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Is your staff engaged or just satisfied?

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A recent study by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that even though employees may be satisfied with their jobs, it does not automatically translate into having an engaged workforce.

In fact, while 83 per cent of employees said they were generally satisfied with their current positions, only 68 per cent claimed to feel passion and excitement and just 53 per cent felt tuned in at work.

These gaps are a troubling discovery for managers who want to motivate their people and drive organizational performance. While appearances might lead them to believe they have an engaged workplace, there may be serious cracks forming just below the seemingly smooth surface.

The SHRM survey offered a few clues as to where organizations may be falling short. While employees reported being fairly satisfied with key attributes such as the work itself, relationships with co-workers and their immediate supervisor, areas where considerably less satisfaction was apparent included career advancement and development opportunities, job-specific training and management recognition of employee job performance.

Interestingly, 54 per cent of respondents said that the aspect of the work experience that was most lacking was communication between employees and management. This is actually good news, because it is never too late to make strides toward improving communications.

Managers need to be listening to their people, both formally and informally. You can hold regular staff meetings, create a suggestion box and even develop an employee survey -- all initiatives that will allow you to monitor progress. But informal listening methods are just as necessary. Walking through the office or shop floor and stopping to speak to employees will let you gather immediate feedback -- not only the complaints that need to be addressed, but the suggestions that could become the next big idea. One organization I worked with had an electronic grapevine that allowed employees to submit questions or concerns anonymously and receive a direct response from the human resources department.

But what else can be done to bridge the communication gap and help make employees more engaged?

Provide information -- As the saying goes, information is power. In the absence of real information, employees could just make it up themselves or pick it up as water-cooler gossip. Therefore, it is always best to share as much genuine information as possible as soon as possible. This will help employees better adapt to new situations and assist them in making decisions and in the long run, your honesty will inspire employee loyalty and respect.

Encourage involvement -- It is this simple: Unless employees are involved and have a say in key changes that directly affect them, they will quickly tune out. This is not to say that you have to go to the masses and get consensus before making routine decisions. That should remain the responsibility of management. However, respectfully hearing out what your people have to say about changes makes them feel part of the process and helps you to make better decisions down the road.

Listen. Really listen -- Why is it that whenever there is a formal inquiry into an organizational catastrophe, it always seems that someone knew something was bound to go wrong. They just didn't speak up -- or worse, they did and they weren't listened to. If employees feel listened to and believe they can speak up without fear of retribution, they are much more likely to point out problems before things get out of hand.

Engage your managers first -- If you want to raise engagement levels across the organization, you might want to start by looking at your managers. An engaged manager focuses on their people, enables them to get the job done, treats each team member as an individual and encourages them to stretch beyond their capabilities. Ensure your managers are engaged or else efforts to enlist them in motivating the rest of your workforce may get limited results.

No matter the steps you take to improve communication and increase engagement in the workplace, make sure your efforts are genuine and not just a corporate spin exercise. When workers realize that their values are aligned with those of their managers, it builds trust -- the foundation for lasting employee engagement.

-- With reporting by Barbara Chabai

Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2012 H2

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