Employee engagement

How to Know Whether Your Employees are Engaged

Here's how to evaluate whether your company promotes or frustrates employee engagement.

Would you know an engaged employee if you saw one?

Most executives answer that with a “yes,” but unfortunately don’t share a common definition.

When I ask for a description of what employee engagement is—how would one know if employees are engaged or not—the answers range from “paying attention” to “doing their job” to “making suggestions for improvement” to “smiling while at work.”

Try this description on for size:  Engaged employees

  • want to learn more about the company
  • want to contribute to team success
  • want to learn and grow as an individual
  • want to take pride in their work, their coworkers and their company
  • want to improve processes to make the work easier to do well
  • want to work in a safe environment and feel personal safety is valued
  • want to know if they are doing a good job, or not
  • want to feel like they belong, and help others feel that same way
  • want to be fairly compensated and to earn their compensation
  • want to speak up without fear.

I would argue that, almost without exception, every employee arrives the first day with those hopes. Those feelings either become supported and reinforced, or they get squelched.

I would never pretend to be an Organizational Development (OD) expert, but I do have some experience with increasing engagement.  

The common attributes of companies that support and reinforce engagement include:

  • mutual trust and respect
  • excellent communication
  • clear goals and progress against goals via metrics that are influenced and understood by employees
  • a demonstrated system of values and mission that is more than “maximize profits for the owners.”

Common attributes of companies that frustrate engagement include:

  • lack of mutual trust and respect
  • poor communication
  • no common understanding of performance expectations or execution
  • focus on blame (“who?”) rather than root cause (“why?”)

Few organizations, including the recently maligned Amazon, can flourish in the long term without engaged employees. Mr. Bezos' rebuttal to the negative comments suggest he knows that.

Most employees don’t need a $10 gas card; they just need to know that they can have an impact, their ideas matter, and they are appreciated.

There is no quick-fix for the culture that stifles engagement.  

Specific actions to increase employee engagement can either help or hurt. For example:

  • Suggestion systems that include quick implementation with minimal bureaucracy reinforce engagement.
  • Suggestions that go into a box to die squelch engagement.

Most employees don’t need a $10 gas card; they just need to know that they can have an impact, their ideas matter, and they are appreciated.

Changing a culture to one that supports engaged employees takes effort, consistent behavior and words, listening, and openness.

Wishing won’t make it so. Neither will blaming it on the employees. After all, who hired them?

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