This week, the city I work in will be holding their civic elections. People will exercise their rights and cast their ballots to determine who will provide the leadership necessary to make their city a great place to work, live, and grow.
Ultimately, voting for your candidate and his or her platforms provides you with an opportunity to help determine how government will spend your hard earned tax dollars; which essential services to increase or decrease, how to achieve sustainable growth, and which policies need to be amended, removed or created. Yet, studies show that more and more people are refusing to exercise their right to vote. According to The Conference Board of Canada, the last Canadian federal election in 2011 only had a voter turnout of 53.8% The trends over the past 40 years tell us that voter turnout will likely continue to decrease, especially given the much lower rate of young people voting in the past election, about 40%. There are numerous reasons for this trend, a lack of connection between voter and candidate, a lack of confidence in the candidates, or that things will not change no matter who is in office.
This leads me to how this relates to our organizations. A 2012 Gallup poll indicates that a whopping 83% of employees worldwide admit to being disengaged. This from Gallup World:
The bulk of employees worldwide — 63% — are “not engaged,” meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes. And 24% are “actively disengaged,” indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers.
Essentially, the majority of employees are refusing to cast their vote when it comes to engaging in behaviours that positively affect the outcomes of their organizations. Not only are they not investing their efforts to achieve company outcomes, about a quarter of employees are negatively affecting outcomes by influencing others. So what can we do to reverse this curve? While there are numerous lists of behaviours that should be enacted in order to engage employees, and most of them quite effective, I believe these three vital behaviours will, if enacted consistently, provide the results we desire. Below are three things leaders must do in order to improve employee engagement:
- Connect – Leaders need to connect with what employee’s value, which will allow employees to connect with the organization and their leaders. Connect with their passions, understand their person career goals and needs and assist them in reaching them. How? Understand what motivates employees to actively engage in achieving company goals or outcomes. Make a connection between the behaviours required to meet company goals and the employees’ personal sense of being, providing them with their own motivation to engage in reaching those goals.
- Collaborate – Asking or telling people to achieve company objectives is much more difficult when they are not part of the process of creating the plans. Include them and truly collaborate with them when creating company objectives. As leaders we have all been guilty of steering the conversation where we want it to go, instead insist that others speak up and allow their thoughts to shape your strategic plans. At your next planning session, take a back seat and allow others to truly express their thoughts, and be prepared to follow through on the ideas that employees generate.
- Make it Easy – Many people choose to disengage not because they want to, but because they simply do not know how to become engaged. They do not lack the motivation; they lack the ability or skill. As leaders it is your responsibility to provide people with the skills and tools necessary to become engaged. Provide them with the required time to participate in your strategic planning sessions. Teach them how to be strategic thinkers and provide them the skills and tools necessary to work together to effectively collaborate with others.
Today’s political voters are choosing to remain silent mainly due to unfulfilled promises by politicians, feeling like their voices are not heard, and coming to a conclusion that, no matter who is in power, nothing really changes. They are disengaging. Millions of employees are also disengaging in their work for similar reasons. Leaders are not making an effort to really connect with their employees, often have a misguided idea of what it means to collaborate with their staff to make effective changes, and all too quickly interpret a lack of engagement to motivation instead of ensuring people have the ability to engage. As leaders, we first must admit that a disengaged workforce is largely due to our behaviours and that we must take an active role in helping people to engage. This will go a long way to reversing the trend of low-voter turnout in your organization.