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Jasmine Gartner

Jasmine Gartner Consulting

Training consultant

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Engagement myth #2: engagement is only about emotional connection

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While an engaged employee might have more of an emotional connection to their employer, this doesn’t necessarily mean that an employee who has that emotional connection is also engaged. In fact, if you only have an emotional connection with your employees, and you have failed to engage them, you are running a huge risk to your business.

David’s story…

One man that I met, David, was really angry that his company was making him redundant. He told me that they had taken him on as an apprentice when he was 17 and trained him. It was the only company he’d worked for, and he’d now been there for almost ten years.

“What has changed?” he asked. “I was good enough for all this time, but now they don’t want me anymore.” He didn’t want to leave because he loved working there.

You can see – the emotional connection was clearly there. But, this young man was not engaged with the company.

Companies cannot address changeable and subjective emotions

Emotions are notoriously hard to quantify (let alone define), but one thing we can say is that they are – more often than not – a reaction and they are changeable and subjective. It would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for a company to be constantly addressing changeable and subjective emotions.

What makes one person happy may not have the same effect on someone else. Instead, employee engagement is about providing an objective and logical structure through which people can understand their emotions: that structure is called strategy.

The next time I spoke to David, the company had taken the time to explain why redundancies had to happen, and how what was happening was not about him but about the future of the company. Even though he didn’t like what was happening, he now understood it.

And this is the key to demystifying this myth: engagement has nothing to do with getting employees to like a business’ strategic narrative. It’s all about getting them to understand it.

Engagement has nothing to do with getting employees to like a business’ strategic narrative. It’s all about getting them to understand it.

This means treating employees like adults by speaking to them about difficult changes in the workplace. This means showing them that change is not knee-jerk fire-fighting, but rather a well-thought through plan that ensures the company will do well in the future.

This doesn’t mean that there’s not a place for emotions in the workplace. And even though, as I mentioned above, it’s difficult to measure emotions, it’s not impossible.

Listening to people’s emotions – their fears and concerns, as well as the things they like, or perhaps just feel neutral about – is a good way to measure the effectiveness of a business’ communication strategy, for example.

If you’ve done a good job of communicating your strategy around change to employees, while you might have rumblings of unhappiness about the effect it has on individual lives, because people understand why the change is necessary, it will help them to move on to accepting that change, regardless of whether they like it or not.

Vacuums of information

If your communications strategy is flawed, you will have created vacuums of information. It seems to be human nature to fill these vacuums with negative stories – I call these vacuums the vortex of misunderstanding.

Inevitably, these stories will be about individual concerns: the strategy is affecting me personally because I’m not good enough at my job, or because I did something wrong, or because someone doesn’t like me, or because managers only think about themselves, and so on.

In David’s case, his vortex story was “what have I done wrong that the company no longer wants me?” Once he heard what the strategy was (a contract had been lost), he understood that redundancy wasn’t personal, and that it had in fact been a really difficult decision for management to make.

When managers heard his story, they understood straight away what information they had to share with him to help him understand that.

The key here is to listen to people’s vortex stories. First of all, it’ll tell you what information or fact employees are missing. Second of all, I can tell you that one of the things I hear most often from staff is that they just want their voice to be heard. So, listen to their stories and you’re killing two birds with one stone.

Some key points on decoupling emotions from engagement:

  • You don’t need to get people to like strategy to be engaged with the company
  • In fact, whether they like corporate strategy or not is irrelevant; they just need to understand it
  • Do use emotions as a gauge to establish how well you’ve communicated strategy
  • If you are hearing vortex stories, some fact or piece of information has not been properly communicated
  • Listening to the stories will tell you what information you need to provide

Dispelling this myth leaves you with two solid and helpful pieces of information: provide people with logic by sharing your strategic narrative, and listen to the emotional response in order to understand if you’ve communicated well enough.

What kinds of vortex stories do you hear in your workplace? What solutions have you come up with?

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Jasmine Gartner

Training consultant

Read more from Jasmine Gartner
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