Balancing Act: Good managers keep employees engaged

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It has become one of the most perplexing workplace questions of the century for businesses worldwide: How do you keep employees engaged and emotionally invested in their jobs?

Some employers have taken the free lunch approach.

Deborah Beetson can count on catered lunch once a month and regular bagel breakfasts. She also can invite clients to the wine bar at her West Palm Beach office. Those are just some of the perks that have landed her employer, DPR Construction, on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work.

But, says Ms. Beetson, it is not the wine bar, free meals or even the bring-your-dog-to-work days that keep her engaged. "The perks are there to make it a fun place to be, but if you don't believe leadership cares about you and values your opinion, then perks lose their meaning."

"Perks can attract people and make them feel content, but they won't get employees to a high level of engagement," says Jim Harter, Gallup's chief scientist of workplace management and well-being.

Some consider the lack of employee engagement an epidemic. Despite more awareness, the low rate of engagement hasn't budged in more than a decade. According to the Gallup Organization, the number of "actively disengaged workers" continues to be twice the number of engaged employees, defined as emotionally invested in their organizations.

Those engaged employees are the ones that work hardest, stay longest and perform best. Of the country's roughly 100 million full time employees, an alarming 70 million -- 70 percent -- are either not engaged at work or actively "checked out," Gallup found.

Mr. Harter believes employers need to shift their focus from pampering, which can create a sense of entitlement, to making employees feel like partners. "If you're offering perks and not putting energy toward hiring and developing excellent managers, you're going about it the wrong way."

In studying "Great Places to Work," researchers found employees want to feel the work they are doing is important and to trust their managers care about them as individuals.

"Managers can't forget that these are people who have a life outside of work they are actively trying to manage," said Jessica Rohman, program director at Great Place to Work Institute. Even employees at companies considered great places to work report disengagement when bosses don't understand how accommodating unplanned life needs affects work commitment.

Florida Power & Light vice president Michael Kiley knows the benefits are just one component. An ongoing interest in employees' career path and a sense of team work are what inspire discretionary effort from employees, he says. "Engagement is really about what you do every day to make employees feel part of a team. They need to know how they make that team better every day."

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life; balancegal@gmail.com.


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