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The #1 Dysfunction Preventing Wise Investment in Employee Engagement

They’re checked out, but what are you doing about it?

You say you are bothered by the fact that employees are "checked out."

You claim you want them to innovate.

You discuss over and over the fact that they just seem to sit there, taking up space, not doing nearly as much as they could or should.

But what, exactly, are you doing about it?

The fact of the matter is that at any given time, most of the people working for you are doing exactly what you're worried they're doing: sitting there, underutilized and under-motivated, thinking about how soon they can log out, go home and get their sanity back.

You know this. You don't need to see yet another survey confirming this fact, do you?

And you say you want to do something about it. Maybe you really do, who knows: You're willing to consider their requests for a training class, after all.

But it's not clear to me that you really want to motivate your staff, after all. Because if you did, you would actually do something about it.

You don't do anything, even though you know—or you should know—that employees are more than your greatest asset. In reality, they are your only asset.

The reason you hang back, to be honest, is fear. You don't want to know what would happen if they did actually get engaged. Maybe they'd end up firing me and taking over.

That is a very scary thought, right there. And you can't admit that you're afraid. Of course! That's why fear is a hidden dysfunction. So you make up the most logical business reason of all to keep your staff from succeeding: money.

"We can't afford for you to take that class."

"We can't afford for you to be out of the office."

"We can't afford for you to stop doing all the other stuff you're doing and learn something not 100 percent related to your current job."

What I want to tell you, if you're even remotely in a position to help employees get engaged, is that these fears are not only unfounded, they're actually keeping you, the supervisor, from progressing in your career.

Consider this: A manager who helps employees gain developmental opportunities is beloved by them.

That means your staff are loyal to you, supportive of you, in sync with you, engaged with the work they're doing for you, and most importantly of all, they trust you.

That's the first thing to know.

The second is that there are plenty of ways they can gain experience at absolutely zero cost to you—if that is truly what you're afraid of. They can:

  • Get a mentor, inside or outside the organization
  • Be a mentor themselves
  • Do a rotation somewhere else in the company or agency
  • Do a detail outside the agency, part-time or temporarily
  • Join a working group
  • Attend class at a community college
  • Take on a leadership position in a related organization
  • Engage in low-cost online training
  • Teach themselves material with which to train other employees

And if you're brave, you can delegate some work to them that they are naturally talented at, but which they lack the skills to complete on their own.

Think about it: People have a natural survival instinct. Instead of fearing it, and trying to smash it down and destroy it, why don't you work with it instead?

Believe me, the stuff I'm telling you here, I didn't make it up on my own. Not at all. I learned it from brilliant managers, the ones I've had who really understood the way to get the most out of their team.

The philosophy can be summed up in a single sentence, uttered more than a decade ago by one such individual, a chief of staff at an agency within the Treasury Department: "The pie gets bigger the more you share it."

Consider the source: This is a person who should naturally say the opposite. After all, how can you split a dollar in half?

But he understood that power, like wealth, is never actually in limited supply. That in fact, these things exist not only in substance but in the mind. And that generosity from the one has an actual physical effect on the other. That oddly, giving away has an additive effect (or even multiplying) rather than subtracting. That in the end, helping other people succeed is the best way to boost your career after all.

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a communications specialist in government, as well as a blogger and speaker on branding and social media. The views expressed are her own and do not represent a federal agency or the government as a whole. Follow her on Twitter at @oursocialfuture.

(Image via Melpomene/Shutterstock.com)

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