• Cat Graham

The Future of Employee Engagement

Updated: May 31, 2019

Recently, HR.com published a white-paper in conjunction with Glint,  The State of Employee Engagement in 2018. What comes through loud and clear is that every organization wants engaged employees (even if they have varying definitions), yet they do not know how to get there. And a full 90% of respondents to the Glint survey agree that there is solid evidence linking engagement to performance.

In order to have engagement, employees must trust their leaders and closely connect with the company culture. Gallup’s 5 Ways to Improve Engagement Now cites their 2016 poll data, which directly links engagement to performance by looking across metrics of turnover, absenteeism and profitability. Their study reveals strong correlations between engagement and performance are highly consistent across different organizations and different industries.

Leadership’s role:

Leadership and culture have often been drivers of perceived engagement, but while this report suggests the majority of people view Employee Engagement as a leadership responsibility, less than half the respondents say their leadership makes Employee Engagement a priority, and only 28% said their managers are highly skilled at engaging individuals and teams. However, as the linkage between engagement and performance continue to grow, Employee Engagement is becoming more of a boardroom priority.

It’s easier in a smaller company to have a level of touch with everyone, hence the draw of the start-up. The high energy, all hands on deck, everyone in the know model is a draw because it offers all the transparency, dynamic team environment and intrinsic rewards the larger companies do not. As a leader in a start-up, it’s easy to know every staffer and what motivates them and it’s easy to communicate on a frequent basis. Transparency and communication are the hallmarks of companies with high levels of Employee Engagement. As companies grow larger, every leader develops their own leadership style and their own communication style. Even if the CEO communicates regularly to the staff through internal channels, the face to face experience of the everyday leader/manager will impact the level of engagement.

Here is what every leader should do:

  1. Know who your people are, not just what they do

  2. Act, and react, deliberately and thoughtfully

  3. Communicate the company’s mission and purpose, often

  4. Include the team in approaching any project; their input and buy-in will increase effort

  5. Cultivate a team with diverse approaches and encourage debate

  6. Be actively present, beyond an open door policy

  7. Engage as the leader of the team but equally as a member of the team

Emotional Intelligence:

Emotional Intelligence is an attribute some come with naturally, but others need to be consciously developing. Several studies have shown that managers, leaders and professionals of every level employees who have strong EQ succeed and are promoted more rapidly than those who don’t. But why is this? Shouldn’t ability and results be more of a critical success factor? While experience and ability matters, let’s try this experiment. Close your eyes, think of your favorite manager or think of your favorite co-worker. Think of the experiences that had with them. Were those experiences preferential to you because of their aptitude or their attitude? Did you enjoy working with them because of their work product, or the social interactions and connections you had with them? Chances are, it was the latter.  This has been explored in many research papers, including The relationship between emotional intelligence and work attitudes, behavior and outcomes. In this report, it is noted that Emotional Intelligence is responsible for more positive attitudes and outcomes. When a manager uses emotions in adaptive ways, including: flexible planning, creative thinking, connecting to the individual, motivating persistence and empathy, they have a greater influence than those who do not.  “Particularly, scholars have noted that social skills are essential for executive-level leaders; as individuals ascend the organizational hierarchy, social intelligence becomes an increasingly relevant determinant of who will and will not be successful.”

Here are some attributes of EQ that can help you drive engagement as a leader:

  1. Relate to others

  2. Consider open body language when interacting with your peers and staff-steer clear of body language that belies what you are trying to convey

  3. Actively listen and get to know others point of view

  4. Avoid interrupting at all times

  5. Show empathy when something goes wrong

  6. Actively find ways to partner with people, your staff and peers

  7. Show genuine reactions; show your excitement, show your disappointment but also show you can bounce back

  8. Be inquisitive

  9. Be curious 


People have different definitions of Employee Engagement because every culture is unique, and every organization has a different approach to an engaged workplace. In a recent HBR article, Six Components of Culture, they highlight six key influencers of culture: Vision, Values, Practices, People, Narrative, and Place. Successful companies instill values into their organization to engage employees and recruit and attract new talent. Culture reflects beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact with each other and manage their business. While organizational culter is often set by leadership, sometimes a company’s corporate culture is organic and develops over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. Now more often than not, it is a deliberate expression of the type of community, behaviors and belief sets that a company wants to cultivate, as a corporate ecosystem. If you invest in the employee experience, and the purpose and values of your company are transparent and authentic, the health of your culture and your bottom line will rise.

Consider ways you can care for your culture:

  1. Communicate your purpose and everyone’s role in supporting that purpose

  2. Create reward and recognition programs that are peer to peer as well as manager to staff

  3. Recognize and celebrate your unique approach and key differentiators

  4. Encourage team wins and team play

  5. Cultivate employee relationships

  6. Be transparent

  7. Share good news and bad news authentically internally first

  8. Embrace autonomy

  9. Be flexible

This research and more underscores the urgent priority organizations are placing in their transformation and in leveraging, reshaping and evolving their best people and their culture through employee engagement initiatives. In an article I wrote last year, How Do You Know if Your Employees Are Engaged? I share how to measure the engagement and discretionary effort in your company. The game will always be raised by other companies who are employee first in a public way, and by looking at all the ways you touch employees, from recruiting to on-boarding, reviews and rewards, management approach, benefits and resources, and clear growth paths you can find an Employee Engagement strategy that fits your culture and organization.  Rewarding and encouraging your workforce is key to developing engaged employees and cultivating a connected culture.

Sometimes you need to start with strategic intent and define your MVV and develop an open communication plan to support where you want your company to be. Once you know if you have an engaged workforce you can develop a smart program that amplifies your organization’s employee experience and meets your goals.  Experts agree: a sound employee engagement strategy will drive improved business results.