Why Should Leaders Care About Engaging Employees?

Employee Engagement

The 2018 Gallup survey shows only about one-third of U.S. employees are actively engaged at work, with 16.5% actively disengaged and the remaining 50% not engaged at all.  This is discouraging news—when employees are engaged, they bring their best to work, and most workers in the U.S. today are underperforming.

A recent Aon study showed that engaged employees “say, stay, and strive.”  That is, they say good things about their employer to their friends, coworkers and family; they anticipate a future with their employer (or they stay); and they strive to do their best.  If only one-third of your employees are actively “saying, staying, and striving,” what are the other two-thirds doing that affects the bottom line?

Employee EngagementWhile many view employee engagement as nice but unessential, additional Gallup research shows engaged employees have lower turnover rates, improved sales and profitability, and higher customer satisfaction. When your employees are engaged, it’s reflected in the way they interact with each other, as well as those outside the organization. Employees become in-house brand ambassadors and likely meet your customers during their first interaction with the company. In that initial encounter, they define the organization and determine if the business deserves to win the customer’s loyalty and trust.

How Can You Build Employee Engagement?

I visited a Fortune 500 company and well-known retailer every week over a period of several months. Over time, I got to know the employees. They were happy every time I walked through the door, and their cheerfulness rubbed off on me and the other customers. As a researcher, I just had to know know what made them seem so happy at work—so I interviewed the staff and manager.

The young woman who ran this store made a point to give each employee feedback as often as possible. She kept the feedback constructive and positive—and as a result of her consistency and care, the team trusted her and looked forward to check-ins.  They communicated almost daily, and covered topics related to day-to-day responsibilities, the store, and overall organization. By cultivating an environment that was open, honest, and positive, the manager motivated her employees to work harder and prioritize customer satisfaction. She also helped employees recognize their impact on the company’s success—a responsibility they took seriously.

The employees at this particular store were engaged because of four key initiatives: feedback, trust, communication, and impact.  

If you want to build trust and engagement with your team, you can start by taking these steps:

  1. Schedule regular feedback. Decide how often you have time to give feedback and when your employees want to receive feedback from you. Once you come to an agreement about the schedule, routine check-ins can help you build trust.  
  2. Balance positive and constructive feedback. My business school mentor, Dr. Kim S. Cameron, found the best-performing teams give five positive comments for every negative comment. In other words, you should have a higher ratio of positive to negative comments, and deliver supportive, encouraging, and appreciative statements about an employee’s performance. Find ways to give positive feedback whenever possible: Don’t just wait for those regularly scheduled feedback sessions.
  3. Encourage your team to communicate positively with each other. Once your team has received positive feedback from you, encourage them to provide feedback to each other. Find ways to include it in the culture of your organization by rewarding those who thank their team members for supportive behavior.
  4. Trust your team.  In my own research on trustworthy leadership, I found employees follow the examples leaders set for them. When a leader trusts their team from the beginning, individual members take more responsibility and focus on the impact they have on an organization overall. They know their boss has their back and feel more invested in their work. This mindset creates a virtuous cycle of trust between managers and their team.
  5. Watch the impact of a trusting team. The Gallup survey identified several bottom-line outcomes when a team is engaged and feels trusted: improvements in customer satisfaction, productivity and profitability. Employees will want to help you deliver those results when you include them in an organization’s unifying mission. Communicate with your employees so they understand the positive impact they have on the company and can work toward those goals.

Employee engagement doesn’t just happen. It occurs when leaders make an effort to communicate, give feedback, and build trust with their team. Individuals who are engaged at work also feel valued and understand how their actions directly affect their customers, coworkers, and organization overall. This big-picture perspective gives their job meaning, which is a quality everyone wants to see in their career.

How much oversight is too much? Read more about giving effective, balanced employee feedback.


About the Author

Dr. Karen Mishra is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. She works with leaders and teams to help them harness their strengths to become a trusted team. She is an Associate Professor of business in the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC. She is also the co-author of two books on trustworthy leadership and one on mobile marketing. Her most recent publication highlights her Strengths Coaching with MBAs.