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3 Steps to Employee Engagement

Businesses are talking about employee engagement being the secret to success, but ask them how to get there and responses span the spectrum. The topic has been hotter with consultancies and industry associations than in academia but it’s only a matter of time. Top performing organizations have clearly determined that organization performance significantly improves with engaged employees, and it shows in the bottom line—both in reducing cost and increasing revenue and productivity.

Unfortunately, researchers and industry professionals have yet to come up with a universally accepted definition of employee engagement. However, there are common descriptions from organizations who are leading the way. Examples from surveys conducted include: commitment, loyalty, pride in company/work, enthusiasm, recognition, challenge, mission-focus, growth, satisfaction, discretionary effort applied on a sustainable basis, initiative, going the extra mile, feeling valued and involved.

Sadly, global surveys indicate that a significant proportion of employees are disengaged. Disengaged workers are not just quietly idle, their lack of trust in the organization and its management lead to contagious negativity, missed work, and lower output, resulting in greater time and cost and potential customer dissatisfaction and complaints.

Contrary to traditional beliefs, pay and benefits are not the keys to an engaged, loyal workforce. While pay and benefits serve as a baseline, true engagement touches on a much higher level emotional and rational connection. Many references discuss commitment, but some believe that it is possible to be committed to an organization, yet not be fully engaged in work.

This higher order of motivation appears to be based on having greater intrinsic value. Employees want to be heard and feel valued. They seek to contribute to what the organization aims to accomplish and are willing to give their whole selves to achieve that, but there must be validation for that effort. Ideally, they are inspired by the organization’s mission, they are in agreement with the plan, have some say in its’ execution, and also gain a sense of personal fulfillment in reaching that goal. People need to know that they make a difference. They are shown that they add value, have significance, and are contributing to the organization.

At ground zero (the employee’s level), researchers have found that strong manager-employee relationships are critical. Managers and supervisors need to care about employees’ well-being and must demonstrate that employees are valued. This is conveyed in a variety of ways. Here are the essentials:

  1. Leadership must ‘walk the talk’ and ‘lead by example’. Focus on doing right at the top first before it can be expected below.
  2. Formal structures must be in place: training is targeted to employee needs, development efforts are based on assessed needs, resources are provided by the organizations, recognition is given and consistently applied, feedback is constructive and timely, and advancement opportunities are fairly awarded.
  3. Informal structures exist: a culture develops that supports engagement, two-way communication is encouraged, communication becomes top priority, and employees feel safe in offering their ideas and opinions.

It is also important that employees buy-in to the organization’s purpose and vision. The stronger the personal alignment, the greater the likelihood that the above “essentials” provide the desired engagement results. Get to know your people and learn what moves them!

Lori Okami is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She has over nine years of experience in local and state government in Human Resources, grants management, and as an educator, as well as over twenty years in the private sector. Lori has written over 400 health and fitness blogs for Hawaii’s premiere online news publication. Lori’s expertise is in organization alignment, change management, and customer relationship management (CRM). You can read her posts here.

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Maddie Willis

What a great post! I 100% agree that a strong manager-employee relationships are critical. My manager and I have weekly check-ins where its simply just time for us to talk about anything work related. This really helps clear up any confusions and make sure we are on the same page for the entire week. Having a good relationship with your manager really helps having a positive workplace!

Lori Okami

Thanks Maddie! You’ve described the ideal workplace relationship. Sadly, you may be with a minority of businesses that are able to develop such a culture of communication. Thumbs up to your manager! I do believe that the manager-employee relationship you describe can be contagious. It will change the way you interact with someone you may supervise and others who see how productive that is will join in. Thanks for commenting and congratulations on being part of a positive work partnership!