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To Re-engage Your Employees, Start With Values

Posted on April 3, 2015 by Don MacPherson.

As you assess the engagement of your workforce, sooner or later you will have to deal with the “prisoners.” These are the employees who are disengaged at work but are not looking for other jobs and have little motivation to either improve or move on. They intend to stay where they are.

Modern Survey has found that one of the ways organizations can re-engage disengaged employees is to create an awareness of the company’s values. When a company lives its values through its actions — hiring, managing, dealing with customers — employees will know they can trust the organization and find their place in it.

“We believe behavior, and we typically ignore words when they conflict with and contradict behavior,” says Sharon Dye, an organizational consultant with Insperity. When the leaders at an organization merely pay lip service to values, employees will lose trust in them and the organization.

Dye says she worked with a biotech company that was overhauling its values as it entered a new phase of its business life. One of the values it wanted to continue to prioritize was work-life balance.

“The CEO said, ‘We have to keep work-life balance,’ and then mentioned he hadn’t seen his wife in five days,” Dye said. “I told him that was going to be a pretty dramatic change.”

Dye worked with the company to find out what its true values were — what the leadership believed was important and what employees saw as the company’s values in action. When she spoke with the CEO about what he valued, he said working hard and then playing hard were important.

“That’s what he really values, and everybody already knew it — when he throws a party, he throws it big,” she says. She encouraged him and other leaders to hire people based on a “work hard, play hard” mentality, rather than those who were looking for “work-life balance.”

This type of reflection is key for organizations to find what their true values are. If a company decides to overhaul its values and values communication in an effort to re-engage employees, Dye says this process is vital for success. “It’s the pre-step to communicating values to employees,” she says. “When there’s the unveiling of the values, the raucous cheer from employees ought to be ‘That’s us.’ There should be no convincing.”

When leaders commit to living their values in all interactions — with employees, partners and customers — there is bound to be some painful change, Dye says. Employees who feel that they are not a good fit for the new ways will likely leave the organization. People who did not feel aligned with the company’s values in the first place will either work hard to catch up or, again, look for a place that is more their style.

Learn more ways to re-engage employees. Download our new white paper, Dealing With “Prisoners” in the Workplace.

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