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Busting 3 Massive Myths About Employee Engagement

Season 1, Ep. 18

There’s a lot of buzz about employee engagement these days. But the sad truth is that engagement stats worldwide are still dreadfully low. And to throw some fuel on the fire, myths about what actually creates engagement are rampant—and are making the problem worse. 


Here’s what I know for sure is true, from the 1,000+ organizations I’ve helped to boost employee engagement over the past 30+ years. There are three (if not more!) prevalent myths I come across constantly—and it’s time to bust them. 


Myth #1: Employees Are Professionals—They Aren’t Supposed To Be Emotional At Work, And We Don’t Have To Accommodate Their Emotional State. 


Myth Busted: Whoa. Based on data from Hoffman Institute, UCLA, and countless other organizations, more than 90% of our decisions and behaviors are driven--are dominated--by our emotional brain. Our intellect, which many employers think rules the day, is only responsible for about 10% of our behaviors. Respecting, understanding and navigating the emotional experience of your team should never, ever, be trivialized.


I’ve found that there’s actually a recipe for emotional engagement the in brain: 


Oxytocin: the key bonding hormone, this helps us feel connected to others, loved, seen, acknowledged. It then contributes to the release of… 

Seratonin: a neurotransmitter that helps us feel good. When we feel good we choose behaviors that keep us feeling good, like collaborating, being accountable, innovating, and this contributes to the release of…  

Dopamine: a neurotransmitter that contributes to reward-motivated behaviors. So we do more of what we think will bring us rewards within our tribe. 


What does this mean? That how our team feels matters. That emotions at work are crucial to consider. That as leaders we must intentionally work on creating the conditions to activate the recipe above in the brains of our awesome team. Myth buster #2 will help you do this. 


Myth #2: Employee Engagement Surveys Are Effective Because They Show You Care 


Myth Busted: A survey is demoralizing waste of time, energy, and money, if you don’t do it right. In my 30+ years as a leadership and culture coach, as well as entrepreneur building and selling 5 businesses and investing in more than 200, I’ve seen a LOT of employee engagement surveys.


Per Bruce Temkin of the Temkin Group (see my prior blog on the link between Customer Experience and Employee Engagement citing his research) a super smart analytics guru, there are 3 types of analytics you want to ensure you get: 


Descriptive: this is where you learn the state of the world. 

Predictive: this is where you understand how the state of the world will remain the same. 

Prescriptive: this is what most leaders miss—that the employee engagement survey, if done properly can be a prescriptive tool to show you what you need to change and how. 


Here’s an example of the descriptive and predictive.  First you’ll see the survey, then an excerpt of the comments


From the above we understand the state of the world—and it will continue unless we take decisive and effective action to change it—that’s the prescriptive work. Here’s an excerpt of the Cultural GAME (Growth, Appreciation, Measurement, Engagement) Plan we created to shift the cultural challenges we learned about from our client in the SBM Index Employee Engagement Survey above. 


And here are the results that occurred within the first 7 months as the prescriptive work was put in place: 


  • Safety increased: 15% 
  • Belonging increased: 22% 
  • Mattering increased: 17% 


And the client reported that: 


  • Leaders were now aligned around clear needle movers (goals and accountability structures) and simpler ways to get greater results. 
  • Teams were building processes that were propelling all teams’ effectiveness to new levels. 
  • They now were able to enroll, engage, align our team to optimize performance.  
  • They now get more done in less time, are more motivated, are all speaking the same language, and all continue to collectively raise the bar.  
  • They’re more accountable, aligned, and effective than ever before. 


Now that’s engagement! 


Myth #3: Employees Want More Money To Be More Engaged 


Reality: For very few people, and they are contract workers, this is true. But for the vast majority of employees out there the meaning in their work matters far more, the depth of their connections to your organization’s cause, to their colleagues, to your clients is what will move them more. We all want to be part of something bigger than us, something that really makes a difference , removes pain, solves a problem, something we’re proud of. All workers should insist on this and not settle for less. All employers should strive to create this and not chicken out. 


The Net-Net 

  • Understanding the emotional experience of your team is essential—then you must navigate it 
  • Prescriptive must be added to the first 2 types of analysis (descriptive and predictive) is we’re going to create change 
  • Make sure your workplace, and work overall, creates the experience of meaning—we all need to know we’re part of something bigger than us that matters 


What other employee engagement myths do you come across? Let’s bust them together! 


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Have you ever considered using neuroscience to optimize engagement, performance, recruiting, and retention in your organization? At SmartTribes Institute, we continually strive to apply cutting edge neuroscience tools and resources to modern day businesses and people. If you'd like a taste, check out our upcoming Culture Camp! And, of course, apply the practices in these podcast episodes as well.


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Resources Mentioned:


You’re busy growing. Let’s have a strategy session when it makes sense, which means you are…


· Committed to getting better results and finding out how awesome your performance can truly be

· Ready to make this a priority and get started in the next few months

· Allocating budget to improving the leadership, culture and results of you and your company

· Able to make the decision to move forward (or can convince the person who can)


Ready? Great! Please fill out the form here. If not, check out our resourcesand subscribe to receive news and more tools as they become available, and we’ll work together when the time is right.

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