How to create an engaged work culture

Do you ever feel like your boss just doesn’t understand you and what you have to offer?

This feeling can cause employees to tune out at work or even leave for other jobs, which can be harmful to both the company’s bottom line and the employees’ career progressions.

Ladders spoke to Chris Edmonds, the founder and CEO of the Purposeful Culture Group and the author of The Culture Engine, about the reasons for this disconnect and what managers and employees can do about it.

Ladders: Does employee engagement matter?

Edmonds: Let’s look at the numbers.

Gallup’s daily engagement dashboard for the U.S. hovers around 33 percent. Its global data, released earlier this year, showed that only 13 percent of global workers are actively engaged in work. TINYpulse, which measures worker engagement, did a research study in 2014 that found that only 21% of employees feel strongly valued at work.

That’s depressing, and it has implications for job security.

During the recession, there weren’t as many opportunities. So, people stayed in jobs where they weren’t as valued and where they didn’t feel that they were contributing as much.

But as the economy has improved over the past few years, more people are leaving jobs at a faster rate. Last year, the Department of Labor said that voluntary separations were the highest they’d been since ’08.

There are some generational differences today. Millennials want to be valued, they want to contribute, they want mentoring, they want leadership — but that’s not much different from what the Baby Boomers wanted.

What is different is that workers today are much more impatient. If a job doesn’t give them the experiences they’re looking for, they’re going to leave.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It shows that there is a huge opportunity to manage the quality of workplace culture.

What prevents companies from focusing on culture?

There is still an industrial-age mindset. It’s very hierarchical. There’s an idea that leaders don’t delegate authority; they tell people what to do.

This old-school system dismisses, discounts, and demeans others. It doesn’t pay attention to the experience of employees.

Most leaders pay very little attention to culture. They madly focus upon what they know, which is getting the widgets out the door and delivering products and services on budget, on time.

But leaders must also be invested in answering the question: how can I work with my team so that people are nice to each other?

Leaders must stop, listen, observe, and engage. Then they must modify how teams work with each other to make the workplace saner, more civil, and even, maybe, more fun.

Have you experienced an issue with workplace culture in own career?

I spent 15 years as a YMCA director. I had some good bosses, some OK bosses, and some world-class a-holes.

I left the YMCA after two years with my worst boss. He asked me to lie in front of 300 volunteers.

I realized that life is too short, I can’t stand this guy, and I can’t stand who I am when I’m working with him. My organizational heart attack was realizing that if I stayed, I was going to have to continue to face misaligned values every day.

I never wanted to experience that values disconnect again, and I’ve been lucky enough to not have to.

What can leaders do to create a better workplace culture?

The idea is a simple one. The company should validate what leaders do well — performance clarity, goals, strategy, and accountability — and plug those skills into the other half of the job.

The goal is to make values as clearly defined as performance.

Companies should make an organizational constitution, which is a formal statement of the values and behaviors they want lived in their day-to-day interactions. Some values they might choose include integrity, excellence, and respect.

They have to ask: how can we make values measurable and create accountability?

Leaders then have to get really specific about what these values look like in day-to-day behaviors so that they become observable, tangible, and measurable.

It can be as simple as, “I do what I say I do.” Or, “I learn from my mistakes and share them so that others don’t make the same.”

What can employees do to improve their workplace culture?

People must be clear about their own values.

Ask yourself: What’s your reason for being on the planet? What values do you want to live? When are you your best?

And then start to assess your current organization and how well it allows you to live your values.

The fact is that everyone has to shift from being a cog in the wheel to a proactive captain of their own ship. The only way to do this is to get clear about who you want to be when you grow up.

You must make decisions about the kind of organization you want to work for, the people you want work with, and the demands you’ll face in your role.

That means you’re going to have to ask bold questions.