English - United States
There's an enigma around employee engagement - even though you can tell when it is or isn’t happening, you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint exactly why.
On any given day, people expect the best for their money. But when people treat themselves, whether it’s at a hotel on vacation, at a restaurant, or for a recreational activity, you better believe that the expectations are higher. And the hospitality industry knows this all too well. They are called “Hospitality” after all. If you drop the ball while providing exceptional customer experiences, clients will take their feel-good spending elsewhere. But you can only deliver excellent customer experiences when your employees feel good about their workplace. So, do you really know what makes your employees happy?
Here’s what many employers assume; employees who are given a set of responsibilities and tasks will complete those tasks in the same set ways, and with the same designated people, over and over again. An employee who shows up, follows these designated patterns and does as they’re asked are considered by many to be sufficiently ‘engaged’.
Yet, those same employers can suffer from high levels of employee turnover, low levels of discretionary effort, and poor employer branding. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the hotel industry has a yearly employee turnover rate of 73.8%. That's staggering. As a hospitality employer, you need to be looking at more than whether your employees are on-time and perform what’s asked of them, for you to gauge engagement. Especially if you’re in the hospitality industry, a less-than-happy employee could spell disaster for how your demanding customers are treated.
You can use a formula for employee experience, which is made up of culture, technology and physical space. If done right, this formula culminates in engaged employees. But how do you know if you’re doing it right? You can tell when employees are engaged by measuring anything from performance, employee retention, and widespread exceptional customer experiences to positive employer branding.
But there’s a catch. The enigma around engagement is that even though you know when it is or isn’t happening, you can’t always point to why exactly.
Let’s go back to how employers think about engagement: their employees show up and do what’s asked of them over and over again. But what happens when one of those collaborating employees is sick? Or when tasks or responsibilities grow in scope? Employees will then be forced to approach different colleagues, with different expertise, in search of support.
The willingness to make connections at work with colleagues you wouldn’t normally collaborate with is what sets apart ‘the engagement haves’ from the have nots. The ability for employees to make things happen, across set lines of communication and structure, is a pillar of the elusive "engagement”. This industrious and improvisational attitude should be encouraged in workforces around the world, yet is rarely acknowledged, and hard to measure. Making due with what you can, and getting things done despite obstacles, is when workplace magic happens. It’s when your employees find one another. But this can only happen, and flourish, when employers understand that workplace engagement cannot be measured in fixed, static terms. Engaged workplaces are a harmonious symphony of moving parts, and need to be measured as such.
How can we define this elusive equilibrium? Whatever you want to call it, be it (excuse the buzzword) ‘synergy’, ‘effortless team dynamics’, or having a ‘well-oiled machine’, it’s the state reached when things run smoothly and your customer experience soars. Most of us have no idea about what really creates this ‘synergy’. When you ask happy employees why things are going well at work, even they themselves won’t be able to describe it accurately.
This can be explained by the brain. When you ask people about their feelings toward their relationship with work or personal relationships, it triggers a part of the reptilian area of the brain (the most primitive area of the brain) known as the ventral tegmental area (VTA), where dopamine is made. Keep in mind that this area lies apart from your cognitive and emotional brain function, explaining why you aren’t able to accurately describe activities that happen in the VTA.
So what happens in the VTA? It houses your motivation, focus, and drive (for love, power, etc.). This explains why when you ask someone why they love their partner, the answer is often generic and vague. Love is not easily described because it’s triggered in the primitive area of our brains. The same goes for happy employees at work; when you ask them about where they get their motivation and focus, they cannot accurately attribute it to anything specific, they just know they have it.
But with these happy, engaged employees, something is giving them drive and motivation (and it’s not foosball tables). So the next time you’re tasked with increasing employee engagement, make sure you take into account that employees feel motivated when other employees are involved, and derive such motivation across many departments, not just with colleagues that are linked to them on paper. Cohesive personalities at work will find each other and collaborate together to help out each others’ teams - an employer's holy grail. The problem is that as humans, our brains do not enable us to attribute our feelings of motivation and focus to what's really going on, and so we're less inclined to pay attention to this intangible truth.
Previously, these ‘unofficial’ dynamics were hard to measure, but technology has caught up. Encourage and celebrate collaboration across teams, and promote creative ways of getting things done in ‘unofficial’ capacities. You can even make these unofficial collaborations more official by reflecting them in your internal communications platform. In implementing such an open and engaging communications plan, an internal communications platform is the ultimate tool in encouraging and measuring this elusive pillar of engagement that we all so desperately try to attain.
Challenging conventional corporate practices, Campbell explores what it means to truly invest in people at work. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio of the art, yoga, or apartment variety.
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