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JEFFREY TOBIN: Ya big drip!

by on May 25, 2014 1:51 AM

I remember a time when a leak in the roof of an investment property bested me. I’d go up on the roof, roofing tar and putty knives in tow, and repair the leak. Weeks later it would return, and so would I.

Over and over, more tar and more frustration. This went on for a couple of years before I found the real problem: It was me. I had this epiphany while reading the new “Gallup report: The State of the American Workplace 2013.” What could that possibly have to do with fixing a leaky roof? Plenty.

Employee engagement in the United States is frighteningly low. Fully 70 percent of the work force in this country is either “disengaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work. And it is worse today than it was last year. With decades of scientific research on employee engagement, why isn’t it getting better? We try over and over to fix this problem, and nothing works.

But wait. Doesn’t this sound like my leaky roof? Time and again I tried to fix the problem, and nothing worked. Why? I was looking in the wrong place.

When I eventually found it, the repair was really quite simple. In the same way, we cannot plug the employee engagement leak by trying to “fix” our employees. The leak is somewhere else, and I’ve finally found it. It’s not them, I’ve discovered, it’s us. It’s you and it’s me. And until we fix the real problem, the leak will continue on and on, just as it has for years.

There is, however, a glimmer of light. Amongst the many pages of data in the Gallup report I found the one tiny hole — a flaw — in our current theories. Employee engagement isn’t something we can implement. It’s something we have to be.

The single most influential factor in the engagement of employees is the manager. It’s not raises or vacation pay or a playful workplace. It’s not a new and better title, or opportunities for advancement. To fix the maddening leak of employee engagement, we have to realize that an employee becomes engaged when the manager invests time and interest in that employee, and in his or her success. That’s it. It’s all about caring for — and developing — people. When managers come to realize this, the leak can be fixed.

The hole in the roof isn’t them, my friend, it’s us.

“How can I be helpful?” This little phrase is the roofing tar for the leak in our employee engagement ceilings. It doesn’t mean you need to take on an employee’s work.

It means you must invest your time and interest in that employee. That’s the fix. Apply it liberally to your staff. Just ask, “How can I be helpful?”

Will this solve the employee engagement crisis around the country? Not immediately, but it will solve the problem wherever you go from now on. Unlike most others, you now know where the real problem is. So don’t be a drip.

Go and fix it once … and for all.



Jeffrey Tobin, an international speaker and business coach. He is also the owner of Henry Hall Office Products in Indiana and hosts the website www.JeffreyTobin.com. His professional advocacy columns appear Sundays in the Business section of The Indiana Gazette and the Community News page on The Indiana Gazette Online.
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