5 ways to build an engaged and productive workforce

Individuals driven by purpose show 64% higher rates of career fulfillment and stay 20% longer with their company.

Every business leader wants a team that’s engaged in what they do and excited to come to work in the morning because they know it enhances both the quality and quantity of output. No one working has an argument with this, because it makes work that much more enjoyable – people want to be engaged. It’s clear that enhanced engagement would be to everyone’s benefit, and everyone seems to know it.

But …

Disengagement in the workforce is at 85% costing businesses in the United States between $250 and $350 billion dollars a year. Thought leaders are tired of saying it, business leaders are tired of hearing it, and the workforce is tired of experiencing it.

So what’s needed to improve engagement and drive productivity?

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled.” – Anne Mulcahy

Purpose

Having purpose means having a meaningful direction that’s beyond profit and seeks to add something to the world. It’s long been considered an afterthought – pushed aside as a marketing campaign for when there’s room in the budget. But, when a purpose is just a marketing campaign, it’s not going to be taken seriously internally, because they will see that the stated values aren’t being lived.

If your employees don’t think the organization has purpose, then they won’t think they have purpose working there. If your business is just there to make a profit then you can’t expect your employees to be there for anything other than a paycheck.

But the flip side of this is clear: Individuals driven by purpose show 64% higher rates of career fulfillment and stay 20% longer with their company. People are going to be more committed to your company, and will stay longer, if they can feel a sense of purpose working there. When you have purpose, engagement follows.

After interviewing hundreds of organizational leaders, I’ve found that authentic and genuine cultures are rooted in purpose and give their tribes (not employees) meaning beyond a paycheck. The main takeaway: Brand is a reflection of culture and culture is driven by purpose.

Personal growth

Purpose is having a sense of meaningful direction and personal growth is the journey towards achieving that purpose.

50 years ago it was normal to expect long-term employees to accept a stagnant career path. Perhaps with a few promotions thrown into the mix, but personal growth was something you did on your own time – it had nothing to do with work. The younger generations in the workforce and those entering the workforce won’t stand for this. Even older generations are quick to embrace personal growth – people have been hungry for growth for a long time.

Personal growth at work is transformative yet difficult to quantify and scale. Studies have shown that micro-activities have the ability to turn desired behaviors into organization-wide habits. Micro-activities are brief activities done to target a desired behavior and frame the way you approach your day. By looking into the research in positive psychology, from ideas of psychological capital to role of meaning in the workplace, micro-activities have enormous potential.

Recognition

How enthused do you think you’d be about putting in extra hours for a project you wouldn’t be recognized for? Well, probably not very enthused at all.

Despite recognition being one of the easier engagement feats to accomplish, it’s one the most common complaints we hear: “I work hard and put in the extra effort, but I feel it all goes unnoticed.”

Special recognition programs could be most helpful to retain and continually inspire those that might normally be taken for granted. You know the type – diligent and hardworking, but introverted and unassuming. They’re more difficult to notice than others, but every bit as essential.

This is why recognition programs should not be overlooked as they more effectively increase employee engagement, performance, and innovation than a salary increase of 5%.

Leadership

Too often, when leaders pursue a new culture initiative, they bring a top-down mentality. Leaders sometimes think that if they can just rearrange their management structure just right the company culture will improve, and they won’t have to make any changes themselves – “It’s for them, not us.”

This is the wrong attitude. When leaders are conspicuously absent from their own culture initiatives, then engagement suffers – if leadership doesn’t think it’s worth engaging in a culture change then why would the team? I’ve noticed time and again that if a leader is actively participating in their own culture initiatives then the team is likely to be engaged as well. This principle rings true across a spectrum of organizations.

This is why the Harvard Business Review referred to intractable bosses, those that make demands inconsistent with their own effort, as one of the worst obstacles to organizational change. That is when the leaders of a company refuse to change they act as the biggest obstacle to organizational change.

Leading by example isn’t a special kind of leadership, it IS leadership. If you aren’t leading by example, you have to ask yourself the question, “Am I just managing?”

Celebrate

Our brains are structured to reward us for achieving goals – even micro ones. This is why video games often prove to be so addictive with their host of achievements, level ups, and badges of honor; and why it feels so good to cross something off our to-do list.

The fact is that little rewards drive behavior. Each little reward causes your brain to emit a rush of dopamine that tells you, “This is good, this is rewarding – let’s do it again.”

Micro activities coupled with micro celebrations drive behavior forward. When it’s used to support positive behaviors it can transform organizations. Major celebrations for big achievements are important, but not enough – in between you need inspiration, otherwise motivation can wane. You need continual doses of reward to show you and your brain that progress is being made.

To achieve big victories you need little victories along the way.

What I see as the biggest opportunity in the workforce is best summarized by Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do.”

Adam Fridman is the author of the best-selling book, “The Science of Story: Brand is the Reflection of Culture”. He is also the Founder and President of ProHabits.com, a platform that integrates the science of human psychology with corporate philosophies and technology, allowing leaders to nurture their employees’ personal growth while developing positive behaviors and fostering a strong organizational culture.