• Salima Hemani

Moving Hearts and Minds: Employee Engagement through Storytelling

Storytelling is an incredible asset that we have at our disposal! We all have the ability to tell stories; it’s part of our DNA, passed down to us through generations. In the organizational setting, stories provide an incredibly powerful means to connect with and influence the workforce, inspire change and support the alignment of organizational culture to the organization’s mission and vision. Stories promote engagement at a deeper level so that ordinary work becomes extraordinary.

Many companies regularly deal with a number of financial, information, and human resource challenges. The human resource challenges are especially significant because for organizations, their workers are the architects and agents of their mission and services. These HR difficulties could include attracting and retaining top-tier talent, low employee engagement and job satisfaction, or burnout. Therefore, it is no surprise that creating and sustaining high engagement are major priorities for many organizations today. And this is also important because there is a strong correlation that exists between employee engagement and overall organizational performance. According to the American Institute of Stress, low employee engagement related to factors such as burnout leads to as much as $300B in losses per year in the US .

Many companies view the biggest risk around disengaged employees as undesirably high attrition, and the additional costs associated with recruiting and training employees to replace those that choose to leave. However, a more serious occurrence is employees who disengage yet still choose to stay with the organization. For example, a few years ago I was asked to do an organizational redesign project for a large global non-profit. Their biggest challenge was increasing their performance and impact as an organization, and they believed that an organizational restructuring would help them address their challenge. However, soon after starting my work with them, I discovered that one big source of their challenge was a disengaged and dissatisfied workforce. In this case, even though the employees strongly believed in the mission of the organization that they were serving, due to the everyday stress of working long-hours, bureaucracy and funding/resource constraints, over time they had stopped being enthusiastic about their work and the value that they felt they were adding. A recurring theme from my interviews with the employees in this particular organization was that even though many of them had started as strong performers, over time their output and performance had gone downhill . This had significantly impacted the overall workforce productivity and directly led to the decline in employee morale, thereby lowering the overall organizational effectiveness and efficiency.

In spite of the fact that the challenges associated with disengaged employees can be daunting, organizations can take some easy and straightforward steps to build engagement and address other issues related to attraction and retention of top talent, and workforce productivity. One way in which organizational leaders can sustain a supportive, productive work environment and nurture identification with the organization is through Storytelling. Stories create a vision for the future as well as connection with the past. They appeal to both the heart and mind, and thus provide a powerful method to rally the employees around the organization’s mission, values and goals. When employees can see themselves in their organization's stories, they are more likely to do what it takes to be the Hero in that story and take charge of their own and their organization's future success and achievements.

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