Stop Trying To Make Your Employees Happier

It's personal resilience that managers need to develop in their teams to get the sort of engagement they seek.

learn more about Andrew D. Wittman

By Andrew D. Wittman

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It's no secret that workplaces are dealing with what Gallup calls a "worldwide employee engagement crisis,' with four of every six employees on the payroll just collecting a check or worse, actively sabotaging the organization. To combat this, the conventional wisdom was to create a company culture around employee satisfaction by offering perks and benefits like child care, gym memberships, robust retirement plans, health insurance and holiday bonuses.

It turns out, those things didn't produce engaged employees. Worse, in some ways, they encouraged the disengaged to stay on the payroll by adding what some workplace experts refer to as "golden handcuffs."

Related: 5 Unique Employee Perks, From Trips Across the World to RFID Chip Implants

The next evolution of chasing employee satisfaction in the hopes of increasing the ranks of the engaged was to offer flex-time and telecommuting. This strategy served only to give more opportunity to the disengaged to slack off because it reduced oversight, created silos and hampered cross-collaboration. Instead, the only real way to increase engagement is to build a culture not around perks and happiness, but around resilience.

Handling what comes.

Resilience is the ability to take complete control of your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions, especially under pressure. Resilience is the skill to handle anything your life, and your job, throws your way. Resilience operates from a foundation of love and abundance, not fear and scarcity. Resilience turns negative stress into rocket fuel. Having it is the difference between being detached from your work or being engaged.

To date, the practice of management has been to treat the symptoms of defeatism and disengagement by applying Band-Aids to bullet holes. Trying to make your employees happier isn't going to move the engagement needle. Happiness is fleeting for most people. Instead, we should be treating the root causes of disengagement by providing our employees with the mental and emotional tools to control their thoughts, feelings, attitudes and emotions, AKA resilience.

First, understand how your employees' brains work.

In the last decade or so, through cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, we have learned that the brain takes in approximately 11 million bits of information per second about what you see, what you feel, what you hear, etc. However, only a tiny fraction of those bits (about 126) go to the conscious mind to influence action. The key question is, how do people pick the 126 bits that get sent to the conscious mind?

Studies show that what we think, what we feel, our opinions, and our attitudes become the filter that chooses the 126 bits. We discard 99.99 percent of the information our brain detects and pick only the information that confirms our feelings, opinions and attitudes.

For example, if you think today is going to be an awesome day, your brain will go to work and find the exact 126 bits of information per second that prove your genius self to be correct. However, if you think today is going to be an awful day, your brain will go to work and find the exact 126 bits of information that prove your genius self to be correct. In psychology, it's called confirmation bias.

Related: 4 Unconscious Biases That Distort Performance Reviews

Therefore, science tells us that a person who believes they can do something can do it and the person who believes that it's impossible cannot. This defeatism and disengagement become a downward spiral that can spread throughout your organization, if you let it.

Clarify work expectations.

Miscommunication is a leading contributor to disengagement. Gallup data reveals that only 13 percent of employees strongly agree that leadership communicates effectively. No wonder workers are disengaged!

Leaders must first clarify their own thoughts and expectations about a task or project before they can expect their employees to. Strive to be more direct when giving assignments because the odds here indicate that you too have a communications issue that's contributing to disengagement.

Switch from a "survival mindset' to a "thriving mindset.'

According to Gallup, only 15 percent of employees strongly agree that the leadership of their organizations makes them enthusiastic about the company's future. Cease and desist defaulting to just "putting out fires'. Stop with the "do more with less' mantra. Get people what they need to do their work. Invest in technology and efficiency.

The more your employees feel the company is operating in survival mode and wasting time with inefficient and reactionary processes, the more disengaged they will become. A thriving mindset says, "We can always generate more money, we can never generate more time. How can we utilize everyone's time more effectively to generate greater revenue?"

Provide career development.

Give your employees a sense of agency in developing their own bright futures. If you cannot increase your L&D spending, leverage what budget you do have by utilizing talent development solutions that are based on the latest science and research and not just the cheapest, off-the-shelf, check-the-box seminar.

Instead, spend your resources on creating self-managing employees. Developed self-mangers are in charge and control of themselves. They are committed and engaged with themselves, internally. The traditional practice of seeing management as external is exactly what has created the disengagement pandemic. It's the difference between someone who is committed to a company's mission and values, and someone who is merely compliant with its mission and values.

Related: 4 Essentials for Making Your Company Mission Thrive

Promote positive coworker relationships.

Take a top-down approach to facilitating better co-worker relationships. Starting with the CEO and executive level. A full 62 percent of executives and managers alike are disengaged. No wonder the rest of the employees are! Become a good model for what workplace engagement, clarity of thought, enthusiasm, thriving mindset and communication should look like in leadership. Then, retrain the other levels of your staff.

Each of us, employee, manager, executive and CEO alike, all bear responsibility for our own resilience and engagement. The magic happens when we fully engage with ourselves and then persuade, influence and guide everyone in the organization, regardless of position or pay grade, to recreate that within themselves.

Resilience and engagement, like defeatism and disengagement, are contagious. Happiness is fleeting; only fulfillment through purposeful achievement is sustainable.

Andrew D. Wittman

Personal and Executive Leadership Advisor

Andrew D. Wittman, PhD, is a United States Marine Corps infantry combat veteran, a former police officer and federal agent. As a Special Agent for the U.S. Capitol Police, Wittman led the security detail for Nancy Pelosi and has personally protected Hillary Clinton, Tom Delay, Trent Lott, King Abdullah of Jordan, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Sir Elton John, as well as Fortune 20 CEOs. As a security contractor for the State Department, he taught high-threat diplomatic security to former Navy SEALS, Marines, Rangers, and Special Forces.

Wittman is founder of the Mental Toughness Training Center, a leadership consultancy specializing in peak performance, team dynamics, resolving conflict in the workplace and is the author of the new book, Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You (2016). He holds a Ph.D. in Theological Studies, is a guest lecturer at Clemson University and co-hosts the radio call-in show “Get Warrior Tough.”

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