Engagement - Learn to Love Your Job | Part 2: Benefits of Engagement
The Spotlight is examining engagement at work amid the new normal of remote- ready, hybrid and on-site environments. Last month, we looked at what happens when employee enthusiasm wanes, causing organizations to experience a decrease in employee engagement. In Part 2 of our series, strategies to keep employees engaged and fulfilled are explored.
Employee engagement is essential to an organization’s success, linked to job satisfaction and high morale. Engaged employees are more productive employees. More productive employees help improve the quality and value of a department or unit. All ships rise.
Yet, one of the most troubling signs of the past few years has been a reported decrease in employee engagement. According to a survey conducted by global organizational consulting firm Korn-Ferry, 44% now think about careers in terms of months, not years. Meanwhile, 82% report they would leave their jobs for ones that offered higher salaries or better benefits, while 24% think it is normal to work for an employer for less than two years. According to Gallup, only 15% of employees report being engaged in the workplace. These are troubling statistics. While the pandemic can be attributed to skewing the figures, this trend had been accelerating over the previous several years. What is the cause and how can this slide be mitigated?
To stop this trend, managers must acknowledge that more must be done to engage employees by becoming more active leaders in this arena. Engagement cannot remain an anecdotal experience.
Today, individuals want to feel a connection to something larger than themselves, with a real purpose for spending eight-plus hours a day with an organization. This must begin on Day Zero of candidate recruitment. For example, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Health is making a substantial investment in engagement to prioritize retention and make employees feel a greater connection to their jobs and the organization overall. While lifelong loyalty to a company rarely exists now, what worked 50 years ago still holds – establishing personal connections to staff members amid the larger goals of the organization. New hires are recruiting us as employers as much as we are them as potential employees. At Day Zero, from advertising positions to interviews to onboarding, new employees need to feel wanted and special. They wish to know that they are unique and valued. How can the organization help employees, as much or more than employees help the organization? This can be achieved by cheerleading for the home team, bringing a sense of greatness to the enterprise, and identifying and tapping into candidates’ aspirations. Salary is only one component. Bringing to the table value, morals, professional development, career growth, and a sense of mission is key from the start.
After employees accept the offer to join the team, the first few months should be spent assessing skills and needs. It is the ideal time to set up personal professional development plans. This gives new employees something to work toward during the first year, rather than simply taking standard in-service courses on institutional systems and processes. As the majority of resignations occur during the first year of employment, it is apparent that dissatisfaction during this time turns employees off. It may be that employers do a good job onboarding new staff, but not such a good job maintaining that enthusiasm once they are part of the team. It may be a bandwidth issue, but supervisors and managers need to ensure – through regular check-ins – that they continue to promote the organization, as well as support and cultivate employees’ personal development plans. Listen to them about their preferences – what is working and what is not? Is the workload on a steady ramp-up or is it a quick avalanche? Are the employees developing over the three, six, nine, and twelve-month initial hire period? At the six-month mark a probationary period may be passed but what does that really mean? Providing acknowledgement along with institution swag recognizes that managers are still very much engaged in employees’ progress and continued contributions.
For mid-level staff, think of engagement more like a mid-life crisis period. “Is this all there is?” frequently comes into question. Once employees have mastered fundamental tasks and can readily repeat them, what is next? Personal development plans should not be abandoned for mid-career employees. Where are they going? What is the next step? What are managers and leaders doing to advance their trajectory? Too often, it is too easy to take this cohort for granted. In today’s workforce culture, millennials are not the only group to expect advancement every two years. Trainings, certifications, and related educational opportunities are critical at this stage, allowing new learning and further engagement for employees and career growth opportunities for organizations. Encouraging these experts to join committees or attend professional organizations and conferences can be a game-changer. They now can view their field from a wider perspective. Their small office worlds suddenly expand as they realize there are many others who share the same feelings, goals, and abilities.
With more senior or long-standing staff, it is sometimes easy to assume that the need for development is not as strong. Malaise can easily set in when engagement stalls. No matter one’s age or longevity, all employees still need to feel wanted and valued. Engaging this group may be more challenging, as their trajectory may be shorter. Connecting them with newcomers in mentor-like roles is a great tool to provide value. Assigning new projects to make the most of their knowledge base is another positive resource. Positioning them as teachers or content creators showcases and validates their competencies. This group also should have professional development plans, although they may be more focused on sharing expertise rather than learning and skill mastery.
Engagement has become an essential component of managers’ job descriptions. No longer a soft skill, engagement must be considered for all employees from interview to hire and throughout the career cycle. An organization should start thinking about engagement as a pillar and invest in resources and tools for improvement across the board. Employees need to become more vocal about what they need and learn to partner with managers, i.e., their coaches, in order to develop growth programs. Plans need to be individualized and frequently revised or pivoted based on needs. Engagement is not just bi-directional. Consider it a matrix of constant feedback, refinement, and process improvement. In the end, employees, managers, the unit, the institution, and even the field of research administration will be strengthened and improved. All ships rise.
Next month: Part 3, where we discuss assessment strategies, tools to stay engaged, and what you expect from your job as part of your life.
Authored by Mark Lucas, Chief Administrative Officer, Departments of Neurobiology and Computational Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles