Workplace frustration is a silent epidemic creeping through organizations, yet it is rarely confronted or even recognized. Frustration wears down motivated, dedicated employees who really care about their jobs but can’t get the organizational support they need to get things done. Focused on making contributions, these employees often hide their frustration, leaving managers in the dark about their discontent.
Just as the epic Batman movie finds the masked superhero struggling to hold his own against Bane, his sinister nemesis; there is a silent bane to productivity lurking in our workplaces – frustration. While many organizations proclaim that people are their most important asset, a good many fail to act as though they really believe it. But that doesn’t make it any less true that talented and engaged employees can provide the most sustainable source of differentiation; a competitive advantage that competitors simply cannot replicate.
Though frameworks for understanding employee engagement vary, it commonly looks to capture levels of commitment and discretionary effort demonstrated by employees. Simply put, engaged employees are more likely to be willing to go above and beyond formal job requirements (the ‘discretionary’ effort), make for better organizational citizens, and devote greater effort and ownership towards their work.
Despite the plain stating, this remains a challenging issue for organizations to address. In a climate where they are straining to do more with less, organizations cannot afford to squander the energy of engaged and motivated employees. Tapping into the discretionary effort of engaged employees has become all the more imperative given today’s business outlook. The ever-increasing pace of change in modern organizations calls for employees at all levels to be able to face unanticipated and ambiguous business conditions. In this case, organizations that are able to get engagement right can count on their employees to act in ways that are consistent with the organizational objectives, given the employees’ alignment with organizational values and standards. Finally, the relevance of engagement comes from employees themselves, who today are in charge of their own work paths and the definition of career success. More and more employees are looking for environments where they can be engaged and contribute to the larger picture.
Here is the catch. Many companies enjoy high levels of engagement, yet still struggle in terms of performance. Unfortunately, high employee engagement alone does not guarantee an organization’s effectiveness. You also need real employee enablement – developing systems that provide for better support for the success of employees. Hay Group’s research suggests that frustrated employees represent a significant lost opportunity for organizations – individuals who are aligned with corporate goals and energized about making a difference, yet are held back by roles that do not fully leverage their skills, or by work environments that are not supportive or create barriers in the way of accomplishing their work.
From a motivational perspective, leaders have these employees right where they want them. But when it comes to allowing them to be as productive as they can be, leaders are missing out. The truth is, frustrated employees are unlikely to persist over the long-term in this state, no matter how motivated they are. Engaged employees need to have the confidence that the organization is doing all it can to promote their success, rather than having to worry about obstacles in the form of non-essential tasks or procedural red tape.
An ‘enabled’ work environment essentially points to two do’s. The first, optimized roles, allows employees to be effectively aligned to their job roles, such that their skills and abilities are being put to good use. The second relates to a supportive environment, where work arrangements are structured in a way to facilitate, rather than hinder, individual productivity. For true enablement, employees must have all essential resources at hand that are required to get a job done – information, technology, tools and equipment, and financial resources.
Effectiveness, when implied as a result of ‘engagement’ and ‘enablement’, has proven to impact the bottom line. Our research with hundreds of companies shows that organizations in the top quartile on engagement exhibit revenue growth 2.5 times more than those in the bottom quartile; but the companies in the top quartile on both engagement and enablement achieve revenue growth 4.5 times greater! Companies with high engagement levels also demonstrate 40 per cent lower turnover rates than those with low engagement; but those that both engage and enable employees display a 54 per cent reduction in voluntary turnover rates. Clearly, this shows just how central employee engagement can be to an organization’s success when combined with appropriate levels of employee enablement.
How can your organization listen for signs of employee frustration? You can ensure you are doing the best possible job of enabling your employees with the following in mind:
- Managers must combine engagement (the use of motivational tools), with enablement (the act of providing employees with effective resources), in order to reach optimal levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.
- Managers must listen carefully to their teams for common frustration themes, and address them by prioritizing goals, advocating for resources and minimizing workflow disruptions.
- Organizations with supportive environments limit the extent to which work tasks ‘crowd out’ personal time by permitting employees to complete the most vital tasks as efficiently as possible. Employees are likely to feel better about staying late or coming in early if they are working on tasks with a clear purpose and are given the authority necessary to make decisions about how best to accomplish their objectives.
- Instead of waiting for the annual review to discuss performance, managers should create a culture of dialogue about goals, priorities and challenges throughout the year.
- Organizations must provide adequate training, support, and discretion to grow—and not hold employees back with excessive procedures, decision processes, lack of resources and overly narrow roles.
- Conflict between the operational goals of different departments often diminishes cooperation. To fix this, interdepartmental communication must be strengthened by sharing both people and information.
- Managers need to identify where individual goals are competing with shared goals and must work to eliminate, or at least minimize these obstacles.
Read more about keeping your workforce switched on in our Employee Engagement e-report,