Jill Christensen
Author and employee engagement consultant Jill Christensen discussing why organizations fail to engage employees at DWEXP17 PHOTO: Jeff Callen

CHICAGO — Jill Christensen delivered a message this morning for executives who employ toxic, incompetent managers who don't care about inspiring employees:

Fire 'em all.

It's high time organizations fix the epidemic of employee disengagement, Christensen told the Digital Workplace Experience audience in her opening keynote yesterday.

Wake Up, Senior Leaders

It's on senior leaders to get this right, not employees. Employees want to be engaged and inspired. But they don't have the workplace environments to do so.

Christensen, an employee engagement expert and author who has worked with Fortune 500 executives under Jill Christensen International, drove home these points as the conference officially kicked off on a gorgeous near-summer day in the Windy City.

"Engaged workers are extraordinary ambassadors of your brand," Christensen said.

'Meet Basic Human Needs'

So how do leaders engage employees?

Christensen told the conference attendees strong leaders have confidence, courage and are present and optimistic.

Stop seeking validation from external sources, she said. Believe you can do anything. Lead with your head and heart. Take calculated risks. Turn off the phone when interacting with people. Seek input from employees and listen. Choose positive thoughts. Surround yourself with high performers.

Forget the office dog and free beer. Well, maybe keep the dogs and beer, because they make people happy.

But happy doesn't mean engaged, Christensen said. No one stays with a company because of the branded water bottle gift.

Employees are engaged when they trust senior leaders and have an emotional connection to the organization.

"Employee disengagement doesn't happen overnight," Christensen said. "On the first day of the job, everyone's willing to give 100 percent discretionary effort. But little by little their souls are chipped away because of culture .... At the end of the day you have to meet basic human needs just like water and air. Their individual values need to align with company values."

6 Digital Workplace Trends

Paul Miller, founder and CEO of Digital Workplace Group (DWG), began the morning discussing trends shaping what he calls the new digital workplace.

Simpler Media, the San Francisco-based parent company of CMSWire, and London-based DWG partnered to produce the inaugural three-day conference.

"The world around us is going to shape the digital workplace in some quite profound ways," Miller said. "We need to start to think about that."

Paul Miller
Digital Workplace Group CEO Paul Miller discussed this morning six trends shaping the new digital workplace.PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

Miller's six trends shaping the digital workplace include:

  1. Authority: People are losing faith in political and organizational authority, Miller noted, due to the power of individuals with greater knowledge. Leaders have to build trust inside organizations. "Leadership has to build a currency and a value in organizations," Miller said
  2. Blurring: Organizations must provide flexibility for when and how people want to work.
  3. Meaning: Workers are searching for meaning and purpose — especially millennials. Political and social environments may let them down, and younger workers want to find value and meaning in their roles and want to feel like they're contributing to a greater purpose.
  4. Intelligence: Artificial Intelligence (AI) advancements are leading to greater human intelligence. "My thesis is that in 50 years humanity will be more intelligent than it is now and we'll have access to deeper knowledge levels and deeper connections."
  5. Growth: Poorer areas around the world are gaining access to high-speed internet. Workplace by Facebook signups have had extremely high rates. It's a developing world, and organizations must keep pace. Growth has to be sustainable in a very real way, Miller said.
  6. Story: Organizations must accept uncertainty. "I don't think you need to have all the answers to everything," Miller said. "There are a lot more questions around than answers at the moment." 

"It's quite unsettling to live in current times," Miller said, "but also remarkable with innovation .... It's not a boring time to be alive. Your organizations touch the lives of millions of people."