Okay, so fueling interstate rivalries is something better left to sports I suppose. But I couldn’t resist when I saw Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report. The study ranked states from top to bottom according to how engaged their employees are.
First, congratulations to Alabama for leading the country with the highest percentage of engaged workers (37 percent). But dear Alabamians, before you lump this in with your far too many college football national championships, let me remind you this still means that 63 percent of your employees are not engaged at work. That would be like a politician widely accused of half-assing it turning around and touting a full 50 percent approval rating.
And now for the, ahem, biggest losers. And I mean this (affectionately) in a big loser kinda way, not the Biggest Loser kinda way popularized by said smash TV hit.
Tied for dead last among 50 states with the least engaged workers (with only 29 percent of employees coded as engaged) are Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.
A Nor’easter for the Northeast.
The study also showed that in West Virginia, more than one in five employees (21 percent) are actively disengaged–participating in behaviors that actually sabotage the workplace, followed closely at 19 percent by Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and New York (again).
Before you start calling your sister in New York to tell her to “fugettaboutit,” the real loser here is the American workplace writ large.
So what’s going on?
Gallup noted patterns among those states that fared (relatively) better on engagement, stating:
When Gallup examines the patterns of engagement across the 50 states, we find the more highly engaged states tend to have greater proportions of workers who are self-employed on a full-time basis, high school graduates (but not college graduates), and employed in blue-collar roles in industries such as transportation, installation and repair, and farming and fishing. The cumulative data appear to connect higher levels of engagement with small businesses and autonomy.
I’d expect the self-employed to be highly engaged. But a few other things about this surprised me. College graduates are less engaged (not more) and blue-collar (not white collar) are more engaged.
The common denominator here is the degree of freedom felt in the job, as Gallup points out. And with the flick of a page of research findings, our ol’ friend autonomy rears it’s head again. I say again because autonomy keeps surfacing in research as the key component in getting workers engaged in their work.
A plan to grant more autonomy should be the centerpiece of an effort to engage employees. Period. To grant autonomy in an effective fashion, create an informal Agreement for Autonomy, which consists of three parts:
This means building a basic set of expectations for the work associated with the empowered task(s). Agree on the specific scope, objective and desired goals behind the delegated work and align to the success measures that will determine if the transferred power was wielded effectively to achieve the desired end-goal.
Employees who are fully empowered to make certain decisions must also show some specific consideration to the delegator (you), such as keeping you informed on key elements of the delegated work. You’ll then be able to back up your employee’s decisions if necessary, and you can better answer inquiries from your own chain of command.
Informed managers are also less nervous managers. You’ll be less tempted to intercede on the empowered when you have information to keep you in check.
Here you spell out the decisions that will require your specific consultation–but they should be very few and far between (otherwise it defeats the point of granting autonomy).
This is a mechanism intended to help the most nervous of delegators give input if it’s truly necessary. Job number one is still to be brave in pushing the authority to make decisions down into the organization.
The point is, at least having the discussion up front on what parts of the delegated work will require consultation keeps it from being a surprise later on. The key is that you hold to letting the empowered make the call post your consultation and that you’re fully supportive afterward as well.
No matter what state you live in, you can improve the state of engagement in the workplace by granting more autonomy to employees.