Let go of control for more engaged employees

If you want more engaged employees, trade micromanagement for autonomy and show confidence in your workforce.

improve employee engagement

If you want productive and engaged employees, you won't get there by micromanaging them. Rather, go in the opposite direction and offer more autonomy. A recent study from Gallup found that 51 percent of employees report being "not engaged" at work, while 17 percent report being "actively disengaged" at work. Louise Harder, external lecturer at Copenhagen Business School and Ph.D fellow in modern workplace, says that disengagement is ultimately "a failure of management," and that employers need to offer autonomy and support employees with the right culture and technology at work.

"In a world where work is no longer somewhere you go, but an activity you do, we see a globalization of talent," Harder says. "If we are to attract the talent we need, we need to listen to what motivate the employees - let loose our need for alignment and set people free."

Autonomy can also be referred to as "psychological ownership.". The University of Nebraska found in a 2009 survey of U.S. workers that psychological ownership lead to better self-efficacy, accountability, belongingness and self-identity in the workplace. The study found a correlation between psychological ownership and feelings of employee commitment, less turnover, higher job satisfaction and more positive employee attitudes.

[ Related Story: Tips for Measuring and Improving Employee Engagement ]

Show more than the money

While compensation is a top priority for workers, it's not the only aspect of a positive working environment. Harder points out that studies show "the opportunity to plan and own their jobs tasks and excel at achieving them," is often just as important as the bottom line. Therefore, managers need to focus on driving engagement and making sure employees feel "valued, empowered and connected."

Harder also points out that employees are the cornerstone of innovation. "In today's lightning-fast business climate, keeping up with the competition means having knowledge workers who are motivated, engaged and brimming with energy. After all, it is employees, not management, who deliver the innovations, fresh ideas and positive energy that drive our organizations forward."

To encourage this autonomy at work, Harder says start with identifying and implementing the right culture and technology that will support the workforce. Once you have a general plan in place for implementing autonomy, the next step is for managers and business leaders to let go of control. Harder says leaders need to replace control with confidence in the workforce, and that managers need to trust that employees can organize themselves in a way that aligns with the overall goals of the business.

Some of the changes go beyond rallying the troops, and lie in your software and technology. A 2015 study of productivity in the workplace reports that technology is increasingly important to employee productivity and job satisfaction. The study cites that 25 percent of meetings are delayed because of issues with the technology, which means that an average of 2.7 minutes are lost every meeting. Investing in user-friendly and efficient technology that everyone knows how to use can go a long way in helping employees get in and out of meetings as quickly as possible. And reducing meeting times might be crucial to productivity -- Jabra found that 36 percent of workers think meetings diminish their productivity and waste time.

After evaluating technological needs, managers should look at the culture in their department. This means you should look at how employees collaborate and consider if it's effective or broken. Harder also suggests evaluating the decision-making process with a critical eye to figure out if it runs smoothly and efficiently. It's also important to look at whether or not employees are allowed flexibility with working from home, time off or even breaks from their inboxes. You might also consider if the group needs blocks of time for concentration, which can be hard to come by in modern cube farms.

For example, "knowledge workers," as Jabra calls them, may need more long stretches of focus. In fact, 46 percent of respondents said that noise levels in the office were the biggest distraction during the day. The study found that these workers are interrupted, on average, every 10 minutes, and it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on the task at hand. That means a lot of these employee are going home and getting the work done that they couldn't get done during the day so they don't fall behind, all because of their working environment. Giving these employees a quiet office space or the ability to work from home is an easy fix that can go a long way in improving productivity and feelings of autonomy.

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Open spaces are over-rated

You might need to consider giving employees more individual space. Four out of 10 respondents said that open space working environments - which are common in the modern workplace - are the least productive way to work. It doesn't mean you need to get every employee an office, but you could consider cubicles that have walls high enough to give some sense of privacy. Essentially, the study said that after evaluating the needs of each department, business leaders can strike a balance between offering collaborative environments and quieter environments to suit the needs of each project or department.

After business leaders address culture and technology, they need to look at where value is created is in the organization. Harder says that many managers think they know, but the reality is that most don't. Once business leaders have a clear picture of where value creation truly lies, they can effectively review the autonomy of those workers.

As with most efforts aimed at reorganizing or improving the workplace, there are some initial costs. But the return on this investment is happier more productive employees who feel in control of their jobs and future. In the long run, happier employees can positively influence the bottom line of your company by driving better sales, customer service and innovation. "Less constraint means more output in today's world," Harder says.

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