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Are you sucking the positive energy out of your employees?

According to Blessing White’s 2011 Employee Engagement Report, only 31% of employees are “engaged,” which we’ll define here as being happy with their jobs and willing to work at full capacity. Why so few?

Employee engagement experts have an interesting answer to that question. They believe that high engagement is our natural state. Don Rheem of Engagient calls it “the default option.” Think about that. When we hire people, they’ve almost always got a spring in their step and a sparkle in their eyes because they’re burning with desire to do a great job, to help the company, and to advance their careers. But what do they look like a year later? Too often, they look defeated.

If Rheem is right, and if human beings are hard-wired for engagement in their work, then the only explanation for those disengaged workers is that the company sucked all that positive energy right out of them.

One of the best ways to completely destroy employee morale is to give your employees traditional annual performance evaluations. You know, the ones where you check off boxes and rate employees on various criteria. Lots has been written about this dehumanizing process.

When you see it through the lens of engagement, you understand why it’s so bad. Engaged workers love the work they do. They love it so much that they’re willing to volunteer their “discretionary effort” – that is, the difference between what they need to do to keep their job and what they’re actually capable of doing. But they want something in return: validation. They desperately need to know that someone is paying attention, that somebody gets why they’re good at what they do.

If your company has institutionalized annual performance reviews, what message does that send to your leaders? It implies that they only have to give performance feedback once a year. Well, engaged employees want validation daily, or weekly, or at most monthly. They want continual feedback from their bosses, telling them they’re moving in the right – or the wrong – direction.

If you want to sustain employee engagement, send the message to your leaders that recognition is a small price to pay for all that discretionary effort. And trash the annual performance review.

By: Stephen Meyer


Pamela Day

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