Our immune system protects us from harmful outside invaders around the clock.  Our immune system is able to quickly recognize and either repel or attack these invaders that mean us harm.  Without this immune system our body would quickly breakdown.  When an invader does find a way in, it takes tremendous energy to resist or keep it from harming us.  We have all had a fever.  A fever is a symptom of an invader who has entered our system and it’s our body’s way of fending off the harm this invader can cause.  The fever puts us out of commission.  It zaps our energy.   

Leaders who damage trust zap our energy.  They are like invaders to your “employee engagement immune system.”  As a leader do you pass the “hello-goodbye” test?  Are people happy to see you coming or happy to see you leave?  If they are happy to see you coming you pass the “hello-goodbye” test.  If they are happy to see you leave, you fail. 

The Four Trust Invaders that Damage “Employee Engagement Immune Systems”

Leaders who zap energy do one or more of four things to damage trust.  They fail to show concern for you personally or they are disrespectful.  Secondly, they fail to keep their agreements and so they damage their own integrity and they often do it unconsciously.   Thirdly, they are incompetent in their core responsibilities and are often unaware.  Finally, they send mixed messages about priorities or they frequently have different priorities in objectives, or even worse, values.  Here are some behaviors to adopt to be sure you are not attacking the “employee engagement immune system.”

Show Concern

One way to pass the “hello-goodbye’ test is to be sure to demonstrate concern for employees with every interaction.   Do this by practicing very basic skills such as eye contact, listening without interrupting, repeating back what you hear without prejudice, asking questions for clarity without criticizing.  Above all else, avoid disrespectful behaviors.

Another important factor is being aware of communication style and adapting to the others’ styles.  Some want to chat and laugh, some want to talk only about results, some want to just be heard and some want specific details.  Be aware of style and adapt your language.  Using a different style is much like speaking a different language without a translator.  It zaps energy and damages trust.

Keep Agreements

Next to dis-respect, this is one of the worst invaders of employee engagement immune systems.  Leaders who break their agreements and are unaware make people turn and run.  Insisting people come to work on time and then being late for meetings without an apology is an example.  Asking people to put in more time on a project but then sneaking out of work early is another.  

Unless employees have the ability to tell the “king they have no clothes” this invader can cause serious damage and zap energy and engagement from employees.

Being Competent in Core Responsibilities

Leaders expect employees to be competent.  If they fall down on their responsibilities then any performance feedback delivered to employees will fall on deaf ears.  Credibility is lost.   For example, leaders must facilitate problem solving and not avoid or delegate this important responsibility.  If they abdicate this responsibility they damage credibility and trust.  Employees will stop coming to them for help and instead end up avoiding interactions because any effort is seen as a waste of time. This zaps employee engagement.

Have the Same Priorities

First clarify the priorities of the organization or the department.  Clear articulation of priority can prevent misunderstandings.  Any misunderstandings or inconsistency will zap engagement energy.

If improving customer service is a priority for the organization, any direction from leadership that appears inconsistent will damage trust.   For example, if leadership insists on reducing time spent with clients in order to save money (either on the phone or in person) they send an inconsistent message to the customer service improvement priority.

Do you pass the “hello-goodbye” test?  Do employees show concern or delight when you approach?  If you are not sure start observing now.  You can be either a supporter of engagement or a drain on energy.  Which are you?


Wally Hauck holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Certified Speaking Professional and for 15 years his consulting firm, Optimum Leadership, has consulted with dozens of organizations and coached hundreds of individuals in improving leadership skills to boost employee engagement and performance.
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