Beware of the bubble: Are you in touch with your employees?

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Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions
Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions

Your employees talk about you. They talk to their colleagues, friends and family about your leadership and what it's like to work in your organization. They talk about you on social media sites like Glassdoor where current or former employees anonymously rate their companies and speak to the pros and cons of the work environment. 

Employees are also able to review CEO's and other business leaders as well as indicate whether they would recommend your organization as a place to work. Here you might see comments like: “I've never met my supervisor's boss!” “Leadership is out of touch. They live in a bubble!”

The fact is, as a leader, your visible commitment and involvement is a driving factor in shaping a motivating and engaging workplace. Your ability to communicate a compelling mission and vision and your explicit personal demonstration of engagement as a priority all have an impact on your organization's work environment.

Unfortunately, in Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace, clear warning bells are raised. Their latest research indicates that employees have limited belief in their company's leadership. Here are some of the unsettling statistics about how employees view leaders:

  • Only 22% of employees strongly agree that the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization.
  • Only 15% of employees strongly agree that the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future.
  • Only 13% of employees strongly agree that the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization.

Are you in touch with your employees? Do you know how they feel about their work environment?

Recognize that, as a leader, your positional power places you in somewhat of an insulated bubble. Deference to authority plays a strong role in motivating the people around you to hold back on sharing information that might be displeasing or contradictory to your beliefs. Therefore they tend to tell you what you want to hear and are hesitant to tell you what you don't want to hear! The danger of this “good-news” cocoon is that you become comfortable thinking that you know reality when, in fact, you are oblivious to potential threats.

How can you stay in tune with what it's really like to work in your organization?

Take deliberate steps to ground yourself in the realities of how your employees experience their workplace. Actively seek input and opinions, not just from your closest confidantes, but by reaching out to others with whom you don't routinely interact. Ask questions about people's experience in your organization. Ask what's working and not working.

One radical approach to understanding employees' workplace perceptions is chronicled on the TV show, Undercover Boss. In each episode, an organization's CEO assumes a disguise and visits his/her business units to observe the reality of what employees are experiencing. This approach to avoiding isolation is a bit extreme, but there are other ways you can keep your eyes wide open to your workplace culture. Whether you are a CEO, a regional director, or a facility administrator, you can:

  • Conduct employee engagement assessments. A survey, in which employees are assured of confidentiality, will provide significant insight into how employees truly feel about working in your organization. The quantitative data provide the means by which you can assess levels of engagement, and the qualitative data provide insight into the thoughts and feelings of your employees. The narrative comments are especially useful when they have been sorted by the key drivers of engagement, generational differences and whether the employee considers their comment to be a compliment, concern or suggestion. Align has found that organizations taking a systematic approach to measuring engagement, and then driving improvement at the department level, are best positioned to get results. Implementing positive change at the level closest to employees is the most expeditious way to impact engagement.
  • Conduct staff meetings with a Q&A opportunity to hear and respond to the questions that are top-of-mind for employees. In large organizations, senior leaders have found ways to hold virtual meetings in which the first part of the meeting is used to share company information and the second part allows employees to ask or write in questions about current issues and the future direction of the company.
  • Build employee rounding into your schedule. Rounding provides a time to personally assess employee morale and identify and remove barriers that prevent staff from doing their jobs efficiently. 
  • Launch a “lunch with leaders” type of program in which a group of randomly selected employees are invited to have lunch with you to discuss their experience of their workplace and offer ideas on how to make your organization a great place to work.

These are all ways you can stay in tune with employees… IF you do them consistently. Your employees are not only closest to your customers, they know the “nooks and crannies” and the hidden strengths and weaknesses of your workplace. 

Keep in mind that as you dig into the inner workings of your organization, your bubble may be burst! Be prepared to hear some things you may not want to hear. Stay open to different points of view and suggestions for new ways of doing things. AND be prepared to respond to improvement needs!

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.


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