Failing to engage employees in the workplace wreaks havoc in the office creating an environment ripe for bad behaviour that erodes trust among employees. It boils down to human nature. When employees feel that their basic survival is threatened, you bring out the worse in them. As social creatures, humans gain a sense of belonging and security from belonging to a group. Meeting basic needs and creating a sense of security forms the foundation for achievement. Isolation, alienation and scapegoating create an atmosphere of insecurity and fear the workplace. As a result, employees will likely act out in ways that sabotage not only their own best interest but also those of the group, the department and ultimately the company. Creating a healthy workplace culture is a vital part of creating a successful high-achieving company.
The knee jerk response from management in these types of scenarios is to get rid of the bad apple. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it does not deal with the situation that created it. In other words, you get rid of one bad apple to only have another one crop up in a few months because the circumstances that foster this type of behaviour are not resolved. Creating a revolving door for hiring and firing is just a waste of time, money and resources. To engage employees, create an environment that inspires and supports top-level achievement. You hired X employee for a reason, if you suddenly find them under performing or acting out, instead of seeing them as flawed, first shift your attention to examine how your organisational dynamics may be failing. Word under the assumption, people want to succeed, not fail. While individuals ultimately need to be accountable and responsible for their own actions, cultivate an awareness of how group dynamics can sabotage your company’s objectives and fail to engage employees.
A recent study from the University of Georgia found that “overlooked co-workers are more likely to go out of their way to undermine a colleague, cheat to advance their work group, and tell bold-faced lies to other work groups.” The effect creates a toxic work culture that undermines the organisation. As a study at the University of Pittsburgh found “engagement is at the heart of a healthy work culture.” Sadly, a 2013 Gallup poll reported that only 30% of Americans feel engaged at work, and the same sentiment is widespread across Europe and in Canada. This means most companies are operating in an environment riddled with underachieving employees because they fail to effectively engage employees.
According to the University of Pittsburgh, there’s a very long laundry list of ways companies fail to engage employees. Beginning with management lacking a congruent vision or direction that engages staff. Fostering successful group dynamics begins with creating a shared vision across the organisation that includes everyone from senior level management to entry-level employees. It needs to be clearly articulated across the board how each individual contributes to achieving that dynamic vision. This includes practices such as clear communication of expectations and setting performance goals that give people a sense of autonomy as well as authority over their work. When a shared vision is established, there is a common organisational purpose that engages employees. It also creates an atmosphere of trust, without which, it is nearly impossible to get anything accomplished without a lot of resistance.
When mid-level managers are bypassed and excluded from the decision-making process it creates trouble. Leaving managers out of the process makes them feel alienated, as does ignoring or not acknowledging suggestions. There is no one in an organisation that understands how to improve a process, increase efficiency or solve a problem better then those charged with executing the responsibility daily. When decisions are made that impact people in an organisation and their job without consulting them, it alienates them, and in effect, they act out.
Managers need to ultimately take responsibility for group dynamics and watching for employees being alienated. Building trust among employees is critical for the group to function at a high level. When employees are not engaged, trust begins to erode becoming a corrosive force that negatively impacts the overall group dynamic. Fostering an environment in which there is an on going open dialogue among managers and employees helps to establish trust. Transparency is also central to building trust and maintaining a healthy line of communication. When communication begins to breakdown, it negatively impacts trust.
Much of the responsibility for creating such an environment begins with organisational leadership practices. Management needs to be effectively trained to not only spot dysfunctional behaviour within their group or department, but also be trained on how to implement corrective practices. Transformational leaders support workers in reaching higher levels of achievement and taking on more responsibility. As Maslow articulated, the lower levels need to be met first in order to get the best out of people. Nurturing a sense of security in the workplace is essential, because when it’s disrupted or threatened, people begin to act out.
If we turn our attention to high achieving companies such as Google and Facebook, employee engagement is part of the fabric of the culture. In contrast, failing companies are riddled with a lack of engagement. Further, when an organisation encourages self-actualization among its employees, it is a sign of maturity. The most successful companies work toward manifesting a shared vision and providing value to the world at large. They are engaged in the practice of somehow making the world a better place or improving quality of life for people. They possess a sense of legacy and deep purpose. At this point, people and organisations functioning at such a high level are among the minority.
Rooting out dysfunctional behaviour and practices begins the process of building a high achieving company. It requires active management to engage employees. Humans are very much influenced by their environment. If anything that’s what these recent studies reveal. Taking time to create a focused high achieving workplace environment in which there is trust and strong communication practices established, sets up a company to succeed because it fosters an environment that motivates people to do their best and strive for mastery of their abilities. If you don’t like what you’re getting from you’re people, It’s time to examine your corporate culture and practices. The old saying that people are a product of their environment is true. Create a better environment to engage employees at deeper levels and inspire them to reach for mastery.
Caroline Stokes is the founder of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions. FORWARD does things differently for people in digital organisations who demand inspiring talent solutions for transformative results.