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Careers: Rules of Engagement

A survey by Gallup indicated that 1 out of 4 employees would fire their boss. Did that grab your attention? It did mine. But before we start packing up our offices or updating our resumes, it’s important to note that results varied widely based on whether employees were identified as engaged, not engaged, or actively disengaged at work.

A survey by Gallup indicated that 1 out of 4 employees would fire their boss. Did that grab your attention? It did mine. But before we start packing up our offices or updating our resumes, it’s important to note that results varied widely based on whether employees were identified as engaged, not engaged, or actively disengaged at work.

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The report goes on to conclude that employees who doubt their bosses care about them are far more likely to want to show them the door. But that’s not all. Gallup estimates the loss of productivity for the roughly 25 million workers 18 or older who are actively disengaged costs the U.S. economy approximately $382 billion annually.

So what’s a manager to do? The easy answer is to keep the engaged employees engaged, engage the not-engaged, and find a way to reach, or get rid of, the actively disengaged. The results of the survey underline a point I heard Jim Runde, Vice Chairman at Morgan Stanley, make during a recent presentation to a group of job seekers at the firm’s worldwide headquarters in New York last week. “Who you work with is more important than were you work.” As Runde put it, it’s the micro issues (immediate supervisor didn’t have their back, didn’t get along with the team, etc.) that cause people to check out. Working for a great company, or even paying employees big salaries, isn’t enough to keep today’s workers engaged.

As a manager, how do you combat those micro issues?

Rule #1-Move from annual to quarterly reviews. This was something my last boss (the big fan of Silly Putty I mentioned in a previous entry) did and it enabled her to identify and react to issues sooner. During our reviews, she discussed our mutually agreed upon performance objectives, accomplishments, personal development goals and strength and development areas. Most importantly, she asked us to come up with a list of things that were working and things that weren’t. At first, this was something that made me a little gun shy: share too much information and you could send yourself up the creek without a paddle; don’t share enough and you could come across as disingenuous. But she promoted an office culture that over time made me feel comfortable in sharing candid feedback. Although I never discussed this with her, I believe the feedback she received from her direct reports not only went a long way in helping her keep a finger on the pulse of what was going on with each team member, but also with what was going on with our team as a whole.

Rule #2-Look for opportunities for your employees to stretch. Top performers often seek these out on their own, but others (especially younger employees) might not know how to get the ball rolling. But before you ask employees to stretch, it’s important to find opportunities that dovetail with their skill set or, if they don’t, that they have ample time and support to do so.

Rule #3-Spend time around the water cooler. As a manager, you don’t have to and shouldn’t get involved with catty conversations and gossip, but opening up a little bit and spending time chatting with your employees will go a long way towards letting them know you care about them. It might sound like common sense, but I’ve heard of quite a few bosses who don’t come out of their office until it’s time to go home.

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That reminds me of another point Runde made during his presentation: “The more time you spend with people, the more you have a chance to get to know and understand them.” He was talking about his clients, but the same holds true with coworkers. Ask them about their weekend, their hobbies…them.

Rules of engagement are constantly changing. What keeps one employee’s motor going might not work for someone else. And just because someone is engaged today doesn’t mean they won’t be actively disengaged tomorrow. The next time you’re focused on the big picture, don’t forget to take some time out to understand and address the micro issues.

Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).

About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning.

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