Each year, the companies all over the world lose billions of dollars in lost productivity due to low employee engagement. Companies have poured millions into programs designed to make people happier and more satisfied at work, but in ten years, employee engagement levels have remained tenaciously static.
What is wrong with this picture?
Employee engagement is an emotional connection to a positive workplace, personal relationships, and the work itself. However, the majority of current engagement strategies focus on external motivation. True engagement comes from the employee’s relationship with the employer and with the work itself. By definition, engagement is an inside job.
The Four Keys to Engagement
What drives deeper motivation? Research by Richard Deci, author of Why We Do What We Do, highlights a few factors for deep motivation:
1) A sense of autonomy,
2) A feeling of competence
3) A sense of relatedness to the broader work of the organization
4) A connection to the community of fellow employees.
The behaviorist approach to employee engagement backfires because it’s actually a way to reduce autonomy (manipulating people), it undermines competence (you don’t earn those benefits through your strengths), there’s no larger meaning, and many corporate benefit programs subtly (or overtly) pit employees against one another.
How to Engage People?
So if we want to recapture the $Billions in low engagement, how do we support autonomy, competence and relatedness by building stronger relationships?
One answer can be found in emotional intelligence — which, simply stated, is being smarter with feelings. Leaders can become aware of how emotions influence themselves and others. Leaders can learn how their words and actions support each employee’s autonomy, competence and relatedness and either build or tear down relationships.
Emotional intelligence is the primary driver in leader effectiveness because leadership is about using influence and building effective relationships, which are largely emotional tasks. In fact, EI has been measured as contributing 75-80% of the elements for success compared to 20-25% for IQ.
Leaders who practice emotional intelligence are less reactive and more responsive. They know themselves, so they don’t need to prove their own power. Instead, they work WITH others, giving an appropriate level of autonomy.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are attuned to their people. They see their people’s strengths (and weaknesses) clearly, so they can foster that essential sense of competence.
Finally, leaders who put EI into action are better at relationships. They “get” people and are able to foster genuine collaboration. This fuels stronger interpersonal connection, motivating people through relatedness. To be effective and to create an environment where employee engagement can occur, today’s leaders must connect with people on a personal level – understand what drives their people. This “connecting” requires a high level of emotional intelligence, specifically empathy: the ability to sense how others feel and connect at an emotional level.
Success Stories: Emotional Intelligence Drives Engagement
In a six-month leadership development process at Komatsu, a Japanese maker of construction and mining equipment, engagement increased from 33 to 70%. At the same time, plant performance increased by 9.4%. The pilot project, conducted by a team from the Six Seconds Network, took place at the company’s Este plant and focused on educating line managers in the use of emotional intelligence skills.
In another study by Six Seconds, Amadori, an Italian agro-food sector company and European supplier to McDonalds, emotional intelligence was found to predict 47% of the variation in manager’s performance management scores. Emotional intelligence was also correlated with increased organizational engagement with 76% of the variation in engagement predicted by manager EQ. Finally, plants with higher organizational engagement achieved higher bottom-line results. During this period, employee turnover also dropped by 63%.
“The workplace climate is a driving force in how employees engage in their daily activities,” Massimiliano Ghini, a management professor at Italy’s Alma Graduate School, said. “So the conclusion is simple: If we want business success, we need to equip leaders with the skills to make an environment where employees can work effectively.”
The Bottom Line:
Motivation is an inside job. It means employees must motivate themselves and become engaged, but it is up to leadership to create the conditions where self-motivation is possible.