The 3 Fears Employees Have About Engagement — and How to Confront Them

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Dec 18, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Employee engagement initiatives don’t have to be stressful. Too many times, we’ve seen organizations dragging their feet on engagement work.

And we get it; change is hard, and a new engagement initiative can mean big changes in culture and operations at an organization.

But, those changes result in very good things — like better retention, more satisfied employees, higher productivity and a healthier bottom line.

In many cases, the source of your stress are actually unfounded fears. Here are the most common fears we see at the companies we’ve worked with, along with some pointers on how to successfully manage them.

1. Fear of the unknown

If you’re considering an employee engagement initiative, it’s probably because you believe people are disengaged at your organization. You’re losing employees or productivity is down.

But what if it’s even worse than you think it is? What if you survey employees and the results spell out exactly what they don’t like about working there?

For many leaders, contemplating those questions are a fast track to stress. They get frozen by fear of what they don’t know and what might be uncovered by an employee survey. And that simply compounds the problem, especially if any announcement about improving engagement was made to the employee population.

The reality: It’s impossible to manage engagement without knowing your baseline. It may be an eye-opener to see results from a survey, but you can’t change without it. You know you want to improve engagement at your organization, so keep in mind that knowing the specifics will help you manage it more effectively.

2. Fear of irrelevance

Some HR departments hold off on engagement initiatives because they may think that employee engagement is a passing fad or another box to check off. They may resist implementing a change because they think in the next year or two there will be another trend to chase after.

The reality: Employee engagement initiatives get proven results. When Gallup performed a meta-analysis on its Q12 measure, it found that engaged organizations perform better. It describes the relationship between engagement and performance as “substantial” and that this relationship is applicable across organizations.

Employee engagement represents an opportunity to coordinate employee attitudes and business goals for long-term success.

3. Fear of extra work

Once an organization commits to doing an employee engagement survey and gets the results, it faces a critical moment: Who will do the work to improve engagement? Not doing anything is even worse than not surveying in the first place; it only gets employees’ hopes up that something might change, and when it doesn’t, they can be even more disengaged.

The reality: The results you get from your employee survey will provide a path you can follow to boost engagement, but remember that the path is made up of many small steps. It’s impossible to change engagement levels overnight, and there’s no reason to try to do so.

Managers are often on the front line when it comes to instituting engagement efforts, so find ways to educate and empower them to take on engagement-boosting efforts as part of their work.

Thinking about your business objectives and the role employees play in achieving them can help ease some of the stress around engagement. An engagement initiative can help identify things managers need to know to drive performance and keep them in front of problems before they happen.

Employee engagement is not a switch you can turn on. It’s a series of small steps that the entire organization must take over time to achieve change.

The process doesn’t have to be hard; it simply takes a commitment from people at all levels to make changes in the way the company operates internally.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.