Individualize Your Employee Engagement Approach

There is a problem within today’s workforce. Turnover is expensive and can run rampant, but perhaps more alarming is the cost of those employees who remain but are not engaged.

Nationally, only about 30 percent of employees are engaged in their work, and worldwide, the number is just 13 percent. According to Gallup, the national number alone represents an estimated “$450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity” from employees who “are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.” Put simply, lack of engagement hurts your company’s productivity and profitability.

On a related note, 83 percent of employees who feel negatively about their companies’ cultures say their organizations either never assess employee engagement or only do it annually. When you also consider that two in three employees across the entire organization (not just those who don’t like the culture) say their organizations either never assess employee engagement or only do it annually, it becomes more apparent that most employers have no idea whether or not their employees are fully engaged. Nor do they know how to assess this engagement or how much it is negatively impacting their bottom line and culture. This all points to just how critical it is to get our employees engaged in their work. And engaging employees takes commitment to helping them see the value of their jobs and the vision of the company.

There are many ways to do this, but one basic theory within the fields of marketing and persuasion, known as Functional Attitude Theory, might help us in our quest to increase employee engagement. This theory states that when a persuasive message agrees with a person’s needs and attitudes about a topic (these attitudes may change from topic to topic), the person responds favorably to the message. According to the theory, there are five basic functional attitudes, and recognizing how they might appear in your organization and how you can attend to them may just be your key to increase employee engagement within your organization.

Utilitarian (also called the instrumental function). These employees seek sense and understanding in order to get the most useful outcomes from any situation. These employees may crave the right equipment to do their jobs or the right training to become more proficient in their roles. You can assess what software, office supplies, and trainings these employees want and need, assess their viability or existence in your organization, and then implement those that are reasonable. Also, educate your employees about opportunities and tools already in place to make sure your utilitarian employees know these things are available to them.

Social-Adjustive. These employees desire to either 1) create or nurture relationships with desired others, or 2) emphasize how different they are from undesirable others. These employees may be disengaged because they don’t get enough interaction with other employees or don’t feel like they get enough recognition for their work. Some employees feel that social interaction can actually increase productivity, and regular recognition and management of performance can get employees excited about their work. So, to get these employees engaged, make sure you are holding team standups and occasional off-sites, giving regular feedback, and recognizing their accomplishments and contributions.

Value-Expressive. These employees seek out greater meaning in their work and enjoy work that supports their core values and beliefs. They want to enhance lives, improve the environment, contribute an honest day’s work, or otherwise work to support something they intrinsically believe in. If these employees are disengaged, it’s possible they just don’t see the outcome of the work they do. Show them the customers’ lives your company or final product touches and how your principles and practices protect the environment; allow them to leave work for their children’s mid-day recitals; tell them expressly that you value and respect them.

Ego-Defensive. This attitude arises when people want to protect their self-esteem and reduce or avoid threatening feelings. These employees value the education, skills, and proficiencies they have developed, and take great pride in who they are and what they can do. They can become disengaged if they aren’t given enough responsibility, empowerment, trust, or respect. Once again, recognition is important here. These employees respond to it for a different reason than our social-adjustive employees, though. These employees see it as validation, respect, and certification of additionally acquired proficiency. So whether you do it publicly or privately, if you recognize these employees’ contributions and accomplishments, they will become eagerly engaged in the work at hand.

Knowledge. This attitude is employed by individuals who want to organize the world and reduce uncertainty. These employees want to know how to do their jobs and what it takes to do them well. Give these employees experienced mentors, clear instructions and directions, and regular training, and they will respond with earnest dedication.

It’s important to remember that people’s attitudes take on different functions from situation to situation, so how they feel about work may not coincide with how they feel about, say, buying a car. But each employee has a particular attitude toward their work that requires a different appeal to them and drives their passion for their work and the company. Once they are engaged, you will be able to focus effectively on how to do great work, but don’t forget to measure engagement regularly, so you stay aware of the climate of your team.