How to Engage Employees in Any Economy

Prior to my life as a Leadership Keynote Speaker and Executive Coach, I was a corporate executive for a long time. During that tenure, one of the most interesting comments I heard about my leadership results was:
“I don’t know what you’re doing over there but your teams sure are happy. They work longer hours than anyone else and they are always having fun.” Learn more at the employee engagement software site Kainexus.

This was even more interesting a comment because I heard it during the depths of the recession when hiring and salaries were frozen, our staff numbers were thinned through attrition, and all the “extras” were a distant memory. Now, I knew that this observation was a bit of an exaggeration because my teams obviously weren’t always happy. No one in corporate America is, especially during tough times.

I understood why this senior executive held this perception, though. He sat nearby my team for a year or so and, during that time, he saw spontaneous dance contests, singing in the halls, boisterous and frequent conversations over the cubicle walls, and lots of group screaming in front a hallway television screen during Monday Night Football (we never got out in time for people to watch at home! Heck, it was advertising).

Why this comment was most interesting, though, was because I never set out to have a “happy” team. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled that they were happy, that they got along, that they occasionally danced in the halls. But that wasn’t the goal.

My priority was their welfare, their growth, and their security and, in turn, the welfare, growth, and security of my company.

Sometimes that meant they didn’t like me very much. Sometimes it meant that they weren’t so happy that day… or week. If I knew that their thinking I was Attila the Hun occasionally was getting them through a challenge, then I was o.k. with that.

Ultimately, they climbed over that challenge, then another, then another. They knew they had earned the “stuff” to make them successful. They knew that they were valuable. That’s why they were happy. That’s why they sang in the halls.

As a leader, you need to care deeply about your people’s welfare, their growth, and their security. They sense it. They know when you think they are valuable. They also sense it when you don’t.
In this case, the chicken and the egg argument is obvious.

You can’t create a happy team by throwing parties or having group lunches.
The appearance of happiness in the halls, and often times of that ever elusive engagement, comes from an employee who knows that their organization and their leader cares about their welfare, is interested in growing their careers and not just in getting the job done, and is empowering and equipping them to create their own security no matter what challenge is thrown at them.