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Employee Engagement and the Government of Canada (Part 1)

Debra Sunohara

Thousands of public service employees are still waiting to find out their fate; will their jobs be affected by budget cuts, will they find another position elsewhere in government, should they start buffing up their LinkedIn profile, or should they take a package and ease into retirement?

But these work force adjustment (WFA) recipients are not the only public servants affected by cuts as managers and coworkers struggle to reorganize, refocus, and move forward to continue service delivery to Canadians. The typical outcome is that frontline staff are simply left to “do more with less”.

Without leadership guidance, though, they have no real understanding of how to adapt their work processes to accommodate the increased load. Ultimately, these ever-increasing demands can have a devastating impact on the workforce.   

Many public service employees also experience a climate where their activities are directed by top-down legislative requirements or regulated processes.  Some of these might even have sanctions attached – think of examples where confidentiality is a legal mandate.  This situation creates a dilemma for leaders and managers who want to be open and transparent - their options may be limited and information often cannot be freely shared.

The result?  Misunderstandings and distrust where employees are not clear as to motive and intent behind managerial decisions and directives.

The result in both situations is that employees show up for work, but their hearts are elsewhere.

“They’re miserable because… they have lousy managers and supervisors.”

        – Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO at Gallup

Employees are slackers

Broken gears-200x300Gerard Seijts and Dan Crim from the Ivey Business School, report that 54% of employees are not engaged.  More troubling yet are the 17% of employees who are actively disengaged and, “...busy acting out their unhappiness, undermining what their engaged co-workers are trying to accomplish.”

Due in part to high levels of disengagement, leaders and managers tend to treat employees as slackers.  In reality, however, most employees look forward to contributing to the work of their colleagues, teams, and organizations.  They take pride in their accomplishments and their professional reputations; work is, after all, a key source of identity and fulfillment.

Engaging employees and ensuring “fit” requires that leaders and managers develop an awareness of the impact that uncertainty and constant change creates.  It requires a continuous communication plan – including authentic, face-to-face contact.  Employees need to know what contributions they can make and what personal impact they may face.  Above all, employees need to know that leaders and managers care about what happens to them.

As a manager, what can you do to engage your employees?

Value and Appreciation

Disengaged-200x304Employees need to contribute to discussions that involve their work.  It is a key signal from management that their knowledge and efforts are respected.  This can also provide a critical learning opportunity for leaders.  Ultimately, this provides employees with the sense that they are contributing to the overall goals of the organization, this, in turn, provides meaning and purpose to their work.

Edwards Deming, who paved the way for quality as a management priority, emphasized the importance of a change-friendly culture and participative management, as well as a work environment free of fear in which employees get the training needed to analyze and improve the system.  All of these conditions spark and imbed drive, commitment, and loyalty – necessary for high performing organizations. 


So what can a manager do to improve employee engagement?

First, make sure employees understand the big picture.  Changes in staffing should be carried out with as much transparency and involvement as is possible – especially for those staff that will be affected by the changes. You can dramatically mitigate the inevitable hit on employee morale:

  • Make sure their input is factored into your decisions. If not, explain why not.  Help them develop an understanding of the outcomes you’re projecting and create an early commitment to the plans that will follow.
  • Present the total plan and work through it with the front-line teams early and often. Use effective communication to combat rumours – which are typically worse than the reality.
  • Build engagement with employees by giving them the full picture and show them how changes to the work processes – that THEY OWN – will be critical to the future success of the organization.

Come back next week for Part 2 of this discussion

Click here to read Part 2

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About this Article

Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on January 11, 2013

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Categories: communication, engagement, leadership, management, public service renewal