The Key to Increasing Employee Engagement

August 25, 2017
Propel Institute

Business success depends on highly motivated employees. But many organizations plod along with a low level of employee engagement. Workers who are under-engaged can be difficult to identify. The best term for an employee who is not engaged in their job is “clock watcher.” They show up on time, but are more focused on getting their breaks and perusing the internet than they are satisfying customers or helping their coworkers.

How severe is this problem? Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workforce report found that 52% of employees in a typical company are not engaged in their job, causing productivity, performance and profitability to suffer significantly.

Even more alarming, nearly 16% of employees admitted to being “actively disengaged.” Gallup describes these workers as “out to damage their company. They monopolize managers’ time; have more on-the-job accidents; account for more quality defects; contribute to ‘shrinkage,’ as theft is called; are sicker; miss more days; and quit at a higher rate than engaged employees do. Whatever the engaged do — such as solving problems, innovating, and creating new customers — the actively disengaged try to undo.”

Contrast that with engaged employees who strive to be at their best. They want to be a part of a team who is works together to achieve great outcomes. Engagement means getting involved, feeling enthusiastic, and being committed to doing excellent work. And extraordinary employees are constantly looking for new and better ways to achieve remarkable results.

Why do 68% of employees become disengaged or actively sabotage their company? Executives often make unilateral, top-down decisions which makes employees feel that their input is not respected. Managers are overwhelmed with too many priorities and problems, leaving little time to spend on engaging in positive exchanges with their employees.

When leaders aren’t engaged in collaborative conversations, many employees conclude that the company doesn’t care about them – and decide there’s no point in caring about their company. Some employees become angry at being ignored or feeling disrespected. They act out their dissatisfaction by demonstrating negative attitudes and disruptive behaviors.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Studies of people who learn to use positive psychology principles have found that it’s possible to get 87% of employees fully engaged. Significantly, that level of engagement was sustained two years later. (Learn more at

The level of employee engagement is determined by quality of the relationship with their leaders. Gallup asked 15 million workers whether their manager cared about them as a person. Leaders with the most engaged employees received a resounding “yes” vote. Paradoxically, the highest performing leaders report that they view the professional and personal development of their people as the most important part of their job – not just a means to an end.

Too many leaders focus more on setting specific goals and creating strategies to get there, while giving little attention to relationship building. This invariably results in organizations struggling to understand why they’re not accomplishing an objective. People who have been left out of the process of determining what’s necessary to achieve results often put up roadblocks by voicing their objections or dragging their feet.

Increasing engagement is accomplished when leaders combine an awareness of employee strengths with appreciative inquiry. Create a strengths chart for all of your employees. Then ask people recall when they’ve have been at their best in the past. That empowers them to see how to use their strengths to be successful in the present.

The ability to deploy the right strength, in the right amount, at the right time is the best predictor of sustained success. That’s the key for leaders to be at their best and bring out the best in their employees.

High performing teams are made up of people who possess a well-rounded set of strengths. For example, knowing which team member has the strength of WOO (winning others over) enables a manager to send the right person out to talk to an unhappy customer, thereby creating a win-win for everyone involved.

Positive reinforcement encourages people to persevere to get a task completed on time and within budget. Appreciation of strengths is even more effective because it highlights the characteristics that enable an employee to consistently create outstanding outcomes.

Studies show that there’s less that a 10% chance of employees being engaged if their organization doesn’t focus on their strengths. Focusing on people’s weaknesses destroys self-confidence. However, when leaders build good relationships with employees by getting to know their best qualities, the number of engaged employees approaches 90%.

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