Recently, I was talking to the leader of a nonprofit organization who was complaining that volunteerism was at an all time low. “Even when people volunteer, most of them don’t show up or follow through,” he said. “They just don’t seem to be engaged.”
This is a common problem in the for-profit world as well. In fact, barely one in ten of the global workforce is engaged on the job, according to Gallup. Most people are just checked out.
I spoke to a business leader in our area who was surprised to hear we don’t have a centralized office and that all of our employees worked remotely, even our local ones.
“There’s no way I could do that,” he said. “I can hardly get my people to work even when I am right on top of them. They just aren’t engaged. If I let them work remotely, they’d spend all day goofing off.”
In both cases what’s missing is connection. If there’s no connection to the organizational vision, the team leader, other teammates, or organizational outcomes, then leaders will fight uphill battles on engagement everyday.
But if leaders cultivate those connections, they’ll build teams that are enthusiastic about driving results for the organization. Based on that understanding, my teammates are the most engaged employees I have ever seen. Specifically,
- They are enthusiastic about our mission, values, and products.
- They enjoy working with their teammates and are rooting for them to win.
- They are creative, energetic problem-solvers.
- They believe in our future and are willing to work hard to make it a reality.
This doesn’t happen by accident. Careful hiring on the front end is part of the mix. But so is intentional leadership in the ongoing life of the organization.
Remembering the critical link to connection, here are four ways guaranteed to boost team engagement:
- Connect your team to the vision. When our teammates don’t understand or care how their daily tasks serve organizational goals, it’s nearly impossible for them to maintain interest in their work. People laying bricks stay inspired when they realize they’re building cathedrals. So take time to explain the why behind the what.
Connect your team to you as their leader. People don’t work for companies; they work for other people. Often, folks don’t engage because their leaders don’t engage them. When leadership is faceless, two-dimensional, or dismissive, they lose interest (or never commit to begin with). It’s the leader’s job to go first—build rapport, demonstrate concern, and personally invest.
Connected your team to one another. People stay engaged with their work when they are engaged with their coworkers. Toxic organizational culture breeds disengagement—emotionally healthy people will find their way to the door. Leaders should look for ways to cultivate mutual appreciation and create opportunities for positive shared experiences.
Connect your team to your results. One of the most important things I did as a leader at Thomas Nelson was begin regularly sharing our company financials. People could see what their daily work did to shape the quarter and the year. Transparency is a leader’s friend. Don’t be afraid to share the metrics and underscore the relationship between team efforts and organizational results.
If you’re wondering why people aren’t engaged, start by looking at what leadership is doing (or not doing) to forge these critical connections.