According to a February 2011 report published by the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of people voluntarily separating themselves from their current employment (i.e., the “quits rate”) has exceeded the layoffs rate, a situation not seen since 2006! These data may be one indicator that an economic recovery is underway.  Good news indeed!

For some employees this news clearly opens the door to greener career pastures: after an extensive period of biding their time in jobs in which they might not be fully engaged (perhaps dealing with less-than-ideal immediate managers, workplaces, etc.), more attractive opportunities are finally available.  For some employers, conditions have finally eased sufficiently so they can start attracting and hiring the best and the brightest again, gaining competitive edge.

But wait.  The news isn’t all good.

What is the implication of a growing number of professionals being “on the move” again?  Based upon numerous industry sources, the number one reason people leave their current job has to do with the quality of the relationship they have with their immediate manager.  That is, while people may like the company they work for and the work they do, if the relationship they have with their immediate manager is difficult or less than desirable, the more likely they are to leave if given the opportunity.

So, with the quits rate exceeding the layoff rate, which employees in my organization may be the most likely to depart?  As obvious as the answer to this question seems, organizations continue to struggle in both acknowledging and dealing with it.  Clearly, top talent – those with the most desirable skills, experiences, insights, etc. – are the most likely to abandon ship, finding “better” opportunities elsewhere.  The functional effect of this migration can leave organizations in the lurch, an effectual “brain-drain” where their organizations slowly decay from within.

At Emerge Leadership Group we believe the key to the answer to this issue rests squarely in employee engagement.  Like others, we believe that employee engagement leads to numerous positive business outcomes including: retention of high contributors, increased productivity, and higher client satisfaction scores.  We also agree that what managers do impacts the engagement of their direct reports more than anything else.  When you have an immediate manager who takes seriously and implements plans to build and maintain your personal engagement, your experience in your work tends to be more positive than if your manager doesn't do these things.   Engaged employees tend to stay with their organizations.  Employees not so engaged are more likely to leave if given the opportunity.

If you are in a situation where (for whatever reasons) your immediate manager doesn’t build your engagement what can you do?  What can you do if you are a manager who wants to build the engagement of your direct reports? 

Research conducted at Emerge Leadership Group has produced the ZONE Model of Engagement™, a four-component model that describes the framework in which people can choose to become engaged at work.   The first component of this model is “Z,” which stands for: zeal, passion and emotion – the deep personal feeling you have for the work you do.  The second is “O:” understanding the organizational need you are fulfilling and the way you are expected to meet it.  Third is “N:” the network of relationships you build and maintain that help you get your work done.  The fourth component is “E:” the expertise, skills, and abilities you bring to your work or develop to contribute at the highest possible levels in your job or function.  When these four components are present at sufficiently high levels – or “aligned” – in your work, you stand a greater chance of being engaged that if one or more of them is not so present.  The ZONE Model of Engagement has a proven track record of assisting individuals and leaders diagnose and create prescriptive plans to assist with employee engagement issues.   

If, as an individual, you ever feel less than fully engaged in your work and wonder why, the ZONE Model of Engagement can help you identify the core issues that seem to be creating the problem.  For example, you can ask yourself, “How passionate am I about the work I am currently involved in; do I really care about what I do (“Z” questions)?  Or, “Do I really understand what is expected of me; are the expectations of my role clear; what do I not understand about my role in this organization (“O” questions)?  Or, “Do I have sufficiently strong relationships with enough people throughout my organization that I can ask for and receive help to get my work done when I need it; do I know enough people who have enough influence who can be my advocate on projects or initiatives (“N” questions)? Or, “Are my skills sufficient for me to make a substantial contribution to my work now; what skills or abilities do I lack so that I can meet the expectations demanded by my role and responsibilities (“E” questions)?

Leaders can use this sort of questioning as a place to being conversations with direct reports who may be struggling with their level of engagement.  When leaders approach individuals who seem to have lower than desired levels of engagement and engage in honest conversations about their engagement using the ZONE Model, the source of engagement issues may be quickly identified.

Once the source of engagement issues is found, individuals and leaders can take appropriate actions to begin correcting whatever is not appropriately aligned.  For example, if individuals find any one or combination of ZONE components to be specifically low, they may find ways to re-channel their passions, gain clarity about their role and contribution to the organization, reach out to others and build stronger networks, or build or re-apply their existing and developing skill sets.

In summary, if organizations desire to curb the out-flow of talented people from their organizations, wish to build the environments of employee engagement, or if individuals want to find ways to be more satisfied at work and make a real difference in the work they are doing RIGHT NOW, then using the concept of the ZONE Model of Engagement can be a powerful tool in creating these desirable outcomes.