Steven Slater. Remember the name?
Steven Slater was the JetBlue flight attendant who burst into our collective consciousness in 2009 after he cursed out passengers, grabbed two beers and slid down the emergency shoot in the most famous resignation of all time. For the next 48 hours, Slater dominated cable news headlines, became the fodder for the monologues of Leno and Letterman, and received 182,000 “Likes” on Facebook. Was he a hero or felon? The entire world apparently wanted to know. What made that story so popular?
The reason Slater’s antics captured the attention of so many people is because he tapped into the career reality of so many people. It’s the reality that we as talent professionals know from the cold-hard statistics:
• Fewer than 1 in 3 is engaged at work, according to a survey conducted by BlessingWhite Inc.
• Only 45 percent of workers are even just “satisfied,” according to Conference Board research.
• Thirty-two percent of workers hope to find a new job in the year ahead, according to Mercer data.
Job “satisfaction” itself is a very low bar. A satisfied employee might still be one who hops up from her desk at 5 p.m. sharp, or takes that head hunter phone call looking for that 5 percent bump in pay, or goes home and mumbles “fine” when asked how her day was at work.
“Engagement” on the other hand, although uncommon, is very powerful and is something you can easily see when it’s present. You see it in the waiter who addresses his regular customers by name. You see it in the office worker who looks up at the clock midafternoon and mumbles to no one in particular, “Oh, I forgot about lunch.” You see it in the Transportation Security Administration agent who actually greets you by name and with a smile and comments on the city you are travelling from. You see it in the worker who offers up the names of three friends when she learns that there is a job opening in her company. Engaged employees are ones who routinely go the extra mile—give extra discretionary effort—not just so they can succeed, but so that their organization can succeed.
The secret to engagement: growth, recognition, trust
While there are of course many variables that can drive engagement, and every organization is unique, in general it comes down to three things: People want growth, recognition and to be able to trust their leaders.
When it comes to growth, it should start with a focused conversation between the manager and her direct reports about their career goals and the skills and knowledge that have to be attained to reach them. Instead of expensive, formal training programs, development can often happen through mentorship, job rotations and informal developmental experiences. Manager and worker should work together to ensure there is a learning element baked into any new project.
Recognition isn’t about annual award dinners and plaques, but rather feeling appreciated on an ongoing basis. You should give “thank yous” liberally and frequently, as long as it’s legitimately deserved. Say thank you with specifics; mention the accomplishment or activity you are specifically praising, and how that behavior ties to your company’s goals, values or standards. Remember that the value of the thank you is often tied to the amount of time taken to deliver it—a hand-written note is more valued than an email, a gift more valued than a note, a party more valued than a gift. It’s the effort that counts.
The foundation for all engagement building is trust and confidence. The basic ingredient is of course being honest and ethical, and unfortunately we still have too many incidents of Enron, Bernie Madoff and other blatant offenses. But beyond feeling that our leaders are fundamentally honest, we also need to trust that our leaders are capable of guiding us safely to our destination. In other words, we need a sense of confidence in the future. This can best be achieved by thoroughly communicating your company’s mission and strategic plan and ensuring each person knows how he or she fits into the big picture. It comes down to knowing where we’re going, and that there is a map that will lead us there.
A call to engage
The downward trend in job satisfaction is not a recent phenomena. It’s not tied to the Great Recession of the last few years. Satisfaction has been dropping for over two decades across all ages, income levels and job types. It has reached a crisis point that is stressing families and companies alike.
The engagement crisis can neither be solved by individual nor organization alone. Worker and employer must come together in pursuit of engagement. Company leaders must focus on creating an environment that fosters growth, recognition and trust. Individual workers must be mindful of their careers, must join forces with their managers, and demand full engagement in their lives. The We mindset recognizes that engagement is a shared responsibility with mutual benefits.
Workforce Management Online, September 2011 — Register Now!