The Reality of Employee Engagement
According to Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends research, 78% of business leaders rate employee engagement as an issue that is “urgent or important.” Just one year later, this statistic has risen to 87%. A disengaged, unhappy employee is the last person any of us want to ask to make suggestions or resolve problems during customer service interactions. At SGEi, we utilize various methods to increase employee engagement, including creating value-based cultures.
You may be asking, how can organizational cultures be developed to increase employee engagement and enhance the effectiveness of customer service? This series will review theories of engagement, motivation, and psychological capital to address the rising numbers of employee disengagement that our clients bring to us at SGEi. First, let us discuss the reality of employee engagment.
Today, the common understanding of employee engagement includes relationships at work, personal and professional development opportunities, informal and formal feedback practices, recognition, communication with leadership, and cultural alignment. For this discussion, it should be clear that we are looking at the most fundamental factor under the umbrella of employee engagement that is often not mentioned.
When I say employee engagement, I am talking about engagement with one’s work. I am emphasizing the importance of creating an organizational environment where individuals can thrive and grow from their work. If one is not engaged and captivated by their work, the sole purpose for employment, the other factors of employee engagement will have little impact. Take away all other factors of employee engagement, and ask yourself:
- How can I be present, in the moment, and focused while working on daily tasks?
- How can I eliminate apathy toward my work, and experience more focused attention and intrinsic motivation?
- How can I apply a high-skill level to meet challenges in the workplace?
If the goal is to increase engagement, you must give focus to, and understand, the core of employee engagement—that is, engagement with one’s work.
Engagement with One’s Work
Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that meeting high challenge with high skill results in experiencing the ultimate engagement, or flow. Concentrating on difficult tasks and being able to use the necessary skills results in highly enjoyable moments, which actually occur more often in work than in leisure. Csikszentmihalyi describes the flow experience as responding to a clear set of goals with complete involvement on the task, while simultaneously experiencing an altered sense of time and reality.
Flow experiences occur in the workplace when high challenge meets high skill, immediate feedback is provided, control for the task exists, and clear goals are identified. Academic studies have found that one’s ability to experience flow is positively related to self-esteem, self-concept and perceived ability, life satisfaction, intrinsic motivation, enjoyment, psychological well-being, and a tendency to utilize active coping strategies (Ullen, Manzano, Almeida, Magnusson, Pedersen, Nakamura, Csikszentmihalyi, and Madison, 2011).
It is critical to establish a culture where employees experience engagement and happiness in their work and develop in the process of doing it. One of the best strategies for creating an engaging environment is to provide conditions that make it possible for individuals to experience flow.
Creating a Culture of Flow
- Provide clear goals and immediate feedback. Be clear with specific tasks that need to be accomplished. Keep individuals involved with tasks by providing timely information about their performance. The best-case scenario is that this feedback will come from the activity itself. Individuals will sense if they are doing well or not and provide their own objective feedback.
- Provide the appropriate challenge to match individual skill. When challenges are greater than skill level, individuals will experience states of worry, anxiety, or distress. In contrast, individuals may experience control, relaxation, or boredom when skills are greater than challenges. Increase awareness of strengths and weaknesses to make this match.
- Provide minimal distractions. Individuals responding to tasks with clear goals and immediate feedback will become deeply involved with the activity. Give them the necessary space to merge action and awareness into one task to really focus their attention.
- Provide control of the task. Individuals experience a strong sense of being in control while in flow. Allow and encourage individuals to control their own performance.
- Provide the time for flow. A common element of flow is experiencing an altered sense of time. Some individuals will feel as though time has flown by- that they lost track of time in the activity. In flow, time is experienced subjectively and adapts to the task at hand. Time may seem to speed up, slow down, or stand still.
In 2014, Gallup found that only 28.2% of employees in service roles were actively engaged compared to the national average of 31.5%. Experiencing flow provides a relief from the reality of one’s day-to-day activities. The awareness of oneself is temporarily suspended while full attention is focused on the task. Flow ultimately leads to individual and organizational development and growth. Csikszentmihalyi explains, “The happiness that follows flow is of our own making, and it leads to increasing complexity and growth.”
Now is the time to develop organizational environments that support the foundation of employee engagement, which is absorption with one’s work. SGEi accomplishes this for our clients by conducting strategic assessments, creating service cultures, and providing world-class trainers, coaches, and consultants for training delivery. However, you do not need to engage a consultancy to make the first step: start today by creating a culture of flow.