The 3 Main Obstacles For An Engaged Workforce (And How to Overcome Them)
In these times of rapid change, slow-moving hierarchical organizations are constantly disrupted by their faster adapting competitors. Over the last year we visited over 50 highly progressive organizations globally that have cracked the code and show how to thrive in today's business world. All of them show remarkable business success due to a strong focus on employee engagement. As proven by them, employee engagement plays a vital role in the rapidly changing business environment.
It is therefore only a matter of time before traditional organizations will reach the understanding that happiness at work is not solely a perk for their employees, but will mostly offer them the necessary and strategic advantages for survival in the competitive business environment of the future. Focusing on employee engagement, in that sense, seems to be more a necessity than a choice. But why aren't more companies creating engaging workplaces if the evidence is so clear and the case studies so convincing? We identified the main barriers for change and discuss three biggest obstacles.
1. One size doesn't fit all
As we described extensively in our previous post, one size doesn’t fit all. More and more organizations start to introduce rigid models based on ‘agility’ or ‘leanness’. Models of the likes of Frederic Laloux and Simon Sinek are very inspirational but surely no blueprints for success. We believe that all organizations are unique, which means that there can not be an universal model for the creation of an engaged workforce.
Instead, listen to your employees, experiment and discover your own unique way to find happiness at work.
2. Leadership is not convinced
Engaging workplaces typically distinguish themselves by (among others) a high level of autonomy, transparency and trust. Decision making and responsibilities are delegated throughout the organization in order to adapt rapidly to a fast changing environment. The employees that are "in the best position" make the final call. This means leadership often restrains from decision making.
But, as in any organization, mistakes will occur at a certain point. Especially at this moment it is important for the leadership not to corrode the autonomy, transparency and trust. However, when the leadership is not completely convinced, mistakes are often assigned to the practice of delegating decisions to lower-level employees. As a result leadership blames the 'new system' and will intervene or, even worse, return to the "safe", top-down, hierarchical structures of the past.
3. The wrong reasons
The creation of happiness at work happens to be strongly linked to authenticity. And for this to be successfully introduced, leaders should bear the right mindset and motives. Leaders should truly believe that it is the right thing to do. Because with a wrong mindset and motive it will most certainly fail. Especially at moments when leaders solely focus on happiness at work for short term financial success or other 'unrelated' aspects. Employees aren't stupid and will not be fooled easily.
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How are work outcomes affected by the treatment of those who do it? I have been exploring this question for ~50 years. In that time, one comment stuck with me more than any other. It was made in 1998 when I interviewed a group of men in Indianapolis who had redesigned most of the US city’s waste collection and disposal operations. “We are no longer expected to park our brains at the door when we come to work.”
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