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How to Keep Your Employees Engaged

Aug. 5, 2014
Workers who are actively disengaged outnumber their engaged colleagues by an overwhelming factor of 2:1.

What is the level of employee engagement and how can companies affect it? Gallup did some research to answer those questions. The group studied 600,000 people, across seven industries including healthcare, financial services, hospitality, manufacturing, and retail. The conclusion was that workers who are actively disengaged outnumber their engaged colleagues by an overwhelming factor of 2:1.

To change the trend in employee engagement, Gallup reviewed companies who were making headway in this area and came up with some recommendations:

Have involved and curious leaders who want to improve. Leaders' own attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors have powerful trickle-down effects on their organizations' cultures. Leaders of great workplaces don't just talk about what they want to see in the management ranks -- they model it and keep practicing to get better at it every day with their own teams. By displaying a little vulnerability and visibly working on improving themselves, they signal that such engagement is how one gets ahead.

Ensure the basic engagement requirements are met before expecting an inspiring mission to matter. When employees know what is expected of them, have what they need to do their jobs, are good fits for their roles, and feel their managers have their backs, they will commit to almost anything the company is trying to accomplish. Conversely, if these basic needs are not met, even the most exalted mission may not engage them. People simply don't connect with proclamations of mission or values -- no matter how inspiring these might sound in the head office.

Never use a downturn as an excuse. The excuse we hear the most to explain away a lousy workplace is the state of the economy; in periods of belt-tightening, engagement inevitably takes a hit. The experience of the 32 exemplary companies we studied calls this rationalization into question. With few exceptions, they have also had to respond to flat or declining top lines -- with structural changes, redundancies, and declining real pay and benefits -- and yet not only have they maintained their strong cultures, they've improved them. They have achieved this by being open, making changes swiftly, communicating constantly, and providing hope. The truth is that employee engagement is one of the few things managers and leaders can influence in times when so much else is out of their control. Great employers recognize this, and they go about managing it in the right way.

Have a straightforward and decisive approach to performance management. The companies in our study with the highest engagement levels know how to use recognition as a powerful incentive currency. Indeed, a hallmark of these great workplaces is that they are filled with recognition junkies. These companies see recognition as a powerful means to develop and stretch employees to new levels of capability. Meanwhile, they see tolerance of mediocrity as the enemy. Any action or inaction that doesn't produce appropriate consequences adds to workplace disillusionment and corrodes commitment.

Do not pursue engagement for its own sake. As it becomes increasingly possible to measure and track engagement accurately, some companies start "managing to the metric." Great employers keep their eyes on the outcomes they need greater engagement to achieve.