Meaningful work - key to employee engagement | Daily News


Leading your flock into greener pastures – Part 16

Meaningful work - key to employee engagement

An “engaged employee” is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about his work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests. An engaged employee has a positive attitude towards the organization and its values. An organization with “high” employee engagement might therefore be expected to outperform those with “low” employee engagement.

As leader of your team, you have the biggest impact on the extent to which your team members are engaged in contributing to the success of the overall organisation.

Engaging people needs patience

Businesses and other organisations are always on the lookout for ways of improving their performance, and employee engagement is increasingly seen as one such method. Many descriptions of employee engagement exist, but almost all recognise that the overall aim of employee engagement is as follows:

To encourage employees to contribute all that they are capable of contributing to the success of their organisation: to put all the skills, knowledge, expertise, ability to think and effort that is at their disposal into their work and into working with their colleagues, or put another way togo the extra mile.

The people who report to you have control over whether they apply all their knowledge, skills and so on in doing their work. Almost all employees want to do their job well and are at least compliant: they put enough effort into their job to achieve a reasonable level of performance, one that’s more than good enough to avoid them being disciplined for not doing what’s required of them. Many employees do a lot more than this and perform their job to a higher standard, but still don’t do their job to their full capabilities.

You may sometimes have to use the authority that comes with your job to get less-motivated individuals to comply with your requirements and do their job to the standard of performance you expect from them,but each and every individual chooses whether to put in the extra effort required for high performance: every individual chooses whether to give you their total commitment.

If you want all your staff to perform to their full capabilities, you have to be skilled in engaging them in ways that unlock their commitment. You find out more about engaging people inthe later section ‘Building the Foundations for Engaging People’.

Take a few minutes and reflect upon occasions when you’ve been highly committed to doing a task or activity in your current or a previous job.

Then consider occasions when you’ve been only compliant in doing a task, and answer the following questions:

(a) What were the reasons that caused you to be so committed, and how did you feel about the work you were doing at the time? (b) What were the reasons for you being merely compliant, and how did you feel about the work you were doing at the time?

Now reflect on your reasons

See whether one common theme exists for you being committed and another theme for you being merely compliant when you do a task. Can you spot a significant difference between these two themes?

Probably the most significant difference is that you wanted to do the task to the best of your ability when you were committed, but you were only doing the task because another person, perhaps your manager,wanted you to do it when you were only compliant.

The key to unlocking the commitment of people to perform atask to a high standard is engaging them in ways that mean that they take ownership of the task and hold themselves accountable for successfully completing it: they do the task to a high standard of performance because they commit to doing it to that standard.

Avoiding the black hole of meaningless work

People’s work is a crucial part of their identity, as well as often being an important source of meaning. To test this notion, answer the following simple question:

When you initially meet a person, what’s the first question you tend to ask to find out more about that person?The question that most people ask is, ‘What do you do?’.

Obtaining the answer not only gives you information about the person,but also enables you to relate to the person because - if you’re like most people - you tend to associate certain characteristics with certain job titles such as engineer or accountant. Each of these roles has a certain meaning for you: perhaps, for example, you associate high earner, clever, articulate and so on with an engineer.

As well as job titles having meaning, the work that you do in carrying out your job is also a source of meaning for you: your work can be meaningful or meaningless ... or somewhere in between:

Meaningful work

When you view your work (whether a task or activity) as being meaningful, you see it as being important and worthwhile, and you’re committed to doing it well. You’re likely to be totally engrossed in doing the work because you apply all yourself - your knowledge, skills, expertise, thinking and so on - to making sure that you do it well.

Meaningless work

When your work seems to be meaningless,you probably can’t see a good reason for doing it well, or even at all. You’re more likely to cut corners, delay or even not bother doing it until someone reminds you to do it.Make sure that you avoid your staff perceiving their work as meaningless

Making work meaningful

Your starting point for making work meaningful for your staff is to help them understand what’s expected of them:

Share your team’s purpose and direction with the members.

Check out for all about communicating the objectives and results that your team needs to achieve.

Explain what and how every member contributes to the success of the team.

Engage people in enhancing mutual understanding and commitment, to work better together towards achieving the necessary objectives.

Engaging members of your team to build mutual understanding is a great way to make work meaningful.

(1) Mutual understanding means that you and members of your team have a common and shared understanding about an issue, objective, priority, task, problem and so on: no room is left for misunderstandings!

(2) Mutual understanding involves you and members of your team agreeing on the importance and worthwhile nature of a particular objective, task or activity. When people have a common understanding that a task is important, they also have a common commitment to completing the task.

(3) Mutual understanding is created by everyone being involved in contributing ideas, views and thoughts, and asking searching questions to seek clarity. You and members of your team are more likely to:

(a) Come to better decisions by involving the relevant people in making a decision simply because people see things from different perspectives, and contribute different ideas, high- light different potential problems and so on.

(b) Work better together by people sharing their views on how well the team is working, and build a sense of camaraderie and team identity. You will discover that work is an important source of identity and meaning in people’s lives. You can also find out a lot more about how to build teamwork in future installments.

(c) Mutual understanding means involving people by having a genuine interest in them and asking for their thoughts and ideas,and listening to what they say, this approach reinforces the connection between you and them, and strengthens the relevant relationships.

Talking to a member of your team to enhance mutual understanding about the importance of a task or activity isn’t the same as management by consensus. As team leader, you’re ultimately accountable for the decisions made and actions taken by your team,and at times you’re going to need to make decisions that some team members disagree with.

Involving people, however, enables them to (a) Better understand the reasons for your decision, (b) Appreciate you seeking and considering their views. (c) Give you a higher level of commitment than they would if you hadn’t engaged them.

Realising that engaged people go the extra mile

You will discover what research into employee engagement has shown that employees expect their line manager to: (a) Keep them well informed about what’s happening in the organisation. (b) Treat them well. (c) Seek and listen to their ideas and opinions: (d) Show an interest in their well-being.

Engaging your team to establish common and shared under standings about important objectives, tasks and activities, demonstrates that you respect and value your team members: you seek their views and take notice of what they say.

If you’re interested only in getting people to commit to achieving the organisation’s objectives, they may well perceive that you are putting the needs of the organisation and/or yourself before their own That will reduce the level of commitment people give to you and the company.

Being an engaging leader requires you to have and show a genuine interest in the work-related needs, hopes, aspirations and concerns of each individual who reports to you as well as you being interested in your organisation’s required objectives and results.

Your focus in engaging work colleagues needs to be on working together to create optimum outcomes for everyone involved so that everyone is unified in striving to achieve common goals. Engaging people requires you to find out what’s important to people and find ways of enabling them to fulfill their needs through working towards achieving the required objectives and results.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 35 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently, he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and writer.)

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