Gallup recently released their 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report, and the statistics presented are deplorable. One number alone indicates that less than 33% of all surveyed American employees are actively engaged in their work.

How can this be?

How does your company’s workforce perform?

Does your workforce perform at a similar level? Or, worse still, is your workforce less engaged?

When I visit client sites in my consulting work, it’s obvious to me when employees are not engaged, are not focused, and are not happy.

Why does this matter?

Well, because developing an engaged workforce is possible and beneficial to the bottom-line. I have visited some marvelous companies in my short time as a consultant. These companies have actively engaged employees, they have employees that are clear on their roles and responsibilities, they have employees that smile, and they have employees that are excited to come to work for more than just a paycheck. And these are the companies that consistently perform at the highest levels.

I will share with you one feature that helps separate the low performing companies from the high-performing companies. More specifically, how to begin the transition from a less engaged workforce to an actively engaged and focused workforce.

Baseline data from research points us in the right direction

Gallup’s research is valuable because it helps us to unpack the components of workforce engagement. The Gallup survey taps into 12 elements of engagement. I want to focus on just one.

Gallup’s Engagement survey asked employees to answer 12 statements related to engagement, one of them is:

“This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.”

Only 4 in 10 employees answered yes.

Ouch. But considering the overall numbers on engagement, not all that surprising.

What are some things that you can do at your organization to provide opportunities to learn and grow for your workforce?

How to start increasing engagement levels at your organization

One thing that you can do is challenge them. Some employees are fine with the status quo, that doesn’t make them bad employees, but focus your efforts on those that want to learn and grow.

Challenge is a great way to foster a learning environment to grow your employees.

The best part of all of this is that you can challenge your employees for free!

Allow your employees to have more decision-making authority. Cross-train your employees to learn new skills. Give your employees a new project that will force them to step outside of their comfort zone. An improvement project is a great example of this. Often, these projects are left for supervisors and engineers, but instead, challenge your operators to complete this task.

Challenge forces employees to focus and engage in their work

I want to share just a personal example of the importance of challenge in the workplace.

One of my hobbies and interests has always been computers and technology. I would consider myself a “gadget-nerd.” So, when I was asked to develop our new company website, I welcomed the opportunity. It was something outside of my daily responsibilities, but I also knew that it would challenge me and it was something that I felt I could accomplish.

I had never developed a website before, I had very little knowledge of code, but because I had an interest and knowledge of computers and technical systems, I knew that developing a website was in the realm of possibility. I did plenty of research and got started.

The first website I developed was www.gditalent.com, and it didn’t come easy. There were times when I was extremely frustrated because I couldn’t format the page in the way that I had envisioned. I encountered bugs here and there. But I persisted. And when I faced a roadblock, I did one of two things:

  1. I reached out to my network. I spoke to the individuals that I knew who had web development experience and I asked them for guidance.
  2. I paused. When I was too frustrated to think straight, I just completely stopped what I was doing, and would work on a different project. The next day I would come back to the website with fresh eyes.

The daily challenge of having to develop a website forced me to really focus and engage in my work. Because my brain was firing on all cylinders, this focus and energy carried over to my other projects. This is in stark contrast to when I’m working on a much more mundane task and I feel like I’m just going through the motions.

Appreciate the breaks to recharge your batteries

When faced with a challenge, especially when it may seem like the task is insurmountable, it’s a good idea to take breaks. Katya Andresen of Capital One says, rest is absolutely critical to reach one’s level of peak performance. Any great athlete will understand that it is possible to overtrain, so scheduled periods of rest are necessary.

Why does this matter?

An actively engaged workforce is a wonderful thing to have at any company, though it is hard to achieve without the right leadership and organizational systems in place. An unengaged workforce is not only bad for your company but for the U.S. economy in general.

It’s worth the effort to make our companies more enjoyable places to work. I recommend downloading Gallup’s report. Also, please reach out to me to discuss how we can help your company increase performance through people.

If you enjoyed this article. Please comment, like, and subscribe for further articles on manufacturing, leadership, organizational behavior, and recruiting.

Your Personal Action Plan:

  1. Challenge your employees
  2. When faced with a challenge, reach out to your network for guidance
  3. When faced with a challenge, don’t forget to take much need breaks to recharge your batteries