When companies focus first on their employees, customers are likely to be satisfied. This results in profitability, which then makes shareholders happy. Things can go very wrong if employee focus is not at the beginning of this equation.
In a new edition of Managing with a Conscience: How to Improve Performance Through Integrity, Trust, and Commitment, Frank Sonnenberg writes “companies must encourage employees to be passionate about what they do, to remain laser focused on their organization’s mission and goals, and to be obsessed with customer service excellence.”
One of the ways to measure such encouragement and focus is through employee engagement. If employee engagement is high, then you are likely encouraging and focusing on your employees. If it is low, then you are probably not.
Employee engagement can best be described as the level of intellectual and emotional commitment an employee has for accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. And the level of active engagement or active disengagement can be a game changer in whether an organization succeeds or fails.
According to, 84% of senior leaders say disengaged employees are considered one of the biggest threats facing their business. However, only 12% of them reported doing anything about this problem.
Though it may be difficult to attribute costs directly to under-performance,estimated employee disengagement costs the overall US economy as much as $350 billion every year! This can break down to more than $2,200 per disengaged employee.
Just what do disengaged employees do or not do to cost companies so much and how can you identify them? Disengaged employees:
- Take more sick days and are late to work more often.
- Undermine the work of their more engaged colleagues by constantly complaining.
- Produce less. According to Gallup research, this can be $3,400 to $10,000 in annual salary.
- Miss deadlines and lose sales opportunities.
- Use cynicism, which is often passed on to other employees and customers.
- May be very talented, but leave to join another company.
In many cases, disengaged workers may need to be removed because they cannot be turned around. However, most of your employees are neither engaged nor disengaged, and this is something you can influence.
To increase employee engagement, a leader must (1) continually demonstrate integrity and trust, (2) clearly communicate their vision, and (3) encourage the inner work lives of employees.
Consistently Demonstrate Trust and Integrity
Perhaps the single most important element attributable to active employee engagement or disengagement is directly related to the level of trust within the organization. In the same way a marriage requires complete trust in order to flourish, so too do the relationships in the rest of our lives, including at work. Leaders must be honest with their employees and keep them in the loop, especially when times are tough. Showing vulnerabilities during tough times mean employees can see you more fully as a human being and just like them. They are then more likely to want to follow your lead and do their best.
Clearly Communicate a Vision
According to Mercer’s 2002 People at Work Survey, when senior management communicated a clear vision and direction of the organization, fewer employees were dissatisfied than when senior management did not communicate its vision effectively (7% versus 39%); fewer employees said they did not feel a strong sense of commitment to the organization (6% versus 32%); and fewer employees said they were seriously thinking about leaving the organization (16% versus 40%). If your employees clearly understand where you want the organization to go, they will do their best to help get there.
Encourage Employee Inner Work Lives
As I wrote in a previous post, steady and continual progress toward goals is easily the most effective way to motivate employees. According to Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, the best leaders focus on helping employees lead satisfying inner work lives that include consistently positive emotions, strong motivation and favorable perceptions of the organization, the work and their colleagues. Celebrating milestones and small victories can keep workers on track and motivated to continue.
By focusing on these three things you can raise employee engagement in your organization. And nothing can more directly influence your productivity and profitability, regardless of the size of your business.