Employee engagement is the voluntary dedication to doing one’s best work.
When we apply our hands, hearts and minds to what we do, great things happen to us and others. When we are fully engaged at work, we love the work itself, do a great job and create substantial value. Highly engaged work environments are talent magnets as they create the conditions where the best people can consistently excel. This is a responsibility that we all share, the morale of the work place may be set by the leader, but is sustained by the collective effort of everyone.
Organizations large and small seek to build a great place to work where people and business thrive. The rise of engagement surveys, workshops and programs attest of the vigor behind this concept. Yet, managers and workers alike, often realize that their workplace leaves much to be desired. There are terrible managers, inconsistent messages, competing priorities, escalating demands, and cost reductions. Faced with these realities, most question: “What can I do to be more fully engaged at work?”
While the concept of “employee engagement” is relatively new in the business world, the idea behind it is not. For decades, attempts to define the employee’s discretionary effort at work have been described with words such as productivity, job satisfaction, employee morale, initiative and empowerment. Engagement is a contemporary, comprehensive measure for doing one’s best at work.
High engagement happens when the needs and wants of both the enterprise and the employees are satisfied. In order to be engaged, an employee must be satisfied, motivated, and effective. While each of these factors is important on its own, it is only when all three are present simultaneously that true engagement occurs.
Take, for example, the assembly line employee who is satisfied with her job. Her job means steady employment. She feels satisfied with her pay. Her work schedule is convenient. She is not one of the best workers and she does not exert herself beyond the strictly necessary. She is just satisfied with the job as it meets basic needs. She is not fully engaged.
Her co-worker has recently been given the assignment to ensure the assembly line is producing at record capacity. She is very effective in this role and has been able to boost production targets. Her manager rarely recognizes her good work. She is so dissatisfied with the lack of recognition that she is looking for a different job. She is effective but not fully engaged.
A second coworker has just been hired. She is still learning the job, so she is not very effective yet. She is not fully satisfied with her pay level, but she thoroughly enjoys having a job so she can pay off bills. She tries to maximize her hours and do what’s needed. She is highly motivated, but not fully engaged.
Engagement is the combination of satisfaction, motivation and effectiveness. You need to be doing something you enjoy doing, you are good at, and meets your needs. When people apply their hands, hearts and minds to what they do, they become fully engaged.
How can you create the conditions to become more fully engaged? It starts with a genuine desire to treat others the way we want to be treated. We become fully engaged when we commit to a cause greater than ourselves. That gets our heart in the right place.
Then, we must apply our hands. We must gain a level of mastery of the job, so we are good at what we do. Effectiveness at work is rewarding. Last, but not least, engage your head. Choose a job that meets your needs. Job satisfaction requires that we can meet basic needs. Research proves that beyond attaining a satisfying level of income, earning more does not produce more job satisfaction.
As a leader, how can you create the conditions for engaging people in your team? Highly engaged groups consistently reinforce what makes people tick. We call these the drivers of engagement. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Instead, leaders of highly engaged organizations identify what motivates top performers in their culture. Then, they provide the conditions that attract and motivate the type of people they seek. By consistently engaging the right people, they achieve peak performance.
As a leader, modeling what you want matters. Creating a high performing culture is a matter of living up to one’s values. Ultimately, engagement is everyone’s job. Leaders can create the conditions for engagement by aligning training, rewards and recognition to the values. But demonstrating one’s values by example is by far the most influential form of engagement.
Employee engagement leads to increased productivity, happier workers, talent retention, customer ratings, revenue growth and higher earnings. Beyond the concrete financial returns of a highly engaged workforce, there are also intangible values in terms of team spirit, a sense of loyalty, and excitement in the work. The case for engaging people at work simply makes sense.