photo of person making cake in HR Examiner article about employee engagement February 5, 2015

“There is pretty much nothing you can do to make employees love work or be happy. You can do all sorts of things to completely make them miserable though.” – Heather Bussing

Here is the painfully obvious, absolutely flawless, fail-proof solution to employee engagement. I guaranty that it is legal in all 50 states, Canada, and pretty much, the Universe.

I bet you think I’m going to say kindness, or respect, or trust. That stuff is really good, and very important. But it’s even simpler than that.

You have to remember: employees are people.

You know, those pesky creatures with brains, hearts, souls and strange inner dialogues. The ones with messy existences and inconvenient circumstances, who show up with their whole lives, history, quirks, foibles, and neuroses.

Like you.

I know. You’re thinking: Hey, I don’t have any neuroses. If you are quite certain, then fine. You are wrong, and should probably see someone.

Here’s the thing about people, with their whole messy lives: you cannot sprinkle special cupcake flavored unicorn dander over their desks and pipe in fairy/humpback whale duets throughout the building and make them happy.

There is pretty much nothing you can do to make employees love work or be happy.

You can do all sorts of things to completely make them miserable though. The biggest is to treat them like a thing, or talent, or resource to exploit.

There is no software, management tool, leadership secret, floor plan, data, policy, or snack selection that will make crappy work interesting or bad managers easy to work with.

So look around. If you have obvious problems, like you design more effective nuclear weapons, or make toxins strong enough to destroy the entire planet’s water system, then engagement is probably not your biggest human resource issue. The types of people who would be drawn to that work are probably quite engaged.

The usual obvious problem is bad managers. They’re the ones who use Preparation H as lip gloss around anyone above them. Then, they harass and micro-manage everyone below them, all while back-stabbing their peers at every opportunity. This takes great flexibility. So they are often found in yoga classes. Look for the telltale namaste symbols on their desks. That, and those little Preparation H boxes.

What people really want is the same thing that you want. They want to be seen, to be understood, and cared about. They want to be treated with kindness and respect. They want flexibility to manage all the things going on in their lives, and be trusted to do the work. They want the resources and incentives to do great work. They want appreciation and acknowledgement for the things they do.

Mostly though, they want to know that they matter, and that the work they do matters. I don’t mean find-the-cure-for-cancer “matters.” I mean makes-even-a-little-difference-to-someone-somewhere-even-for-a-moment “matters.”

So figure out how the company’s work makes a difference, and how each person in the company makes a difference. Let people know they matter. And why.

People like to show up for that.

I still can’t promise, they’ll be happy though.

Read previous post:
2015 photo of Cathy Missildine, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member
Does Employee Engagement Really Matter?

..."HR professionals waved the employee engagement flag without understanding how engagement and motivation work." - Cathy Missildine