A kinder, gentler approach to managing your workforce

employee engagement

The key to employee engagement is a feeling of fulfillment, says 25-year HR vet Maria Robare. She outlines a plan to reach employees through their own inner motivations.  _______________________________________________________________________
Employee engagement may be the defining factor that determines the success or failure of an organization. As Human Resource leaders, we know this. We also know that a vast majority of employees continue to not be engaged, or worse, disengaged, creating an unproductive, even toxic, work environment.
With a multitude of tips, steps, and advice on how to create employee engagement, why do employees remain unengaged? Perhaps we are missing the one, most important step: looking in the mirror.
Employee engagement starts with the leader. Therefore, a plan to increase employee engagement must start with the dominating leadership style of an organization. To have the greatest impact to employee engagement, consider spiritual leadership.
In today’s employment economy, we should understand that, engaged or not, blind loyalty to any one organization is gone.  Employees no longer consider their employment to be for the good of the organization, but the good of themselves. Employees today are looking for purpose and passion and to work towards their own values.
Employees expect to enhance their career development and personal growth more than ever in today’s highly turbulent and fragile organizations (Sosik, 2006). They want to work in positive environments that value the contributions they make at work and one that recognizes them for their achievements.  When these can come together with organizational goals, strategies, and values, we have the optimal culture to succeed.
According to Louis Fry (2005), spiritual leadership refers to the establishment of a learning organization through the use of employees’ inner motivation. Further, spiritual leadership causes employees to recognize the meaning of their work and the call of the mission, feel that they can make a difference, and feel understood.
There is a crisis of a search for meaning in America (Fairholm, 1997). Employees are searching for significance in what they do, the products they produce, and the services they offer. In many cases, where we work and spend most of our waking hours, provides the focus of our life and a measure of personal success.
But today, we find the typical work organization divided and fragmented, leaving employees not wanting to attach themselves to their work anymore. Fearful that they will be the next to go in a wave of restructuring, employees are alienated rather than bonded to their jobs.
We are in need of spiritual leaders to engage this current workforce.  Spiritual leaders believe in the value of what they do, their vision and mission of leading for the good of the follower, not just the good of the organization. The spiritual leader finds that no matter what work we do, it can be done with heart and spirit.

Traits of Spiritual Leaders

To reach a state of spiritual leadership, there are three areas of behavioral traits to incorporate in your culture:

  • Vision.  Spiritual leaders create a future vision that implicitly or explicitly tells people why they should strive to create that future. This vision needs to create a broad appeal to all stakeholders, define the journey and the destination, reflect high ideals, and establish standards of excellence.
  • Altruistic Love. When we talk of altruistic love in regards to spiritual leadership, we are looking at employees in a sense of wholeness, harmony, and well-being produced through care, concern and appreciation. To achieve altruistic love, the spiritual leader must instill trust and loyalty, forgiveness and acceptance, integrity, courage, humility, kindness, and compassion.
  • Hope and Faith. To encourage hope and faith, the leader must demonstrate and model endurance, perseverance, doing what it takes, as well as provide stretch goals, and demonstrate excellence.

Connection to Engagement

Subconsciously, and on a very tangible level, employees think about those with and for whom they labor for many hours each day (Fairholm, 1997). They decide whether their co-workers and leaders are worth the investment of their energy.  Spirituality defines our leadership efforts.  It makes us more passionate about our work and that passion becomes clear to our followers.
Spiritual leadership intrinsically motivates so that others have a sense of survival through calling and membership. It establishes a culture with values that influences others to strongly desire, mobilize, and struggle for a shared vision that defines the essences of motivating through leadership.
The specific leadership adopted by an organization will directly affect employee performance and engagement. Human Resources should be the driver of identifying the right leadership and unifying the leadership culture.
Although engagement starts with leadership, leadership is not solely responsible. Employee engagement is everyone’s responsibility, from top to bottom.  This starts with communication between employer and employees, as well as among co-workers, fostering a positive work environment.
Employees are an organization’s biggest investment and should bring the greatest reward. Yet, in too many organizations employees are viewed as an asset to be managed rather than as individuals who can create the next innovation for success.
Consider spiritual leadership when formulating your employee engagement plan for the success of both your organization and your employees.
Maria Robare has worked in Human Resource Management for 25 years. She has held her PHR certification since 2006. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Business with a concentration in Human Resource Management, and is currently a candidate to receive an M.A. in Leadership from City University of Seattle.