Do Your Employees Really Love You?

Engagement in the workplace has plummeted and a lot of people don't like their jobs. Use these tips to figure out how your company's employees truly feel.

It’s no secret that many people aren’t thrilled with their jobs.

Fast Company covered Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report extensively this spring. This report found that 70% of workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” Perhaps more telling: Despite years of employee engagement programs and an industry of consultants working on this issue, this number hasn’t changed much since Gallup started asking these questions in 2000. A more recent Right Management survey found that 84% of employees either strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, “Sometimes I feel trapped in my current job and want to find a new position elsewhere.”

Perhaps you’re thinking that such disengagement couldn’t happen in your organization. But here’s a different question you should consider answering first: How do you know if your employees really love you?

Surveys are for suckers?

Many big companies do annual surveys, but Scott Ahlstrand, senior vice president for talent management at RIght Management, reports that he recently completed a global study of employee engagement programs and found that seven of 10 organizations said their program was “not achieving all the goals it was designed for.” Organizations are “partying like it’s 1999.” That’s the year the book First, Break All the Rules came out, which inspired a lot of corporate America’s obsession with engagement. Managers feel good because a survey exists, but too often organizations lack the discipline to do much about the results. “You don’t fatten the cow by weighing it every day,” Ahlstrand says.

Fortunately, if you’re a manager in a larger organization, you don’t have to wait for the results of the big survey to figure out how your employees are feeling and what you should be doing about it--and if you’re running a smaller organization, such surveys may not be part of life anyway. Instead, this is “an opportunity for ‘emotional intelligence’--using your senses and intuition to observe employee behavior,” says Cary Hatch, CEO of MDB Communications, an advertising agency in Washington D.C. She advises looking at your team members’ off-the-clock behavior. If people are invested beyond what’s in their job description, “they are likely to ‘bring something more’ to the firm than what’s required. Those things can be as homespun as showing up with homemade cookies at the weekly staff meeting or as significant as ‘I was thinking about the XYZ client problem, over the weekend . . . and here’s an idea I don’t think we’ve considered before.’ ”

"Authentic engagement is palpable."

Engagement can also take the form of employees using their personal capital, “like offering up an introduction to their friends or family that can provide a valuable connection for your company,” says Hatch. That is “a great gesture to an employer that says, Hey, I believe in you and what we’re doing, and I’m willing to put my brand at stake with people I care about in order to advance our mutual cause.”

From years running her business, Hatch says she’s realized that “Bringing part of themselves (cookies, a six-pack, or homemade pie from their mom) or thinking and problem-solving on their own time likely indicates not just a desire to get ahead, but a genuine interest and investment in your company’s mission. Yes, it could be ‘sucking up’--but hey, we all know what that looks like. Authentic engagement is palpable. You know it when you see it.”

A way to guarantee you’ll see it? Create a culture where communication happens in low-key ways all the time. ADG Creative, a communications agency in Columbia, Maryland, tries to encourage this by having a pub--with beers on tap--in the middle of the office. There’s coffee-making capability too, and the staff has breakfast together at 8:30 a.m. on Mondays and closes out the week with a happy hour that ends by 4 p.m. on Fridays.

“Nothing says I love you like a Guinness,” explains Jeff Antkowiak, ADG’s chief creative officer. More seriously, “People act fundamentally different at a conference table than they do in a pub environment,” and part of figuring out how people feel is having frequent low-pressure communication like you would with friends at a bar. Antkowiak likens it to the situation at his kids’ school, where he’s been on the board of directors for years. He helped to hire all the teachers. “We grew to be friends. We got together socially--and so at parent-teacher conferences, we never talked about my kids.” That’s because “we talked all year long. We didn’t wait for parent-teacher conferences to check in on how the kids are doing.”

Reviewing annual reviews

That’s not to say the professional equivalent of parent-teacher conferences--annual reviews--can’t be part of assessing employee engagement. After a bad experience with a packaged review process, ADG developed its own system called You in Review. Employees fill out answers in little booklets to questions such as “What do you need to be awesomer?”--a quick way to figure out unmet employee desires--and “What’s the coolest thing you did for an ADG client this year?” That’s a quick way to figure out what sorts of projects most excite any given team member.

People were “surprisingly honest,” says Antkowiak. The key is “building an environment where people aren’t afraid to talk.”

[Image: Flickr user Jean Pichot]

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22 Comments

  • Montymike13

    Wow, I'm very shocked FastCo. This article you've written really misses the mark and
    quite frankly, I don't know how much credibility I can give the publication
    after having read this and actually knowing the truth. Not sure how much actual
    research went into writing this but, as quite a few of the comments indicate,
    this is NOT an environment that practices what it preaches and honestly,
    shouldn't be promoted.

    One thing to note before I continue, not all "former" employees are
    trying to badmouth this agency. Everybody doesn't have an axe to grind. As a
    former employee, let me explain that I'm only posting this so other candidates
    who might stumble upon this fictitious story don't make the same mistakes I and
    so many others before me made.

    ADG has a great recruiting sales team. We ALL fell for the new office, cool
    "Starbucks-like" cafe, and "beer with a buddy" sales pitch.
    The idea of Monday morning breakfasts to begin the week and 4pm Happy Hours to
    close the week also appeared to be a good "team-building" tactic.
    Well, we soon found out that ADG is a place run by a heavy-handed, intrusive,
    non-trusting leader that doesn't have enough faith in the people he hires,
    which is why he's been known to take his creative teams' work home with him to
    redesign.

    The question of tenure and turnover was mentioned in a previous post. To be
    honest, really good agencies don't have a ton of turnover. They are staffed by
    employees who've been there for years and aren't planning on going anywhere. If
    you're letting go of so many people after such a short period of time, the
    issue isn't in the people you're hiring, it's in the fact that you don't know
    how to hire in the first place. I've seen them hire many people only to let
    them go after a very short time - sometimes as short as 4 weeks. Too short to
    even judge someone's strengths and/or their weaknesses. I even witnessed them
    let go of people they had just relocated. Many who stick it out are only doing
    so because they are under contract and would be penalized greatly if they were
    to leave.

    For those current employees that love ADG, good for you. You've found your way
    in and have managed to stay away from the BS.

    Admirable as it is, but the COO's wife coming to his defense is completely baseless as she's not an employee of ADG and doesn't know anything of what
    goes on there.

    And lastly, the reason people choose not to leave their real name is because of
    future retribution. Why do you think certain witnesses wish to remain anonymous.
    Don't give me this crap that just because people don't sign their name that it
    automatically negates their experiences.
     

  • JWE

    I, as a current ADG employee, also have a different view
    than the former employees.

     

    It is no doubt true that organizations can run in a
    “business as usual 9-5 don’t forget your TPS cover sheet” mode but isn’t that
    really the worst scenario.

     

    I am a builder at heart, I live to create and I have seen on
    a daily basis that ADG is a creative organization and seeks to not just deliver
    but to exceed and innovate.  Novel
    creation, innovation, and creative evolution require continual changes in
    ideas, approaches, and methods and even a little chaos at time.  This creative evolution may happen seemingly
    randomly but it is part of a process to exceed the norm and is always put
    forward with noble intent. 

     

    I have seen individuals work long hours in response to a need
    or change but not every day or every weekend. More telling than the need for
    long hours is seeing individuals easily take well-deserved vacations without
    disrupting projects, a feat that shows the quality of the processes and team as
    a whole and rarer than one would expect in most organizations.

     

    I have witnessed brilliant evolutions of ideas as teams and
    leaders collaborate, discuss, add, discard, and grow elements of a project. I
    have even seen leaders change their mind about an approach they prefer to one
    that a subordinate has put forward because there is trust in the intent and
    capability of the individuals.

     

    I have participated and witnessed many creative dialogs with
    the leadership around specific projects or any passion an individual may have,
    amazing conversations with genuine interest on both sides and impressive
    displays of intellect and insight.

     

    I have seen the group and leadership appreciation of individuals
    who went the extra mile. Appreciation beyond buying a meal, having a drink, or
    saying thank you…it is a real appreciation and respect for accomplishing
    something that most could not. 

     

    Thus I would say I am lucky to work with, learn with,
    converse with, and have a few drinks with a team (bottom to top, left to right,
    short to tall) that is easily worthy of respect and admiration.

  • April Orlofsky

    I work at ADG.   Clearly, the former employees
    posting on this thread had bad experiences, and it makes me sad that there is
    so much bitterness, especially given that I most likely know you.  Your
    posts have also made me mad.  Whatever your intent, the posts are
    offensive to those of us who work here.  We are not idiots, as your posts
    most definitely imply, intentionally or not. 
     
    ADG has been nothing but supportive of me in my tenure
    here, including those folks in the “glass hallway” that have been called
    out.  In fact, I have needed leadership support several times, and it is
    the people in that “glass hallway” who come through for me time and again.
     

    This story is about the ADG of now, and if you don’t work
    here right now, then you don’t qualify to comment.  I do.  My
    teammates do.  My coworkers do.   So I’ll tell you what makes
    this a great workplace.  Intent.  Excitement.  Cool products. 
    But most of all… The people.  Coworkers banding together as a team to get
    things done.  The people who actually WORK here, right now. 
     Including that hallway.   There are challenges.  Of course
    there are.   We choose to stay and help ADG evolve.

  • Confused

    I just wanted to add that 'No Reply' is likely an current employee. While those who have left may have some complaints about ADG, but they are out of the picture and have moved on. There is nothing gained in looking back and throwing stones at this point. Additionally, a former employee that is that upset has no reason to hide their identity.

    It's really a moot point who wrote it though. From reading the comments here, and those on Glassdoor. ADG sounds like it has amazing talent. The gripe seems to mostly be the working hours and not having some creative freedom. ADG should tackle these issues head-on and address them. Employees should be your most important asset, and turnover at ADG appears to be high. At some point, they'll be spending more money to get new employees up to speed than they are working on actual projects.

  • Aa

    I recently watched a 2007 documentary called "Heckler" which offered various viewpoints on why people feel compelled to openly criticize other people. George Lucas actually makes a brief cameo appearance, and states that there are two types of people in the world—creators and destroyers—and he chooses to be part of the group of people who create.

    It IS much easier to destroy something than to create something. Ask anyone who gardens... tearing out the weeds is sort of the easy part. But nurturing something from seed, ensuring that your soil is good, providing sunlight and water—all over the course of time—takes patience, passion, and commitment.

    I work at ADG Creative. Alongside some of the most talented, passionate, funny, inspiring people I know. Like April says, we have our challenges. But we're committed to rolling up our sleeves and making something great over time. Why? Because we know the fruit of our labor is worth the effort, and we can look back one day with pride and say—WE DID IT.

  • Judy Bruns

    I agree with April.  I followed her here 4 years ago and am still VERY glad to work here for all the things she mentioned.  My story is a little different, as I'm a contractor, not an employee, so maybe I don't feel all the pain, BUT I too have been here some late nights and I felt appreciated and supported in those efforts.  I've also seen positive change here in the last four years and I think this small company is doing lots of great things and I'm thrilled to be a part of all of it... cool work, new ideas, fun parties, beer on Friday's, community spirit, spontaneous treats, great coworkers, new challenges, and people on the "glass hallway" that care and are trying.

  • Say what?

    Want to know what ADG is really like? Glassdoor paints a pretty good picture:
    http://www.glassdoor.com/Revie...

    It's unfortunate because their employees (outside of management) are incredibly talented. A sure way to lose folks is to over work and under appreciate them.

  • another ex-ADGer

    ADG is the WORST place to work. Is this article a joke?  Unless you like working nights, weekends, until 2am, until 5am and being on call constantly. Yeah, in this industry we work long hours, but NOT like this and NOT due to extreme inefficiencies and decisions changing at the last minute. 

    This is an abusive workplace and should not be celebrated. You will never see your family when you work here. But good news! Because ADG has beer and coffee and a gym and a cafe, you never have to leave! Why do you think all of those things are there? And it's not a good place to pay your dues as the concepts and fresh ideas usually are negatively impacted by the CCO/owners outdated input. It's a thankless job. 

  • GoofyGuy

    The article asks the question “How do you know if your employees really love you?” Ask almost anyone that truly knows about ADG Creative, and the answer will be a huge laugh followed by “oh, I’m sorry, was that a real question?” The breakfasts and bar sound neat and look cool when they show prospective employees around but this by itself does not create a positive work atmosphere. If you need further evidence of this, just check out the reviews on glassdoor.com. By the way, don’t let the positive reviews that are sprinkled in their fool you. It is well known by current and former employees that a majority of those were written at the direction of upper management.

    The turnover is very high at this organization and would be even worse if it weren’t for contracts that some employees are locked into that punish them for leaving early. A college student interested in art toured the facility recently and was introduced to numerous people in each department. The first thing he said when asked how it went was “why does the tenure of everyone here seem so short?” It is also amazing how many people leave ADG without another job lined up.

    Oh, and the quote from Jeff “building an environment where people aren’t afraid to talk” is just laughable.

  • No-reply

     As a former ADGer, trudging to mandatory breakfasts and happy hours was bullsh!t. This company constantly boasts of it's employee friendly behavior, but anyone, besides those in the Ivory Tower, or rather the glass walled executive hallway, cannot speak up without retribution.

    I personally know several current and former employees, (labor slaves), who would love to answer the "What can make me awesomer?" with letter of resignation. ADG rules by fear, their Chief People Officer, Craig Van Brackle, is one of the worst people persons I have ever dealt with. Once you join ADG, you are roped into all their boasting activities like "Gumbo and Mistletoe", Happy Hour, and Breakfast.

    It is a great place to learn about horrible office environments. If you want long hours, without much creative freedom, or just need to pay your dues, by all means, check out ADG. Do not, for one second, buy into this article. Jeff and Craig actively work on getting fluff pieces like this published when they need a hiring boost. If you dare interview, ask about work life balance and hour many hours are expected each week. Ask about why they cannot keep a CTO, Bryan Harris is set to depart Sept 5th. Why, if a company is so great, can they not keep good talent. Don't buy into the fluff.

  • Lisa VanBrackle

    It's easy to say what you want without having the courage to put your name on your post - speaks volumes for your character.  I can only laugh about your comment regarding Craig VanBrackle. If he's the worst "people person" you've ever met, you need to get out more. Or be grateful you haven't met his wife.  And I'm not afraid to leave my name.

  • John Baxter

    Engagement is easier if you are engaged. 

    Do you have a meaningful objective or purpose?  Do you have the autonomy to figure out how to deliver an outcome?  Are you measuring progress though a scorecard or published document?  Do you provide regular updates?

    Ask what you need to be engaged and you have the answer for your team.

  • Matt Harrington

    My name is Matthew Harrington; I’m the co-author of Survival of the Hive: 7 Leadership Lessons from a Beehive. In the book we took a look at employee motivation and engagement. Here is what we came up with:

     

    The CAMP model for motivation and engagement.  The acronym stands for
    Competency, Autonomy, Meaningfulness and Progress.  It's easy to remember, but challenging to actually do effectively.

    Getting your workers to "like" you is a little bit like how teenagers retrospectively feel after being given responsibility, boundaries and guidelines - it may not be sexy at first, but they recognize how it paid off in the long run.
    CAMP is the following: 

    It’s providing the workers with competency or the ability to
    attain skills and talent.  Competency to do his/her job well, providing
    outlets of learning (conferences, study groups, research), collaborating and
    being mentored. 

     

    It’s autonomy.  Autonomy to go out and explore new things,
    make decisions on their own and be held accountability (own something i.e. a
    project).  Think of Google’s recently canceled 70/20/10 rule that
    supports this.

     

    Its meaningfulness.  One, is the company’s mission
    meaningful to them (I suggest reading Dharmesh
    Shah’s recent post on this). Two, do they feel that they provide meaning to
    the company – have they been told this (feedback, performance review,
    hi-fives). 

     

    And finally, are they seeing progress.  I remember working
    with a young woman in an advertising firm who was absolutely great at
    graphic design.  She should have progressed faster than she did.  She
    stayed 3 years and when she didn’t see the progress that she expected (and she
    deserved) she left.  Millennials, perhaps more so than other generations,
    need to see they’re getting somewhere.  Organizations would do well to have a
    game plan for succession planning and leadership growth so the workers have a
    clear expectation of where they can get to in 6 months, a year, 3 years and
    beyond.

     

    That’s my quick two sense – maybe it helps, maybe it
    doesn’t.  In any event, good luck!

    Oh yeah, and pick up the book! :) 

  • Joe Passkiewicz

    Engagement is tricky.  Just because someone brings in cookies or beer doesn't always signal an engaged employee.  They may have strong connections to coworkers and a weaker connection to the company.  I think that low pressure communication can be effective but I don't think you can always count on it being entirely open and honest.  I think you need to spend personal and emotional capital in order to get honest responses.  Be vulnerable.  Tell the truth.  Be real!   

  • Elena Drozdova

    Thank you very much for your post! It is very interesting and useful (if you want to improve something in the company).

  • Shago

    "I don't like my job." No one cares. You aren't paid to like your job. You are paid to DO your job." Larry Winget