How to engage the hearts and minds of employees

Many of my clients  manage  substantial groups of people and find it increasingly difficult to make the changes necessary to move the organisation forward.

They recognise that ‘change fatigue’ is a major factor. Staff have ‘heard it all before’ and tend to look for shortcuts so that they can ‘re-label’ what they have always done  to fit with the changes required.

Studies from the world of Business Psychology into ‘engagement’ (harnessing individual ‘selves’ to their work role) at work have identified three psychological conditions which have a strong positive effect on staff engagement.

As Briskin (1998) stated that we need to:

‘… build a bridge between the world of the personal, subjective, and even unconscious elements of individual experience and the world of organisations that demand rationality, efficiency, and personal sacrifice…..we must be willing to shift our viewpoint back and forth between what organisations want of people and what constitutes human complexity: the contradictory nature of human needs, desires and experience.’

The five conditions which enable individuals to immerse themselves in their work  and act proactively are:

  1. Meaningfulness – individuals have a primary motive to seek meaningfulness in their work, seeing the value of the purpose of their work in relation to their own sense of value. If it is not present it can lead to a sense of isolation and ‘disengagement’ with the work. Ways in which ‘meaningfulness’ can be enhanced is through:
    1. Job enrichment, enabling individuals, for example to work in other teams, add to their portfolio of skills, link with other parts of the organisation – all these will help an individual to feel more involved.
    2. Work role fit, enabling an individual to work in roles that they identify with and feel they can contribute to, beyond the normal day to day activities
    3. Co worker relationships, having rewarding interpersonal relationships where individuals feel they are being treated with dignity respect and value for their contribution, and not simply as the occupant of a role. This also links with the second condition.
  1. Psychological safety – by which I mean feeling able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self image, status or career. In an organisational culture where people feel safe, individuals understand the boundaries surrounding acceptable behaviour. Unsafe conditions exist when situations are ambiguous, unpredictable or threatening. This links critically with a sense of ‘trust’ in management coupled with a heightened self consciousness about how other perceive  and judge them which distracts them from their work becoming focused on what others expect them to do rather than doing the ‘right’ thing.
  1. Supervisor relationship – the relationship with one’s immediate manager can have a dramatic impact on an individual’s perception of the safety of a work environment. A supportive manager who gives positive feedback, encourages them to voice concerns develop new skills and solve work related problems engenders a sense of self determination, and choice in regulating their own actions. To gain trust a manager must behave with consistency, integrity, share and delegate control, communicate openly and demonstrate concern for the individual.
  1. Co worker relationships– built on trusting each other emotionally and not feeling that mistakes will be used against them.
  1. Psychological availability – what I mean by this is that the individual has a belief that they can give of themselves at work. It comes from a confidence in one’s self – if there is a feeling that there is insecurity at work this self belief diminishes.

All the above affects the motivation of staff, their engagement in their work and their commitment to go beyond their job role. Authentic Leaders know that those who are ‘engaged’ produce more, are more creative, and give more to their organisation.