Employee engagement has become every organization’s major concern—and not without reason. Employee engagement has shown time and again to impact retention, performance, profitability and shareholder value.

With 70% of employees disengaged, the opportunities for improvement are substantial. However, a pool table in the cafeteria or a pay raise to match an existing offer may no longer satisfy the needs of an increasingly younger and more diverse workforce. Fun workplaces do not call forth loyalty or high performance from their employees. It is personal growth, meaningful relationships and the knowledge that they are making a difference that makes employees work hard to overcome challenges and go the extra mile in their efforts to boost productivity.

This may not have been an issue in the not so distant past when an organization’s workforce consisted largely of male baby boomers, whose “Learn, Earn and Return” philosophy of work kept them committed to their jobs. Not so anymore. An increasing number of women and millennials make up today’s workforce and this demographic shift has only just begun. Understanding the needs of this segment of the population is key to employee engagement.

Women and millennials are the forerunners in the shift towards the purpose economy. They are the initiators of a trend that places a high priority on purpose in life. For women, this is partly due to the biological nature of motherhood and the dual commitment to both family and work. When the two are in direct conflict, they choose life. For millennials, it is driven by an increasing consciousness of their place in the larger context of life and a concern for how they will be remembered after they are gone.

The organizations that value this need for meaning and help build purposeful work are the ones that will have cracked the code to employee engagement. Here are 5 strategies from positive psychology, the science of optimal living, that can bring about the change.

Value Their Vision

Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy talks about the need for self-awareness in employees as the first and most important variable in building purpose. Managers and leaders can facilitate this step by helping members of their team develop a personal vision that includes their profession and then help come up with a plan to live it every day. Kathleen Buse and Diana Bilimoria at Case Western Reserve University conducted a study where they found that engineering organizations that helped their female employees develop a personal vision and provided challenges and opportunities for growth in line with it, saw a significant increase in employee engagement and retention despite the biases and discrimination in the profession.

Help Them Job-Craft

Job-crafting is one of the most effective ways of building meaning into work. Companies that encourage job crafting enable employees to make sense of their work and how it fits into the larger context of their lives. Work by Amy Wrzesniewski on Positive Leadership has shown that even when the passions of employees deviate from the vision of the company, companies would do well to encourage their pursuit and complement strengths at a group level.  Semco, a radical Brazilian company that makes rocket fuel propellant systems has gone as far as selling back Wednesdays to their employees for 10% of their salary, so that their staff can pursue the passions that are outside of the scope of their organization. Fulfilled employees are good for business.

Enable Them To Make A Difference

Inclusive leadership ensures engaged, energized and inspired employees. Allowing people to have a say in decision-making, being as transparent as possible and consistently recognizing employee contributions makes the members of the team feel like they are making a difference and feeds their purpose-driven pursuit. Zingerman’s, a family of small food-related companies in the Ann-Arbor area, is a great example of a company that honors the talents and contributions of its workforce and encourages the input and initiative of all its employees. Also, matching employees with managers and mentors who act as sponsors towards the employee’s vision makes it easier for employees to align their vision with that of the organization.

Bring Out The Good In Them

David Myers’ work on Ethical Organizations shows that people feel engaged and fulfilled when they are allowed to live by the inherent values of fairness and integrity that are common to all. Creating an ethical culture by rewarding honesty and morality and holding people accountable when they break the ethical code, are some of the ways managers can honor human values and enable employees to feel that they are living as their best possible selves. This also creates an environment of trust where employees feel safe, are open to high-information feedback and able to bring their full selves to work every day. Additionally, Kim Cameron’s work on virtuous organizations shows that virtuous practices are yet another way to increase traditional performance indicators such as profitability and productivity.

Do Good While Doing Well

B-Corporations are attracting millennials and fulfilling their need for meaning. However, not every company has to go the full “B” route, which entails making a profit and fulfilling a social or environmental goal as their founding mission. In his upcoming book A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision For Our World, Daniel Goleman talks about Salesforce, a cloud computing-based client services company that promotes the “1-1-1 model”. It gives 1 percent of each product, of each person’s time and of profit to worthy causes. Other companies are also approaching the B-Corporation model in creative ways. Facebook, for example, is encouraging its vendors to raise minimum wages and offer additional perks to their employees. Doing good is one great way of engaging and energizing millennials, while at the same time benefiting our world.

Managers and leaders would do well to act as orchestra conductors. By valuing each member’s passions and contributions, and helping them shine individually and collectively, they can bring out the best in their people and enable their organization to flourish.

Jim Kouzes, award-winning educator and executive speaker, has proposed a powerful way of doing so. Before every interaction with your employee, he suggests asking yourself: 

What can I do to make this person feel more powerful, competent and in control of their life?

If leaders could consistently live by this philosophy, they would find the secret to employee engagement.


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