 33%). (Source: American Psychological Association)
There is a direct correlation between having a good manager and employee engagement. And companies with engaged employees outperform the competition by as much as 202%. (Source: Gallup)
All kinds of evils are excused with the insidious phrase ‘it’s not personal’. If you are a people manager the key thing to take away from this post is that everything you do as a leader IS personal. What you do likely has more impact on your employees’ work experience than anything else.
Here are three strategies that I’ve seen make a tremendous difference:
- Get to know the personal side of people you work with. Where did they grow up? What do they do in their spare time? Do they have kids? What are their names?
- Take time to see the world through your employees’ perspectives. What kind of stress are they under that is different or the same as yours? What are their priorities? How can you show them you see their perspective?
- Get to know the strengths and styles of your employees. There are all kinds of assessments – Everything DiSC, Hogan, Myers Briggs, Strengths Finder 2.0 and many more. You can invest time and money into helping people on your team understand themselves and one another better to inject a large dose of humanity into your teams. How do peoples’ styles and strengths complement one another across the team? Where is there opportunity for conflict and how could each of you work through conflict knowing one another’s styles?
For consideration: If part of our issue is the dehumanizing that comes with the efficient systems of corporate America that reduces us to cogs, what can you do to bring back a focus on humans?
As individuals form personal relationships and build trust in the workplace important dynamics (and statistics) begin to shift. Plus people just plain feel better. Because they are seen as a human, not a cog. Because they have trusted friends they look forward to seeing at work. Because they know their strengths are recognized and leveraged rather than being confined to the same task that drains their energy day after day. Because they know their boss cares about them and has their best interests at heart…even when there are difficult times.
You can start this in your work today. Make a point of taking the time to ask one additional question to someone you sometimes have conflict with to get to know them as a human a little better. Even better, keep asking questions until you land on something you two have in common so you can talk about next time. Then next week ask someone you love working with what stresses them out at work, share something that stresses you out and brainstorm how you two could make those things better.
Yes, having management buy-in to build team health helps. But as long as you have to show up this week, why not take some small steps and see what happens? And if it feels great, then talk to your boss or boss’ boss and come up with ideas on how you can spread the connected and engaged feelings that begin to emerge.
Let’s all take ownership of bringing humanness back to the workplace.
Up with humans! Down with cogs!