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Ruth K. Ross, author of Coming Alive: The Journey to Reengage Your Life and Career

| 04.04.2016 |

Ruth K. Ross is a speaker, author and a self-defined engagement evangelist. Her new book, Coming Alive: The Journey to Reengage Your Life and Career, is based on Ross’ own experiences and research, exploring the epidemic of employee disengagement in Corporate America.


Q: From an employer’s perspective, what are the warning signs of employee disengagement?


Ruth K. Ross: Disengagement isn’t always something you can see right away as many people suffering through this might be smiling on the outside while crying on the inside. If you know what to look for, however, it becomes a bit easier to pick up on the following warning signs:


Less time spent in the workplace: Employees show up when they want, not always when they are scheduled to be there, take longer lunches and leave earlier.


An "I Don’t Care" Attitude: Employees come in and do what is expected, but don’t expend energy to make sure the work is high quality and their productivity wanes.


Isolating Themselves From Others: Isolation can be intentional, as when a disengaged employee chooses to opt out by sitting back in a group meeting and not participating in the discussion, avoiding hallway conversations, or turning down an invitation to have lunch with others.


No Creativity Or Innovation: Employees stop being creative and innovative and aren’t open to trying new things, retreating to the familiar and routine, while doing everything they can to stay under the radar.


Lethargic Behavior: You can usually tell when someone crosses over from engagement into disengagement by focusing on the person’s energy level. It’s as if their movements slow down and things seem to move at a snails pace.


Mood Swings: An employee struggling with disengagement will tend to have more frequent mood swings, rather than remaining on an even keel. The simplest things can tend to set them off course.


Q: From an employee’s perspective, what are the warning signs that management is disengaged from being supportive of the needs of employees?


Ruth K. Ross: First, it’s important to note that all managers are also employees and therefore will probably exhibit a number of the same warning signs discussed in the prior question. In addition, here are some other things to look out for if you think your manager is disengaged:


The Closed Door Syndrome: Managers that spend most of their time behind closed doors and are reluctant to be out among their employees or schedule one-on-one meetings with them are sending a message that they don’t want to connect with their employees.


Cap Locks and Exclamation Points: When a manager resorts to email as their main mode of communication and the only way you know how they are feeling about something is whether or not the cap lock button is stuck in the on position and the frequency that they put exclamation points at the end of a sentence.


No "Why" Behind The "What": Engaged managers are those that want to make sure you have all the information you need to do your job effectively and with enthusiasm. These are people that completely get the importance of setting context or the ‘why behind the what’. Conversely, disengaged managers just tell you what to do and don’t see the importance of sharing what’s behind their decision or request.


Q: How can an employer keep a remote a workforce from being disengaged?


Ruth K. Ross: It’s important to understand that even if your employees are co-located in the same facility as you, they can still feel out of touch. Remote doesn’t have to be defined by miles or hours. Here are some tips to keep everyone on your team engaged:


Think of each of your employees as remote workers, regardless of location so that you are starting out on an even playing field. That means that one group is not more important than others, a common complaint that many remote workers feel when there is a group of people co-located with the boss.


The concept of ‘one-on-one’ weekly meetings is not only NOT dead; it is imperative with a remote workforce that this happens. You must make the time for a personal interaction with everyone on your team, even if it’s on the phone. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t talking more if needed, but rather it is about making a statement that this time between a manager and an employee is sacred and reinforces how important they are to the organization.


You must have a scheduled all team staff meeting at least once a month that doesn’t get cancelled. As important as a manager’s one-on-one conversation is with each person on the team, there is such power and connection in the collective group.


With all the tools available today for video conferencing, use this whenever possible so that people can virtually ‘see’ each other. Try and schedule an in person group meeting once a quarter if possible to strengthen connections.


When you have staff calls, make sure to start off by connecting first with each person who is participating remotely. This can be done by going around the horn and asking a question that relates personally to them, be it about a work project or asking how their child’s birthday party was that weekend. This small act will get them engaged in the conversation from the get go. And make your celebrations virtual by including everyone.


Always follow the golden rules of being transparent. Share all information and giving context by explaining the ‘why behind the what’ of the decisions you’ve made.


Q: How does the Invisibility Index in your book work?


Ruth K. Ross: As background, one of the questions I always ask people dealing with workplace issues is, “What one word would you use to describe how disengagement feels to you?” The word I hear most frequently is "invisible." This led me to designing a tool that individuals and managers alike can use.


There are two versions, one for a manager to be able at any time to answer twenty questions about an individual employee to assess their level of engagement. No waiting months to get survey results back or try and figure out who in a group of people is bringing your engagement score down. The other version is a self-assessment that anyone at any time can take to figure out how they are feeling about work. The twenty questions are answered on a frequency scale, which is then converted to a numerical score to determine where they are on the continuum of engagement.


Q: What has been the reaction to your new book?


Ruth K. Ross: One thing I’ve learned since writing the book is that everyone of us has either personally felt the pain of knowing they weren’t fully engaged at work or at home (or both), has an important person in his or her life experiencing this or perhaps manages a team that is struggling with disengagement. So many people have thanked me for putting a name to how they were feeling and are glad to know they aren’t alone.


The other big reaction is from managers who tell me that this book and training material has helped them to understand that they need to really examine and understand their own level of engagement first before they can turn their attention to engaging their team members.


As I’m fond of saying, a dead battery can’t charge another and that’s been validated by my readers. Be engaged yourself and others will come along on the journey.


Ruth K. Ross is online at http://www.ruthkross.com.