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5 Core Aspects of Employee Engagement An organization must provide the meaningfulness and safety to an employee and only then the latter can ensure the availability of her real self completely for the organization

By Sudipto Das

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A study done by Dale Carnegie in the US shows companies with engaged employees outperform those without by more than 200%.

Various surveys point to a very dim fact that close to 80% of employees globally are not fully engaged. What could then amaze anyone is why don't the companies do something to improve on their employee engagement, given the fact that alone would improve their bottom-line.

"Employee Engagement" has perhaps become one of the most misused and misunderstood terms in the corporate world. A very basic test will show how disconnected we all have become from the original tenets of Employee Engagement.

How many times have you heard your manager saying, "Don't mix your personal and professional life," or "Don't bring your hobbies and passion to the office," or "You can do anything outside, but when in office, you should forget everything else..."?

Chances are that, we all have heard these many times, and we all feel this very strongly, somewhere deep in our mind, that we shouldn't bring our personal "self" in office and that we should become a different "self" - call it the professional "self" - the moment we step inside the four walls of the office. And that's the biggest blunder we all commit. That's why close to 80% of us haven't been ever engaged properly at the office.

If this sounds radical or ridiculous, let us hear from the horse's mouth, from Dr. William Kahn, professor of Organizational Behavior at the Boston University's Questrom School of Business and the one who has coined the term "Employee Engagement". Professor Kahn defined Personal Engagement in 1990 as the "harnessing of organization members' selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally."

Psychological Safety

What Professor Kahn means is that if an organization expects an employee to put her best at work, it should create an atmosphere for her where she can safely bring her real and unpretentious "self" at work. If she is passionate about music, she can't leave aside the music at home. She should feel psychologically safe in bringing her musical self to office too. She should feel at home. She should feel safe not to hide either her weakness or her passion, whatever they are.

What Professor Kahn introduced as a theory, Google has converted that into law through the findings of its Aristotle Project, intended to find the best team at work. Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times discusses it in his book Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business. "What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google," he says in his book, "is that no one wants to put on a ''work face'' when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ''psychologically safe"."

Psychological Meaningfulness

Only when someone would feel "psychologically safe" in office, would she find the real meaning and value at work?

A simple anecdote speaks all about meaningfulness. John F Kennedy, during a visit to The NASA Space Center in 1962, stopped by a janitor and said, "I'm Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?" Promptly came the answer from the janitor, "I'm helping put a man on the moon." Very few employees would feel so meaningful and valued at work.

Psychological Availability

When one feels safe at work and when she realizes the meaningfulness in the work she is doing, she would very naturally be completely available, in mind and body, for the work in office, because no part of her would be preoccupied outside with anything else.

Engagement of all energies

Only when someone has brought her complete "self" to the office, would she be able to engage all her energies - physical, cognitive (logical) and emotional - to her work.

When people bring their energies to their work, we see better performance. Kevin Kruse, the author of the bestselling book Employee Engagement 2.0, extends this line of thought and introduces the concept of Engagement-Profit Chain: "Engaged Employees lead to ? Higher Service, quality, and productivity, which leads to ? Higher Customer Satisfaction, which leads to ? Increased Sales (repeat business and referrals), which leads to ? Higher [...] Profit, which leads to ? Higher [...] Returns (i.e., stock price)." The same has been ratified in various surveys too.

Patina of spirituality

An organization must provide the meaningfulness and safety to an employee and only then the latter can ensure the availability of her real self completely for the organization, thus enabling the engagement of all her energies - physical, cognitive and emotional - in her work. As the real self can be One, the very premise of keeping the "personal" self at home just ruins everything.

So effectively, what we are talking about is a spiritual organization. Glenn Rifkin, coauthor of Radical Marketing and The CEO Chronicles rightly points out that "a movement toward finding spirituality and fulfilment at work is quietly coming to life". He makes a very interesting observation while trying to find a reason behind such a trend. The lookout for fulfilment and meaningfulness, he says, has been always there in the society. Till a few years ago (as recent as fifty years), an individual would derive meaningfulness from their involvement in four types of communities: the extended family comprising parents and grandparents; the civic community comprising political groups, Rotary Clubs etc; churches and finally the workplace. Evidently, the impact of the first three communities has diminished significantly in the recent times. "That leaves the workplace as the core of many people's lives." What it means is that the workplaces should deliver the responsibilities of the erstwhile churches.

It's no surprise then, that the Southwest Airlines' chief executive, Herb Kelleher, talks about the role of a spiritual force within the company. While commenting on the powerful bond between his company and its workers, Mr. Kelleher told the Fortune magazine that his airline had "a patina of spirituality". It's no wonder that Southwest features very high in Employee Engagement. It has also been the only American airlines to remain profitable over a long time, with the most on-time arrival, most passengers per employee and least employees per aircraft.

Sudipto Das

Author and Co founder of Insilico

The Bangalore-based Sudipto Das shot to literary fame with his debut novel, The Ekkos Clan, a historical,
research-based mystery that released in 2013. Following the success of his first book, Das has launched his second novel The Aryabhata Clan in December 2017. An alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, Das’ life experiences are manifold: his family left Bangladesh during the horrific riots and he heard many of the strife-torn stories during his growing up years in Calcutta, which had a profound influence on his first book. A veteran in the semi-conductor industry and a successful entrepreneur, Das always had a natural inclination towards the creative arts: an accomplished violinist, he founded the music band Kohal in 2007. However, his first love was always writing, which gave him creative satisfaction like no other art form could.
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