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Are your workers really engaged?

The research involved 28 teams of workers from 7 different industry sectors

Your employees may give the impression of being productive and engaged, but recent research has revealed that things are not always as they seem.

A study led by Ashridge Executive Education aimed to explore ways of boosting employees engagement in the workplace. Currently, according to Amy Armstrong who led the study, engagement levels in the UK are among the lowest in western Europe, with disengaged employees using more of their managers’ time, taking more time off and being the most vocal.

The research involved 28 teams of workers from 7 different industry sectors. Each team comprised up to 15 employees and 4 teams from each organisation were studied. Fifty percent of the teams had been rated as highly engaged and the others as disengaged by their companies.

The researchers talked to members of the “engaged” teams and found that the groups were not as engaged as they appeared. Two of the so called engaged teams were carrying out the bare minimum of work and were just content with the status quo. One team was actually disengaged, whilst four more of the “engaged” teams were what the researchers described as “pseudo-engaged”.

These teams were described by Amy Armstrong as Machiavellian, since they acted and spoke in ways to make a positive impression, but were actually pretending they were engaged. The research found that the members of these groups were more concerned about their personal interests than those of the team. The atmosphere was negative and team leaders were frequently more concerned about how they appeared to management than committed to building relationships within the team.

Some of the “Machiavellian” behaviour that was identified by the research included ways of playing the system such as extending the work so that it filled the working hours, rather than trying to achieve more in the time. They might get the allotted work completed in, for example, four hours of a six hour shift, and then have two hours in which to relax.

Typically, teams would have pride in the fact that they were able to play the system. This type of dysfunctional behaviour would also be passed on to new team members who might start off engaged but quickly be influenced by the existing culture and join it.

In addition to highlighting some of the problems associated with the traditional engagement surveys carried out by management, according to Armstrong, this study would also be helpful to organisations looking for strategies for boosting their employees’ motivation.

She suggested that companies should focus more on rewarding teams than individuals and that it was important for team leaders to promote teamwork as a way of increasing productivity.

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