3 reasons why your employees are not engaged — and what you can do about it

Embrace all 3 to convert your audience to participants

Hold your hands out in front of you, palms facing each other, about shoulder width apart. The space between them is the gap between your employees and the level of engagement you either want to have or think you already have.

Now move your hands together about two inches each. That’s all the closer you are likely to get, if you’re lacking any one of these three things:

• Great content.
• Comfortable, effective technology.
• Leadership commitment.

Doubt it? Time for a reality check. Odds are your employees doubt you. According to a Gallup poll released in October 2013, 13 percent of employees are engaged at work, worldwide. Twenty-four percent are actively disengaged — unhappy, unproductive, likely to bring down their colleagues — definitely not exerting any discretionary effort.

Not your workers, though, right? Maybe. If you’ve read this far, you are quite likely savvy enough about the benefits of employee engagement that you effectively promote one, two or all three of the necessary components of an engaged workforce. Good for you. You know you can do more. You may even be willing to do more, but will it be enough and will it be the right moves?

Content is king, queen and the court jester

There is nothing like great content. Unfortunately, a great deal of what passes for corporate content — and specifically, employee content—is nothing like great content.

How does your employee content stack up? Would you read it? Do you read it? Are you one of the guilty parties that produces content for its employees, then assumes it is worthwhile information for … someone — and doesn’t read it, yourself? There are more of you out there than you may think. Many businesses, leaders, managers and other stakeholders believe “our content is good for them.” Who is “them”?

If you’re not one of “them” that finds your message:

• relevant,
• useful, or
• entertaining …

… then who do you think is actually going to read it? If you are too busy and/or self-important to consume the information, do you wonder who else might also be turning up their nose? The likely answer, statistically speaking, is 87 percent of your workforce.

But communicate, we must. So your communications staff (or worse — the lowest people on the totem pole who couldn’t say “no”) conceive, draft, edit, publish, produce and distribute content for your employees. Not to get too “business school” on you, but there is an opportunity cost for those efforts. If your employee communications are missing the mark with as much as 87 percent of your intended audience, would your communicators’ efforts be better put elsewhere? There are only so many work hours in a week and your communications people do not work for free. I hope.

Of course, you cannot abandon employee communication efforts. Unless 13 percent sounds like too much engagement.

If this rings a bell for you, then understand you’ve committed at least two of the three employee engagement sins: not-so-great content, and lack of commitment from leadership.

If you don’t give enough of a rodent’s rear anatomy to want to engage with the content, why on earth do you think your other employees will? Because they love you so much? Are they desperate to hear from you in the midst of their daily tasks? The love from 13 percent is better than no love at all, I suppose.

Master or slave to your technology?

Let’s say you’re better than the worldwide average at engaging your employees. Some other measures of employee engagement, presented by such disparate entities as Dale Carnegie, Forbes, Tlnt.com and the Washington Post, put American employee engagement at or around 30 percent. That falls more in line with my experience as a business communicator. And I’ve logged more time than I care to remember at companies that cannot get out of their own way when it comes to communicating with their own people. I’d like to wag my finger at them right now and say, “You know who you are,” but they probably don’t.

If you’re like me, you consider 30 percent engagement to be alarmingly poor. You probably think you do better than that. I dare you to find out.

There are a number of technology platforms that can help create the optimal delivery methods for your employee communications messages. I won’t go into detail here because nobody’s paying me to shill for their products. Just know that your technology solution means a lot: choose wisely and you have a shot. Choose poorly and you chain yourself to an ineffective platform that will inhibit your ability to connect with your employees every minute of every day.

There is one thing to keep in mind when it comes to choosing the right technology. Whatever solution you arrive at, it must mimic as closely as possible your audience’s other social and information consumption methods: social media platforms, news publishers, shopping sites, video sites, image sharing sites, etc. Make it as familiar and seamless as possible (mobile!) or the two hands you were holding out in front of you will never get any closer.

The leadership conundrum

As a leader, you are either an authentic communicator or you are not. And guess what … we know which type you are. Your audience knows if your message is coming from you — actually you — or your communications staff, who got you to approve what they drafted and then slapped your name at the bottom. You would be foolish to believe there are any naïve digital information consumers out there anymore.

The question is: do you care?

The question is: do you care? You may or may not. You have your reasons. Just know that if you are the inauthentic kind of communicating leader, the hands will not get much closer — no matter how talented your writing staff, technology procurement staff and IT department are. Your employee engagement, no matter what level it is at now, will only get incrementally better if you are not leading the way. In other words, if you are not as engaged or more engaged than your employees.

Many busy leaders justify not directly communicating with their employees because they have time constraints: opportunity costs, other priorities, etc. It’s the way that it’s done by many businesses. It’s also a major contributing factor in why many businesses are lucky to have anywhere from 13 to 30 percent of their employees actively engaged: promoting, delivering discretionary effort and willingly acting as brand ambassadors for your company.

What kind of employees do you want? What kind of employees do you think you have?

Whither video?

Somebody may have told you video is where it’s at. For many savvy businesses, placing your leaders in front of a camera — with lights, sound, script, direction and post-production resources — is a smart way to engage with your audience. Under the right circumstances, videos can be a great way to cut through the clutter and get to your intended audience. For you, the scenario above probably would require staff hours, equipment, (likely) vendor hours and time to make it all happen.

Do you know what works even better for employee audiences?

• Set your iPhone on video.
• Place it in front of you.
• Talk for about 60 – 90 seconds.
• Cover two or three things that are on your mind.
• Say “thanks,” and push the stop button.
• Distribute the file.

That’s it. It works way better than your expensively produced corporate video. Try it. Measure its viewership/engagement and compare it to the last corporate video you invested in. Being an authentic communicator has its advantages. Cost is only one of them. More effectively resonating with your audience is another.

One more thing: engagement is a two-way street. Effective communication requires participation. The most effective communicators consider their intended targets more “participants” than an “audience.” Successful companies foster effective ways for employees to engage with leadership. Is the pathway back to you clearly marked? Is it being used? Are the people that provide feedback safe and rewarded for their efforts? Leadership must light the way.

Julian Rogers is a freelance writer, communications consultant and owner of Juju Eye Communications. Follow him on Twitter (@thejujueye), or connect with him on LinkedIn.