Disengaged Employees: What Are They Thinking Now?

By David Mizne

The 2014 Employee Engagement Gallup Poll is in and…drum roll please…engagement is on the rise! 31.5%, the highest since 2000. But engagement is still sorely lacking— especially among millennials.

The younger generations are less-than-enthused at the workplace. One explanation for disengaged employees could be that when people are given tasks that do not tap into their talents and strengths, that increases the likelihood that they will continue to be disengaged.  So what would the impact be if managers built relationships with their employees, listened to them, discovered their personal and professional goals, and helped them to become their greatest selves?

The numbers are in & that’s the problem

Nothing pisses-off young people more than being treated like a number. They want to be seen as whole human beings who contribute their individual gifts, not just as cogs in the machine.

Gallup (who are all about numbers) defines engaged employees as those who are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace”. But how do you get from boredom and disengagement to enjoyment and engrossment?

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Gallup’s recent statistics prompted Ryan Scott to explore Why Your Employees Still Hate Your Company. Scott offers some fine advice for managers who are experiencing the issues of poor engagement. One interesting point is around the theory of engagement itself. In one context, engagement is a precursor to marriage, which, in our inquiry, translates to commitment to an organization. Isn’t that closer to what we are going for? 

Scott is on to something when he asks managers to “consider setting ambitious goals and making sure your employees are at the heart of your philanthropy.  This is one of the keys to true, sustainable employee engagement that will yield results far beyond short-term carrots and management tricks”. It would seem that the answer to this dilemma truly is a matter of heart, and spit-fire millennials are not interested in a partial commitment from employers.

Working whole-heartedly

What would it look like for this generation to be married to their work? What is that je ne sais quoi that has them wake up every morning excited to put their nose to the grindstone another day? Millennials want to put everything they have into their work. Their hearts sing because they are living their purpose. Their minds are stimulated by challenge. And (while they may be tired) they still feel good in their bodies at the end of the day.

Fostering connectivity in the workplace is a profound key to this kind of holistic happiness. For managers with millennials on your teams, this is great news — if you can inspire creativity and innovation. If you hired well, you have a talented team of leaders with some untapped potential. But don’t make the mistake of underestimating your employees’ worth by treating them like any other asset or resource at your company.

Cultivating curiosity and generating ideas

A great place to begin is to get curious about employees and ask them direct questions:

What’s the best thing that happened to you this week, either at work or outside of it?

What is the business doing, or can be doing, to make you more successful?

These questions enrich your understanding of your employees as whole people, and showing interest in their personal goals creates rapport and builds relationships.

Millennials also crave a good challenge. Ask them to provide an idea to improve the product or service that your company offers. The best source of innovation is often found by people who already work for you. Since suggestion boxes have gone the way of the fax machine, this gives team members an opportunity to throw out ideas for improvement, no matter how big or how small.

Engaging disengaged employees

The Gallup study stated that “employee engagement levels might be rising to some degree because managers increasingly see engaging employees as a natural part of their duties. Managers are giving engagement more attention than they have in the past, potentially leading to higher engagement percentages.” So if millennials are disengaged, what does this say about management?

People of all ages can be guided, coached and mentored into being more engaged at work, but the focus cannot be on engagement. The focus has to be on the person’s holistic well-being.

Scientific evidence over the last decade in the field of Neuroplasticity shows that brains (and human beings) are built for change. No matter what their age, people can create new neural pathways and weaken old ones. Changes in behavior, environment, intellectual stimulation, physical activity, and emotional stability all play a role in these transformations and enhance people’s abilities at work. The best managers facilitate these shifts with repeated and directed attention towards the growth that they want to see in their employees.

If you have asked the right questions, you can engage with your employees in profound ways, including genuinely supporting them in their personal goals outside of work. The ongoing conversation about what they do and who they are becoming will begin the shift to a more engaged, more productive, and happier workforce.

Image Credit: Aaron Jacobs

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