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10 Practical Employee Engagement Practices
Published Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Reduced training budgets, frozen wages and delayed promotions have taken a toll on employees who have been asked to “do more with less.” We have entered the era of the disengaged. With businesses hiring again, those disengaged may be seeking jobs elsewhere. Is your organization prepared to fight for them?

If not, prepare to pay. Disengagement costs more than $500 billion per year in the United States, and more than two-thirds (68.5 percent) of employees are either disengaged or actively disengaged. Active disengagement is typically when employees are intentionally working inefficiently, and that can have a domino effect on coworkers. Millennials (born between 1980 and 1997) are the least engaged while Traditionalists (born before 1946) have the highest levels of engagement.

The fact is firms will not simply return to their pre-recession turnover levels. For instance, if your traditional voluntary turnover dropped from 15 percent to 5 percent, the 10 percent of the workforce that didn’t leave during the past year is now in queue and will be leaving—in addition to your traditional 15 percent of voluntary turnover. Can your organization handle turnover levels of 25 percent or higher? How will this affect employee engagement, client and customer satisfaction, and your bottom line?

I don’t think I’m being an alarmist. Gallup’s 2014 poll shows there has only been a slight (1.9 percent) increase in employee engagement during the past year. It’s not exactly news that the majority of employees aren’t as engaged as they could be, but leaders, business owners and human resources professionals may be surprised at just how little improvement was made:

• More than two-thirds (68.5 percent) of employees are either disengaged or actively disengaged.

• Millennials are the least engaged generation. Only 28.9 percent of the Millennial generation (born between 1980 and 1997) is engaged. According to Gallup’s 2014 poll, this generation feels their talents and strengths are not being used. At the other end of the spectrum, Traditionalists (born before 1946) have the highest levels of engagement with 42.2 percent of the generation being engaged.

• Overall, engagement levels have increased; the group with the highest scores is managers at 38.4 percent. Having managers with high engagement scores is essential to driving engagement within your organization.

• Disengaged employees affect your bottom line. In fact, disengagement costs more than $500 billion per year in the U.S.

Get Ready to Engage

Here are 10 ways to increase engagement levels.

1. Link your Engagement Efforts to High Performance: Employee engagement is not about employee satisfaction. View engagement as unlocking employee potential to drive high performance. Employee satisfaction will be an outcome of a great culture, but it should not be the goal.

2. Engagement Starts at the Top: Senior leaders must demonstrate support for an engaged culture by personally living their organization’s values. Leaders have large shadows, and employees are watching everything they do. Make sure leaders are walking the talk.

3. Engage First Line Leaders: The old adage, “employees join great organizations but quit bad managers” is true. Research shows the key driver of engagement is the relationship between an employee and his/her direct manager. If a line manager is disengaged, his or her employees are four times more likely to be disengaged.

4. Focus on Communication: Successful leaders recognize the power of a robust communication plan, one built on clarity, consistency and transparency. Learn how to leverage the various communication venues available to you (especially social media), and how to tailor communications to reach different generations.

5. Individualize your Engagement: Today’s leaders must tailor everything, including their communication approaches, rewards and recognition programs, and training and development investments, to the unique motivational drivers of each employee. It is no longer “treat people they way you want to be treated.” The new mantra is “treat people the way they want to be treated.”

6. Create a Motivational Culture: To create motivational cultures, leaders need to understand the different intrinsic motivational drivers of their employees. Experts agree that a key engagement driver is showing empathy toward your employees. You are more apt to get discretionary efforts when employees know you care about them as people.

7. Create Feedback Mechanisms: Organizations need to ask employees what they think. Employee engagement surveys are a great tool for that. It’s then essential to use the feedback you receive productively to assure employees that you have heard them.

8. Reinforce and Reward the Right Behaviors: You will get the behavior you measure; it’s not enough to simply communicate your business goals and measure employees’ progress against them. It’s important to recognize, and if necessary reward, the achievement of goals, as this encourages and engages your employees. Employees are incredibly motivated by achievement, not by money. Although money can disengage employees if they perceive unfairness in compensation.

9. Track and Communicate Progress: Employees are no different than leadership—they want to work for a winning team. You need to reinforce “line of sight” by telling your employees where your organization is headed, how it is performing and where they fit in.

10. Hire and Promote the Right Behaviors and Traits for your Culture: Many companies don’t have an engagement issue, they have a hiring issue—they’re hiring the wrong behaviors and traits to succeed in their culture. Although we place much emphasis on education and skills, people generally succeed or fail because of their behaviors and traits.

Your retention and engagement investments should not be analogous to an on/off switch—think of it more like a dimmer switch. During financially challenging times, you lower slightly, and during boom times, you elevate slightly, while continuously communicating the realities of your business challenges and successes.

Bob Kelleher is CEO of The Employee Engagement Group, a consultancy based in Woburn, Mass. that acts as a personal trainer for corporate culture. The firm also conducts workshops on aspects of employee engagement, and designs and implements employee engagement surveys. Kelleher can be reached at 781-281-7256 or For more information, visit

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