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Are Your Employees Engaged?

Employee Engagement Revisited: Interview with Professor Marcy Fetzer

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Marcy Fetzer, Ph.D. is the founder and principal consultant for the Excellence in Leadership Group. She’s also a professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resources at the Marriott School of Business, Brigham Young University. She will be presenting at the upcoming HR Specialist Summit.

JATHAN JANOVE: Do “employee engagement” programs continue to be a key priority for organizations?

MARCY FETZER: Employee engagement certainly continues to be the buzzword of the moment; although, lately we are evolving to more of a holistic ‘employee experience’ conversation. But really, employee engagement is as relevant as ever. And there are very good robust meta-analytic studies that show that higher levels of engagement increase employee performance, overall satisfaction and retention; all of which, generally contribute to greater success of the organization. These programs continue to be key priorities for companies, particularly in the form of annual surveys.

JJ: What are the common reasons why organizations do not have employee engagement programs?Marcy Fetzer

Marcy F.: Research shows that ‘competing priorities’ is the top reason why employee engagement programs are either cut or do not exist. Other top reasons include: lack of support from senior executive teams, lack of knowledge about employee engagement, lack of follow-through, lack of funds and resources. I think that overall employee engagement is still considered a key priority, but I think beyond administering an annual survey, leaders and HR practitioners often don’t know what to do next. Surveys alone don’t produce change. This makes these programs somewhat vulnerable to being cut when other things seem more pressing.

JJ: What are some of the most commonly used employee engagement initiatives?

Marcy F.: Employee feedback is the top initiative used by organizations, which gives leaders a good measure of how things are going, but should not stand alone. Other company initiatives include: company events, recognition programs, training programs, wellness programs, additional employee benefits. What works really depends on the employees and the organizational culture. Funny story: I once worked with an organization that wanted to cut expenses and decided to discontinue offering unlimited free sugar cereal in the employee break-room. The company may have saved a few bucks, but engagement/productivity plummeted. You see, this company has a large call center and sugar cereal basically fueled it. Executives realized that this relatively small expense was well worth the cost. They reinstated the sugar cereal perk, and engagement/productivity increased.

JJ: What are the most important things an employer can do to increase employee engagement?

Marcy F.: Research backs three things that can really increase employee engagement: growth opportunities for employees, recognition and respect, and trust. When these things are absent, engagement suffers. Also, I’ve noticed that engaged managers often have engaged teams. These engaged managers often have a few things in common: they are competent at leading their team well, they are passionate about the work itself, they have a strong level of emotional intelligence, and they are respectful to others. Recent research is very supportive of that last point about respect, stating that respect can be a key differentiator when it comes to engagement. This happens because (1) employees want to do their best for people that they’re respected by, (2) without respect, employees feel disconnected and this creates a culture where problems fester, (3) respect makes employees feel a part of the team—they feel like they count. This connectivity is very important to engagement.

JJ: Are there any important “don’ts” employers should avoid?

Marcy F.: Don’t assume that just doing an engagement survey will somehow magically increase engagement. I have had clients say, “Nothing really happened.” Later I have found out that they didn’t do anything with the results. Surveys don’t create change; deliberate action does. Seems obvious, right? But often teams don’t know what to do after they get the results. This is quite common. Action planning is critical, and of course accountability has to be there. This takes work but that’s how change happens.

JJ: What’s the role of the top executives in creating fully engaged work environments?

Marcy F.: They need to care. This can’t be an HR initiative only. I have seen that happen and it is not successful. Executive leaders should be engaged in the process and care about the results and action plans. The more they can show energy and passion for the process, the better. Employees look to their leaders to take their cues. They look at their behavior. Leaders must generate clear, unambiguous evidence that engagement matters.

JJ: What’s the role of HR?

Marcy F.: I think that the HR team’s role is to partner with executives in creating an engaged work environment. Their energy is vital. They need to role model engagement. They also have the important job of making sure that it stays as a key priority for leaders. When things are busy or stressful, HR needs to keep up the momentum and ensure that the engagement initiatives are not forgotten about or disregarded.

JJ: Any other tips, advice or suggestions for organization leaders interested in increasing employee engagement?

Marcy F.: I think it is important to focus on the tried-and-true practices that increase engagement: (1) growth opportunities, (2) recognition and respect, (3) trust. Beyond these three, I think there is a lot of power in:

a. showing your employees that you enjoy and have passion for the work,

b. having a genuinely positive attitude about things,

c. offering employees the benefit of the doubt whenever possible,

d. extending grace to employees during difficult life moments,

e. and just trying to do well by your employees.

These “small” efforts are often very meaningful to employees. I have observed that these kinds of things can have a profound effect on employees’ loyalty and levels of engagement. Sometimes the small things are the big things.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Glen Fahs July 3, 2017 at 8:54 pm

You capture key leadership principles here. When I hear participants in my training say things like, “I tell them to put their big boy pants on” or “we can’t get good employees to work here” I perceive a lack of respect. Recognition programs are no substitute for truly appreciating and caring about employees and involving them in acting on survey data.


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