Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Myth of Resiliency (Understanding Employee Engagement--Part III)

Resiliency is a mythical state invented by HR and career counselors to address the crazy state of the work world. In fact, it is a concept whose time never came. Today's employees don't want to be resilient; they want to be gainfully employed. Like parents on the brink of divorce who spout platitudes about how the kids are better off with two happy, but separate parents then in a single household with warring factions, nobody wants to actually ask the kids how they feel. And employee resilience is just as mythical.

Members of today's workforce are not resilient; they just cope because they have to. But they don't have to--or maybe can't--be happy about it. Expecting engagement under the current circumstances is unrealistic and usually results in a charade. Employers clearly want employees to be engaged, and employees know better then to disappoint. So they play along. But that's not engagement, and anyone looking just below the surface sees the anger, anxiety and frustration that employees experience as a result of "living on the edge."

Let's scrap resiliency as a desired state for workers. There's a simple formula for keeping employees engaged: handle them with care. If organizations didn't keep clobbering people with threats of imminent joblessness, rigid work structures and untenable job responsibilities, employees would be more engaged. Engagement is a state that comes from a sense of satisfaction from one's work, a regularly affirmed belief that one's contribution matters and a sense of trust between employers and employees. Unless employees can see those elements in their work situations, they will go to default mode: look busy and keep looking.

Let's Get Engaged (Understanding Employee Engagement--Part II)

In today's workplace, long-term employment has been replaced with a more fluid situation for workers. The new model is one in which employees stay with their employer until the organization severs its connection to pursue the use of fewer or different human resources. This shift has created a new paradigm for the most desirable employee. The worker everyone wants now is resilient, able to be ejected at a moment's notice, land on his/her feet and tackle a job search with frequency. Oh yeah, and can you smile while you're doing that?

But do these employees exist? To our minds, they are the unicorns of human resources. Most people who want to be inside organizations want exactly that: to be inside. Those who are not interested in that scenario go off to pursue alternatives like self-employment, freelancing or contract work. Organizations are naive when they expect engagement from employees who know they are on the precipice of job loss at all times. It's the old hierarchy of needs thing: people who are fearful that they may lose their livelihood are not likely to be channeling their energy toward internalizing their organization's mission. Nor are they embroidering oaths of loyalty to hang on the walls of their cubicles. Instead they are worrying, networking and trying to keep their heads down and stay below the radar lest the grim reaper of unemployment identify them as next in line.

Otherwise Engaged (Understanding Employee Engagement--Part I)

Many of our clients are expressing concern over the issue of employee engagement. It's an amorphous issue, but they suspect that their employees are "enrolled"(to use Peter Senge's term), but not engaged. They are worried that while their people are showing up on time, mouthing the right words and smiling at their jokes, all is not truly well. They want their employees to take their relationship with the organization to the next level; they want them to be committed.

The first step in tackling the challenge of engagement is to understand why it's not happening. Engagement means commitment, and, for most, that means a two-way relationship. Until employers begin to invest in workers in ways that matter to their employees, these employees will not engage. It's not that employees don't want to, but they are otherwise engaged right now: they are engaged in self-protection, a healthy response to an environment in which they rightly believe they have no control over what will happen. They will not bond to an organization when they feel the employment bargain is unfair or when they know that the organization stands to sever that connection without cause at some time. Without question, engagement and secure employment (or an employee-accepted version of that situation) are linked.