The brain is hardwired to seek connections, to be in a tribe. People don’t grow up in tribes anymore, but they do join one – their workplace. If businesses want engaged, enthusiastic, loyal employees, they must create the conditions that the brain was born seeking. When it finds it, it thrives.
Your job as a leader of your organization is to develop the conditions that help employees find meaning and purpose in what they do. The conditions that make being together as a tribe truly beneficial don’t exist in most workplaces today. A Gallup poll of businesses finds that 70% of U.S. workers do not feel engaged in their work. What that means for business is lower productivity, less loyalty, more turnover and so on.
You can create the conditions that lead to engaged employees and a high-performing workplace if you follow these five steps:
- Commit the time, resources and effort to creating the conditions that lead to employee engagement. Just making that commitment is the first and necessary step towards engaging employees. But engagement is not about slogans or posters or motivational tactics. It’s about building a culture around what people want in their deepest, most primordial selves – connections to others, a sense of contributing to a group effort, and the emotional safety and security that keeps us happy and healthy.
- Consider what science tells us about driving human behavior. We have learned more about the brain in the last 10 years than we had in the previous 1,000. What we have learned from empirically demonstrated research is that we are herd animals whose brains are wired for connectedness and contribution to the greater good of the herd, not just of ourselves. The main herd we belong to today is at work, but the conditions that exist inside that culture are not what the brain thought it was going to find when it got there.
- Recognize and validate employees. Our brains crave acknowledgement that we matter and are contributing to something greater than ourselves. When employees get that acknowledgement from their leaders, managers and supervisors on a consistent basis they thrive in the workplace and are inspired to contribute more. This can be as small as a warm greeting in the morning and a heartfelt thank you at the end of the day. Recognition and feedback guides employees in a positive way towards productive behavior that rewards them with the psychological security they need to be open to new ways of doing things.
- Hire managers who are capable of consistently validating and recognizing individuals. Senior leaders can lead the creation of a corporate culture built around a strong sense of connection in the workplace, but managers and supervisors deal directly with rank and file staff. They need to be equally committed and adept at validation and recognition as senior leadership – maybe even more. Research shows that three-quarters of the issues affecting employee engagement involve their direct supervisors.
- Measure employee engagement. What gets measured gets done. Measuring can help an organization see which efforts are working, and which aren’t. This isn’t about employee satisfaction, which is an ephemeral attitude. It’s about the endemic conditions that drive employees to contribute “discretionary effort” on behalf of the greater good of the organization.
Are you nurturing a high-performance culture?