The Loop

Employees Leave People, Not Companies

by Fickewirth Benefits Advisors
Filed under: Engagement

bored businessmanA long-held belief with employee engagement is that workers leave a company due to dissatisfaction with the people they work with or for – not necessarily with the company. But since people define an organization's culture, it stands to reason that this is in fact a reflection of the company.

Not surprisingly, a February 2013 study by Dale Carnegie Training found that 80 percent of employees dissatisfied with their direct managers and 70 percent of employees who lack confidence in the abilities of senior management are disengaged – indicating that the root of employee disengagement falls directly within the category of people. Furthermore, the study revealed that up to 71% of employees are not fully engaged.

One of the key concerns of the study is that workers with the most useful experience tend to be the least engaged – those from age 40 to 49. You can likely divide this demographic of discontentment into two categories of workers:

  1. Those who have made it to middle management but are now disillusioned by their powerlessness, and may feel sandwiched between the demands of upper management and direct reports (not to mention that this age group is also part of the "sandwich generation," in which demands of a complex family life are also high).
  2. Those who have worked long careers but have not made it to a management position and perhaps feel overlooked, underappreciated, and underpaid compared to their management peers – or worse, when compared to younger and less experienced colleagues.

When you look at potential attitudes among this age group, you can see that these types of engagement problems are not easy to solve. However, by targeting your efforts to motivate employees within this particular segment, you're likely to improve employee motivation throughout the company due to the widespread influence highly respected, experienced employees exude among their colleagues.

The Carnegie study revealed four traits shared by engaged employees: Enthusiasm, inspiration, empowerment, and confidence. Granted, it may be hard to cultivate enthusiasm and inspiration among world-weary workers in their 40s, but empowerment should be a reasonable goal assuming an adequate level of experience and competence among this age group. By lifting limits on empowerment, upper management can convey a higher level of trust to these workers, and this level of trust is key to stimulating confidence, enthusiasm and – yes – may even provide incentive for the beleaguered older employee to become more engaged.

A common issue among 40+ workers is that this is the age when many start to report to supervisors who are younger than them – the age 30+ "superstars" who have been groomed for middle management positions. Since the relationship with immediate supervisor is attributed to up to 80 percent of dissatisfaction, there are a couple of ways to tackle this issue. The most obvious is to hire or promote mature workers to manage mature workers. In other words, let your younger, new managers wet their feet in departments largely populated with younger workers. For teams largely comprised of more experienced workers, appoint a highly respected member of that team to lead their efforts – particularly one who is prone to a more hands-off (as opposed to micro-managed) style of leadership.

Second, provide specific training to younger managers on how to engage employees who are more mature – and frequently more experienced – workers. Training should profile different types of management styles (i.e., autonomic, micro) and the types of workers that typically respond to each. It's important to emphasize that flexibility is the responsibility of the manager. In other words, the goal of talent management is to maximize the performance of each direct report, and that may require managing each of them in different ways – as opposed to expecting everyone to respond to an inflexible management style equally.

If the key to employee engagement is people, then people skills are where the majority of your talent management efforts should lie. By the same token, if the most disengaged workers in your organization are the most experienced, you're likely to see a higher return on your investment if you concentrate your efforts on finding ways to engage that particular demographic.

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