Strategic HR

Want True ‘Employee’ Engagement? Engage the Whole Person (Part 2)

In his new book I-Engage, Your Personal Engagement Roadmap, best-selling author Bob Kelleher argues that in order for employers’ engagement efforts to be successful, they must seek to engage not just the “employee,” but the “whole” person.  In Part 1 of our interview with Kelleher, he explains why this is the missing element of traditional  employee engagement efforts and the rationale behind the practice.  Here, he provides further insights into his approach towards employee engagement and illustrates how managers might go about it.engaged employees

BLR:  Would you be able to give an example of a situation where an employer might take an approach where they would only engage the employee versus one in which they would engage the whole person?

Kelleher:  The Boston Globe just did a front-page article on this 2 weeks ago in which I was the expert correspondent.  We talked about toxic bosses. One of the things we talked about was the boss who is just looking at the deduction, the quantitative result.

If you report to me and I see all of a sudden your production is dropping, I sit down and talk to you about your performance issue: “Hey, you’re getting sloppy. I’m see a drop-off in quality. We’re going to revisit in 30 days and if I don’t see an improvement, we’re going to have to write you up.” That’s the boss from yesterday.

The new boss should be sitting down with you and saying, ” I’ve noticed your performance has dropped. Let’s grab lunch. I’m concerned. I’m concerned about you.” Then during lunch, “What’s going on? Any challenges in the home front? What can I help you with? I care about you, I really do. This isn’t really like you. How can I help you? Is there anything going on that I can help or I should be aware of?” You see the difference in the empathetic manager?

The latter manager is far more apt to get the ebbs and flows of all of these different employees at different points in time to work through the lull of their performer. Perhaps it is all business-related. Maybe the employee is just overwhelmed. You just merged with another company. You’ve asked that person to take on some due diligence on top of their old job. The empathetic manager is going to be able to drill that down without it being a performance issue. It might be a, “Hey, I’m overwhelmed,” issue, so how can I help?

BLR:  I also understand you’re not a big fan of the term “work/life balance.”  Can you explain?

It relates to the point of managing the whole person. Technology has blended work/life balance in such a way that it’s almost impossible to escape it, at least if you’re part of the knowledge workforce. I’ll ask an audience of 600 people, “How many of you checked your email last weekend?” Every single hand goes up.

Technology has really changed the boundaries. To me, it’s no longer a balance. It’s a blending. That’s the term that I use now that it truly is work/life blending. It’s going to continue to be such as we go forward because the Millennials and Z, who just arrived in the workplace, are continually connected. They can’t disconnect.

What this means in the workforce is if I’m an old-fashioned manager, and I’m letting my employee make a personal call at 10:00 to schedule his or her oil change, that’s one-sided because that same employee is checking email during uncompensated work hours. Allowing for some flexibility during work, recognizing that your employees are giving during their life part, that whole blending, it’s almost like plaid. It’s all interconnected.

The other related thing is there’s the assumption that work is bad, life is good. You have all human resources practitioners trying to encourage work/life balance, but I often ask an audience, “What if your work life you absolutely love?” [Think of] the old Confucius line, “If you love what you do, you never have to work another day in your life.” What if work is where you get all of your joy, and you love what you do, and you’re great at it?

Billy Joel was giving a concert [recently] at Fenway Park here in Boston. Billy Joel is wildly wealthy. Why is he still working giving three-hour concerts? Well, he actually loves what he does! He doesn’t consider that work.

Conversely, what if your life is a living hell right now? What if you go home to a single apartment, and a pizza, and your significant other broke up with you six months ago, but you love your job, and that’s where you’re getting satisfaction, and your best friends all work at the company that you work for? This whole concept of one side good, one side is bad, really has to be revisited. Again, the blending of both sides with technology and virtual employment and telecommuting has made it a lot less separated or finite as we’ve seen maybe in prior generations.

BLR:  Any final thoughts for our audience of HR professionals and employers on the topic of engagement?

There’s one thing that I would add–when I talk about this during a keynote, people always send me a line or a note that it was an “a-ha” moment. When you see the Gallup study, Gallup claims that 32% or 33% of your employees are engaged, and you have 67%, 68% disengaged.  The general takeaway is it’s the same 32% or 33%. It’s the same one out of three who’s engaged and the other two are disengaged.

What Gallup’s research doesn’t factor in is this whole I-Engage, holistic set, meaning that it changes depending on where you are when you take that survey. You might be more engaged. If Gallup does that same survey in 2 months, it’s probably going to be a different person who is peaking at that window of time. This whole concept that it’s always the same seven people who are disengaged [isn’t correct]. It’s actually very fluid, depending on what’s going on in people’s lives.

I had an employee that I came to work one day and she was on fire. There were three employees in our little coffee room, so when I popped in, I shut the door and I said, “Hey, guys, what’s with Carol? I’ve never seen Carol so on fire. She’s happy. She’s delighted. She just did something to me that was just remarkable, way above and beyond what she’s ever done before.” They said, “Well, you heard about Fred, right?” I said, “Who’s Fred?” “Fred’s her new boyfriend. She is on cloud nine.”

Everyone can relate to that little story. It really is a profound shift in what traditionally has been what people have thought when they looked at employee engagement statistics.

Workforce L&DJoin Bob Kelleher for his keynote presentation The 10 Steps of Employee Engagement to DRIVE Results! at the Workforce Learning & Development conference this November at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. At Workforce L&D, you’ll access proven methods for leveraging new technologies and applying cutting-edge strategies to enhance organizational performance. Click here to learn more!