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interview

A supported employee is an engaged employee


Rich Berens

- Corporate

- Jul 7 2014


Rich Berens

President of Root Inc.

It is common knowledge that today’s workforce struggles with engagement, but the latest Root Inc. survey1 digs deeper into the issue. Rich Berens, president of Root Inc., goes beyond the numbers and uncovers the specifics of why employees aren’t engaged and what organizational changes can be made to solve the problem.

 

How would you describe the current mindset of employees?

Times are confusing and difficult for today’s employee. With the recession, people around the world saw layoffs, a lot of belt tightening and difficulty in the workplace – which created a sense of fear and uncertainty. To some degree it made people overly cautious. When people play it safe in their job and stop taking any risks it doesn’t necessarily produce the best output or highly engaged employees.

Why should companies prioritize employee engagement? 

When an employee has a clear indication that they are merely hired to do a certain task, they will put forth a task-oriented effort, nothing more. They will not go above and beyond and when things get difficult, they will play it safe. On the other hand, an actively engaged employee doesn’t just listen to instructions, they think with you, help you respond faster, provide better ideas because they authentically care about the success of the company versus just the success of their job. Employees who know that the company cares will take risks for the greater good of the company because they are vested.

How can companies begin to tackle the problem of disengaged or discouraged employees?

The reality is people look at the leadership team to see if they authentically stand behind what the company is trying to create. If you’re missing that, you’re missing a key ingredient to ultimately engage people in a meaningful way. In today’s workforce, 20 percent of employees are actively disengaged – meaning they are actually working against your purpose – 50 percent are indifferent and 30 percent are actively engaged. Companies and leaders that show an intellectual and authentic emotional commitment – the ones that are able to tap the hearts and minds of people – will surely raise the percentage of actively engaged workers.

According to the survey, 38 percent of workers feel that they have an effective working relationship with their manager. What effect does this have on the work environment? 

Study after study shows that people don’t leave their companies, they leave their managers – meaning that the quality of managers ultimately defines an organization’s turnover. Often managers become managers because they were great individual contributors, but that doesn’t make a great manager. A great leader ultimately understands the direction of the company, connects individuals in a meaningful way, authentically listens and draws out that intellectual and emotional connection. Companies need to ask themselves if their managers are truly their chief engagement officers.

Only 22 percent of workers feel that upper management truly has their best interests at heart. How can management do a better job of supporting employees?

This figure shows us that employees don’t feel that their company is invested in their success. Companies need to acknowledge this reality. Being honest can be very disarming and can be the beginning of a powerful conversation. The next step involves starting ongoing discussions that address key issues. There are no shortcuts. It is hard work to authentically engage with employees. Above all, employees need to feel that the company truly cares – it can’t be a PR campaign because people will see through it and it wont last.

How can companies prove they are vested in their employees?

Employees need to feel that they have all that they need to do their job well and to advance in their career. Without this they will begin to wonder if the company truly cares about their success. Providing training opportunities sends a clear message: we are willing to invest in you with the hope that, in return, you will invest in us. Training builds capabilities, organizational muscle and greater engagement. While you can’t necessarily track immediate ROI, in the long term this investment creates more engaged employees. Companies who invest in their employees tend to have reduced turnover and be among the highest performing organizations. Organizations need to take a bit of a leap of faith, but the people will feel it.

 

1America’s Workforce: A revealing account of what U.S. employees really think about today’s workforce” analyzed the responses of 1,061 U.S.-based employees who work full time or part time. The survey was conducted online between December 20, 2012 and January 2, 2013.

 

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