The Emotional Journey of an Employee

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What I'm Learning About HR is a weekly blog post where I highlight some of the key ideas and concepts I'm learning about HR -- all through the eyes of a newbie to the field.

"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."  - Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

If you looked at a map, where would you be in your career? 

If you're on a journey, at what marker do you find yourself?

Where are members of your team in their own journeys?

One of the recent HR-related courses I took from Linkedin Learning was about Employee Engagement. The specific section of the course that caught my attention was what instructor Don Phin called "the emotional journey of an employee". I've been on both sides of the coin: leading a team and being led by a manager. In each case, where an employee currently finds themselves in that journey often goes unsaid, though it bubbles beneath the surface of every interaction. 

I suppose this is often referred to as the "lifecycle" of an employee. I gravitate toward "journey" because it offers a more human-centered context. Yes, this is business. Yes, there are goals we need to hit. But where is that person on my team - both mentally and emotionally? Where am I at?

According to Gallup's latest survey, 51% of employees are disengaged and 16% are actively disengaged. As a manager or member of an HR team, how do you approach such high numbers of disengaged employees?

Phin offers three tips for managers who notice their reports being in a funk or disengaged at work: coax, encourage, and inspire.

  1. Coax: This tactic might be especially needed when your department or company as a whole is facing a significant change. Instead of simply telling your reports to "deal with it", ask them to take just one small step. "Give this a try for a week and see how it fits". Frame the impending change as something you're all going through together (because it's true), instead of a tsunami that each person is facing alone. Changes isn't easy (including me), but it's much more approachable when you're in it together).

    Education and training can also be two effective methods to coax an employee along. Give them context. Offer reasons. Create a narrative that makes sense. Just as important, get curious. What's on your direct report's mind? Where's their head at? Where's their heart at? Have an honest discussion about the anxiety that's there, floating around, possibly causing even more angst for the team as a whole.

    A significant prerequisite to this is building trust with those you lead. Without trust, it will likely be much more of an uphill climb.

  2. Encourage: It can be tough to engage with a direct report that's in the midst of a rough patch in their career or at the company. I know because I've been on both sides of this scenario. As a manager, make an extra effort to offer a word of encouragement, giving uplifting feedback about performance or simply noticing a positive behavior that often gets overlooked. Saying thank you also goes a long way. Try to find a positive that's specific to that person -- seeing and acknowledging what's inherently good in them.

    Having been a lead for a customer support team, I know how easy it can be to get into the weeds and forget why you're really there. I remember how quickly the energy shifted (in a great way) after praising a person on my team after spotting an excellent response they sent to a customer. This type of interaction honestly feels great on both sides. Instead of saying, "You wrote a great response", get specific about why it was so effective. "I can tell your really made a difference in that customer's day. They'll now be able to do X, Y, Z because of you. Well done!"
  3. Inspire: Get back to the big picture. As Simon Sinek preaches so well, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” When is the last time you pulled back from the daily grind and reminded your team how their efforts are contributing to the kind of world the company believes in?

    While meeting daily goals is vital in any organization, when we focus too narrowly on performance, the larger why begins to shrivel. Along with the shrinking why, you'll feel rumblings of discontent, burnout, and frustration from team members. Gather up the team, take a five minute breather, and share with each other something great that's happening in their lives. Laugh about a recent comical interaction with a customer. Breathe lightness back into your team.

    Remember, the big why and productivity go hand-in-hand. Why fuels performance and passion.

We're each at a different stage in the journey of our careers and at the companies we work for. It's important to acknowledge where we're at and to coax, encourage, and inspire others along the way.