Editor's note: This is a contributed piece by Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications at HALO Recognition, a provider of employee rewards, recognition and incentive solutions.
No matter what, Gallup and all the other top firms consistently report that only 30-35% of employees are ever engaged. Year after year we wake up to the news that only one-third of employees in America actually enjoy going to work; it’s the new norm for the 21st century. Am I the only one who finds this incredibly depressing and unacceptable? If I may, where are employers failing the other 65-70%?
Do a Google search for “employee engagement” and it draws a little more than 42 million results. There is no shortage of opinions out there about how to best approach your staff, how to motivate them and how to get them excited for the job. The tips are mostly helpful too, encouraging proven techniques like empathy, compassion, and self-reflection. That advice shouldn’t be dismissed; there’s room for everything. But let’s take a timeout and cut through the static for a moment, because it can quickly turn into a word salad.
Brass tacks: Almost half of Americans (44%) say they have worked for a mean boss. One-fifth of Americans find their workplace hostile or threatening, and more than half say they work under “unpleasant or potentially hazardous” conditions. And that’s not to mention the ones afraid to speak up. It seems many companies have lost touch with the most fundamental rules of not only employee engagement, but being human beings.
To those companies I direct this profound bit of thought leadership I shall call The Big Secret to Employee Engagement: Be nice.
That’s it. It has been common knowledge that being nicer to employees gets the best results since John Maynard Keynes famously proposed the 15-hour workweek back in 1930. Frederick Herzberg essentially created a management guide to being nice in 1959 when he published his motivation-hygiene theory. In more modern times, extremely successful businesspeople like Jack Welch, Craig Jelinek, and Chade-Meng Tan extoll the virtues of being nice constantly. There is no excuse not to have at least picked up on this by now.
When we talk about employee engagement, we ask these questions:
- How do I get people to respect me?
- How do I get people to work more efficiently?
- How do I get people to not hate me or the company?
- How do I get people more excited about work?
- How do I motivate a team?
- How do I increase profits?
- How do I change my corporate culture?
- How do I improve personal relationships?
- How do I make genuine connections with people?
The answer to every single one is to be nice. You can’t shortcut or fake compassion; everyone knows when it isn’t there. Yes, you can always squeeze and cajole a little more work out of someone but there’s no cheese at the end of that tunnel. You have to make it a rule from the top down to always be nice and stick to it. Everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, will work harder for someone who is nice to them and work less hard for someone who is mean to them. But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this.
While you’re at it, go easy on yourself, too. We all know nobody in their right mind sets out to be the mean company that nobody wants to work for. But human relationships, human resources, human anything is hard and nobody is expecting you to reinvent the wheel. You can do this if you keep it simple, you take care of each other and you build trust and respect. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Be nice to each other.