Whenever we see polls about employee engagement, the numbers are pretty sad. In 2014, Gallup did a survey of U.S. workers, and less than one-third of those polled felt they were engaged in their jobs, 51% felt they were “not engaged,” and 17.5% felt they were “actively disengaged.” Worldwide, the numbers are similarly discouraging.
Luckily, there are ways (big and small) that employers can increase employee engagement. One of the biggest influencers of employee engagement is your workers’ sense of “psychological ownership,” which basically means making sure your employees feel a certain level of autonomy and control over their own work that allows them to psychologically tie themselves to the experience.
Think about it, we all want to feel that we have the ability to influence what’s around us and take ownership of that experience. When we feel that we own something and can ascribe that what we are doing is “ours,” we are more likely to be engaged, care about the outcome, and work productively with our time.
Everyone can think of a personal project they have had that fully engaged them as they worked on it, regardless of if parts of the project were “tedious.” Whether this was building a piece of furniture, learning an instrument, or even spring cleaning the house, when we are able to tie the task we are completing more obviously to our own doing and benefit (whether that’s “now i have a new coffee table! that i made” or “i can play this song!” or “look how much better this looks! i can think clearer now”), we naturally engage in what’s in front of us.
When you improve psychological ownership for your employees, you can dramatically improve their sense of engagement with and happiness while doing their jobs, not to mention their productivity will increase. Here are my 5 tips for encouraging greater psychological ownership and employee engagement:
- Ask the right questions. Sometimes the best way to know what your employees need is simple: ask them. Employee engagement surveys can provide invaluable insight into your company culture and help you identify areas where productivity and employee happiness are being stifled. Just make sure you’re asking the right questions. If you send out a gigantic survey asking about every aspect of your employees lives, you better be prepared to respond to each. To keep your survey focused and productive, determine what your key performance metrics are and design the survey with the end goal being to influence those metrics in your solutions. Make sure you’re specific, relevant, and actionable for all teams at all organizational levels.
- Allocate resources for meaningful action. Problems many companies quickly find after getting back a survey are (a) they aren’t sure what to do with it and (b) they don’t anticipate how much time and man-power will be required in response, (c) they don’t see the upfront value of investing money in employee happiness and consequently decide against doing anything meaningful. If you’re going to send out an extensive survey that your employees put a lot of time and thought into, you better be prepared to deliver improvements. Set up a task force that has specifically set aside time towards coming up with actionable solutions to the problems the survey uncovers. These changes will need to have their own approved budgets, plans for implementations, and means of measuring success. Make sure there is follow up and accountability created for the task force. After your initiatives are rolled out, re-survey your company. Highlight where you saw success and re-approach where you failed.
- Tie employee engagement initiatives into performance expectations. When leaders weave employee engagement into performance expectations, engagement stops being a secondary goal, and instead gets integrated into the companies definition of “success.” Making sure your employees know how to be successful in their own role, are given the right resources, and the right guidance will help them to take more control over their day-to-day work will allow them to show initiative towards their own career destiny.
- Empower your managers to empower your employees. If managers and their teams are able to make meaningful changes to their immediate environment with autonomy, they are more likely to come up with quick, innovative solutions to their own issues. Managers and employees should be encouraged to identify barriers, find opportunities for change, and implement those plans. This autonomy allows everyone to feel more empowered in his/her own role, which leads to a more engaged work environment overall. Worried about letting go of the rains a little? Keep in mind: your employees are familiar with your company’s processes, systems, products, and customers. They are also experts on themselves and their own teams, so it makes sense that they will be in the most informed position to make quick and effective improvements.
- Make sure you’re sending a clear message from the top down. Nothing kills engagement like feeling that managers and regular employees are held to different standards. Great managers will lead by example, while understanding that their team is their greatest resource. Their success should in large part be measured by their employees’ achievements. Great managers will do everything they can to empower their employees, recognize and value their contributions, and actively seek their ideas and opinions.
Your employees are your greatest asset. Your ability to recruit, train, develop, and retain them will ultimately determine your growth and rate of success. That means leaders should be making them a top priority. Prioritizing your employees means actively seeking feedback, acting on that information in meaningful ways, and continuing to improve your employees lives through different roles, stages of company growth, and individual needs. When you give your employees the kind of leadership that let’s them take ownership of their work, they will respond with a more productive and engaged output.
Shane Stirling is a seasoned HR & HSEQ Manager in Cairns, Queensland. To learn more about his life and career, please visit his professional website.