Most executives, especially in Human Resources, have seen the scary stats: Employee engagement is low. Really low. Rock bottom low, if you will. The common thought is that somewhere around 70% of all employees in the United States are not engaged or are actively disengaged from their jobs.

But in looking at numbers from a new survey by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, that may not actually be the case. According to the APA, about half of Americans report an average level of engagement with their jobs. Just under a quarter report high or very high levels of engagement. Doing the math, that seems to contradict the understood numbers.

Still, the APA survey wasn’t all good news. Just under half of employees surveyed said that they didn’t believe their employer was open and upfront with them—a truly frightening statistic, if you want to not only engage your employees but also retain them.

When it comes to retention, building trust is key. And trust is earned, first and foremost, through honesty and openness. Even if information isn’t being actively or maliciously withheld, employees may become suspicious or resentful that important business is being kept from them. And once that suspicion or resentment sets in, trust between employees and their management is easily eroded.

Moreover, if employees feel like management is not taking an active interest in the employees’ careers or team’s goals, then trust is further worn away. After all, an employee who feels as though he or she is not worth the manager’s time will likely begin to own the identity (whether true or not) of being nothing but a faceless cog in the machine. And faceless cogs—who toil away without recognition—come to feel that they are not being treated with respect or dignity.

“Dignity” isn’t a word that’s used all that often when talking about business relationships, but it’s a word Monique Valcour uses over at the Harvard Business Review blog. Dignity, she says, is about trust. The employee must trust that the employer will recognize his or her humanity and not take advantage of the vulnerabilities inherent in employment relationships and differences in power inside of organizations. Employees become unhappy when that trust is lost—or isn’t there in the first place. And unhappy employees dread going to work. They dislike their coworkers. They feel snubbed by their employer. They begin to look for opportunities elsewhere. They leave—and they don’t leave singing your praises.

Suddenly, your trust problem turns into a retention problem. So how can you fix it?

With attention. Managers need to proactively meet with their reports in order to share their goals, achievements, and challenges while offering reports the opportunity to share feedback, ask questions, or otherwise participate in their team or company initiatives. Managers can also take an active role in an employee’s career management, by getting to know employees’ interests and strengths, offering in-team and cross-departmental career opportunities as they arise, and supporting employees’ ongoing education both for the role they currently have and the one they may aspire to.

Keeping employees engaged at work and happy in their careers is really as simple as trusting them to do their job. By providing them with the information to help them gain insight into the company’s policies and goals and the support to reach their own personal goals, you can help your people feel dignified in and excited about their role as an employee of your company for the long term.

14 May 2014

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