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Combatting low Employee engagement

Published:Monday | August 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM

One of the legacies of the raft of downsizing that spread like a virus during the '90s was the global phenomenon of low employee engagement.

American corporations announced 615,186 layoffs in 1993 alone, and over 85 per cent of Fortune 1000 companies reduced their white-collar workforce between 1987 and 1991 (Dougherty & Bowman).

A large number of the current workforce then, experienced

financial ruin or watched their co-workers, neighbours, families, and friends go through difficult times.

Those images are etched in their memories and restrain the unbridled commitment and enthusiasm that are so starkly absent from today's work environment. If you are charged with getting high performance from a group comprised of such individuals, what can you do?

The missing key ingredient is commitment. Subconsciously, employees have a sense of dread - of being blindsided, like the thousands who had strong feelings of security and attachment to their jobs. The double whammy of downsizing is that it is invariably linked to the first port of call for cost cutting - the training budget.

Many thrown out of work were ill-equipped to cope, as they did not benefit from a significant upgrade in their skills while on the job. This presents a challenge as well as an opportunity.

Employers can grasp this opportunity and remove some of the effects of the downsizing hangover.

If your employer demonstrated a willingness to invest in your development, how would that make you feel about them and your job?

Sure, from the employer's perspective, there is the risk that the individual may leave with that investment. But that only brings some balance into the equation. As it stands, employees feel vulnerable since they can be discarded, with limited loss to the employer.

Righting the critical commitment challenge requires that employers increase their stake in the game.

Bemoaning the lack of motivation and bringing in motivational speakers for half-day sessions because you can't afford to take off a full day for training is not going to cut it. Reversal will start when employers demonstrate concrete commitment - at least to their mission-critical staff.

Since personal development appears to be near the top of the list of what employees treasure at this time, developing and implementing meaningful learning development, coaching, and mentoring programmes are no-brainers. It is a direct pathway to increased employee engagement.

But, what if you are a team leader who is not gifted with the opportunity to create and fund structured developmental programmes?

Is there something that you can do in your small corner?

Step 1: Establish yourself as team advocate. Leave no doubt, through concrete example, that you are willing to defend the best interest of the team at all times. Team goals should be aligned to organisational goals; so what is truly best for the team should be good for the organisation.

Step 2: Make sure to keep open the channel for the upward flow of communication. Too many team leaders are mere speaker boxes for management. Provide substantive evidence that you give voice to team concerns at the upper levels to ensure credibility.

Step 3: As team leader, you must have some qualities that have set you apart from your colleagues. What if you took on the task of mentoring and coaching your team members? You can share what you know, your philosophy, your vision, etc. You can give them opportunities for acquiring new skills.

If you buy in to this, you can add interesting dimensions. Go where your imagination takes you.

Demonstrate in real terms that you care about your team. You may be surprised to find that they become an oasis in the midst of a desert of disengagement.

What is in it for you?

Rocket movement up the ladder - promotion. Effective team leaders are like hidden treasures.

The SHRM accredited 3-D Leader Certification opens soon.

• Trevor E. S. Smith is a Behaviour Modification Coach with the Success with People Academy, Extended DISC/FinxS. E-mail: info@swpacademy.comWebsite: