A Little Humanity

Creating a culture of engagement in your business.

Phil Isle – Partner, CONTRACT

In an ideal world, we’d all love to jump out of bed every day, filled with joy at the prospect of our work day ahead. And maybe some of us do. But research shows those numbers are decreasing. Engagement, the measure of commitment, passion and loyalty employees have to an organisation continues to fall.

A 2017 report by Aon Hewitt, a global professional services company, showed that less than 25% of employees are highly engaged. A 2018 global Gallup survey found that 88% of employees were not engaged at all.

The ‘why’ of this problem is complex. Our observations are that globalisation has instilled a cut-throat culture of competitiveness that creates constant pressure to deliver more, on lower budgets, with fewer resources. Work, for many, has become a stressful environment that can leave them feeling overwhelmed and disengaged.

Furthermore, technology has become the ‘go to’ mode of communication, which means we have less face-to-face interaction. Yet a sense of connection is a fundamental human need – we crave face-to-face acknowledgement from others.

Disengaged employees result in lower productivity, decreased innovation and ultimately a range of business under-performance issues. Improving engagement levels to create motivated, passionate employees is in every company’s interest and is the primary role of its leadership.  Creating a positive, pervasive company culture is one way to improve employee engagement. These tools can help leaders achieve this:

A safe place

 Amy Edmondson, Novartis professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, created the concept of ‘psychological safety’ from her research into effective teamwork and it’s become a bedrock of engagement. Her theory is based on extensive research with high-performing teams, where she found that when ideas, questions and suggestions were encouraged, performance improved.

How do I do it?

Encourage people to own up to mistakes, and importantly, admit your own limitations too.

Show team members that it is OK to challenge the status quo and make suggestions.

Ask questions if you don’t understand – and make sure your team does too.

 A reason to care

 To get people engaged, leaders must show a compelling reason to care – the ‘why’ of the jobs that people do.

How do I do it?

 Provide your team with a strong sense of purpose that isn’t about selling products, doing more or turning a profit – it must be something they care about and want to strive for.

Different strokes for different folks

 Strokes is a term coined by Eric Berne and refers to verbal and non-verbal units of recognition that, if used well, lead to motivation, well-being and high performance.

How do I do it?

Acknowledgement – unconditionally accepting who a person is rather than what they’ve done. For example, ‘thanks Zintle, you really are a star!’ This helps boost morale and brings in the ‘feel-good’ factor.

Praise – recognising what people have done. For example, ‘I really liked the way you dealt with that customer issue – it made a big difference!’ This helps motivate them to continue producing quality results.

Constructive feedback – coaching for improvement and encouraging learning. For example, ‘When you were talking to Zintle I noticed that you dismissed her idea quickly. I thought there was merit in it. I think you would benefit by giving people time to share their ideas. Listen to them – it will add to your own thinking. This ensures people develop.


Good leaders are great listeners. They recognise that they get the best from their teams by acknowledging their input.

How do I do it?

Look people in the eye. Put down your phone. Close your laptop and face them.

Listen between the lines. Listen to the emotion in people’s conversation. Note their body language. This is what is really going on.

Question with curiosity. Don’t jump into solution mode. Ask questions. Get to the core.

Creating a culture that is safe, caring and constructive, where people listen and treat each other with respect, will naturally breed engagement. It’s human nature. And it’s part of inspiring a humane economy.