31 Mar

Several years ago, I was introduced to Patrick Lencioni, the founder of The Table Group- an organizational health consultancy- and prolific author on leadership, management, and organizational health. After tearing through several of his books, all written as easily accessible management fables, I was stopped in my tracks by his book on employee morale and engagement, Three Signs of a Miserable Job (which is now retitled the less offensive The Truth About Employee Engagement.) If you are looking to understand what drives positive morale and employee engagement, this is a great place to start for any manager or small business owner. 

As a human resources consultant, I am often asked the question, “how do I engage my employees and retain top talent?” I find folks are often disappointed when I tell them that there is no silver bullet list of team building activities that will improve engagement. The issue of employee engagement is much more complicated than an offsite retreat or Zoom happy hours can fix. And frankly, the way most organizations approach engagement tends to place a heavy burden on the shoulders of leaders to keep their employees “happy and engaged,” both of which are choices that are out of the leader’s control. To create an environment that encourages engagement, you must have two ingredients- competent leadership who removes barriers to employee engagement and an understanding that employees are accountable for their own engagement within the organization.  

Read that again. That’s right, I said that the employees are responsible for their engagement, not the leader. It is a full paradigm shift, but, at the end of the day, at the heart of the employee engagement conundrum is the fact that we have made leaders responsible for the engagement of the employee rather than placing the accountability for engagement in the hands of the employee. What the leader is responsible for is interacting with their reports in a way that facilitates connection and removing roadblocks to a functional work environment. 

Leaders can use Lencioni’s description of job misery to help them create connections with their direct reports. Lencioni describes these three signs as anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. He believes that people cannot be fulfilled in their work if they do not feel known and appreciated for their unique qualities; they don’t feel like what they do matters to others in the organization; and they don’t have a way to measure their progress and level of contribution. Creating conversations with employees that help them feel known, acknowledging their importance to the organization, and giving them quantifiable ways to measure progress can increase the opportunities for employees to connect to their work at a higher level. 

It is important for leaders to remember that each employee is an individual with different needs, attributes, and skills that can vary based on their job title, communication style, and even their generation. They are not, and should not, all be treated as a single entity. Creating space for those unique attributes to be seen and honored is an important part of the leader’s job description and creates the opportunity for higher levels of engagement. But the decision to engage is, ultimately, up to the employee themselves. At the end of the day, creating an environment that fosters accountability for the employee for their own level of engagement is the key to success. 

Shawna Lake is the Founder of Deep End Talent Strategies, LLC.They serve growing business and nonprofits throughout the U.S. The DETS team guides organizations and leaders through the full spectrum of talent management from recruitment and on-boarding to motivation and engagement, rewards, learning and development, succession planning, and exit.