Unhappy, Unproductive Employees? 10 Easy Ways to Create Viral Engagement

Is your company performing as well as it could? Are you leaving money on the table? Most companies are. But the source of the problem isn’t financial capital—it’s human capital.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, an astounding 67% of workers say they’re unhappy and not engaged, costing U.S. businesses an estimated $483 to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. To assess this problem, many companies rely on annual employee engagement surveys, turning to a top-down approach to improve results. But is this the best strategy? The numbers clearly show it’s not.

In my 30 years’ experience as a Fortune 50 turnaround specialist, employing a little-understood “horizontal” approach is what delivers huge returns. It starts with the idea that any employee can impact the engagement of every employee in a group, a concept that’s supported by years of research.

A 2010 foundational study by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis, who hail from the University of California and Harvard, respectively, revealed that cooperation spreads within a group from person to person. However, it doesn’t stop there. To the surprise of many, these researchers discovered that positive emotions spread even further: from person to person to person to person—up to three degrees of separation, even among people who aren’t acquainted.

But it’s the breakthrough work of another researcher that proved that positive emotions spread from person to person in ways that also benefit work environments. While at Yale University, researcher Sigal Barsade discovered that the spread of positive emotion in the workplace is linked to increased cooperation, decreased conflict, and improved task performance. In short: positive workplace emotions cascade and lead to unprecedented levels of employee performance and engagement.

This understanding—the power that co-workers have on one another—has been the missing link in today’s workplace. I call it viral engagement, and too many companies are missing out on this crucial driver of growth.

When employees feel energized, positive, and engaged, they feel great about giving their all. They team well with others. They get creative in how they approach and conquer challenges. These high levels of satisfaction come from working in an environment where employees are able to connect what they do to who they are, regardless of their title. I refer to these individuals as Chiefs.

Every company has ten distinct opportunities to create the right conditions for this kind of viral engagement, which is contagious and can start from anyone anywhere in an organization.

They include:

  1. Selection. Are you hiring team players? Do you consider that every addition to your team has an immediate impact on the engagement of your current employees?
  2. Education. Are you investing in soft skill training that will enable your employees to be more effective in engaging with each other?
  3. Communication. Do you reinforce that verbal and written communication are equally important skills that enhance engagement?
  4. Compensation. Have you considered paying a small team bonus for improvements in employee teamwork and cooperation?
  5. Assessment. Do you assess for engagement skill sets?
  6. Recognition. Do you recognize individuals and teams, especially when new organizational practices are adopted from the “bottom up”?
  7. Promotion. Is it clear to your team members that promotions are directly linked to engagement success?
  8. Retention. When people leave your organization, do you ask about engagement in exit interviews?
  9. Performance management. Is engagement an integral part of your ongoing performance management?
  10. The mission. Could engagement language be added to your organization’s mission statement?

When you understand that viral engagement is possible, and that it’s not just a trendy buzzword, you have the power to fill in this missing piece and unleash an entirely new paradigm within your organization.

Rick Miller is an unconventional turnaround specialist, sought-after speaker, servant leader, and expert in driving sustainable growth. For over 30 years, he served as a successful senior executive in roles including President and/or CEO in Fortune 10, Fortune 30, nonprofit, and startup companies, including AT&T Global Services and Lucent Technologies. Throughout his career, he has been recruited from the outside to turn around poor performance in difficult times. His new book, Be Chief: It’s A Choice, Not A Title, helps leaders at all levels achieve their true potential. To learn more, visit BeingChief.com.

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