Employee engagement has been a topic of much conversation and study in the corporate world for the past several years. It’s a phrase that has captured the attention of workplace workers, line management, HR managers and the executive suite.

The Conference Board defines employee engagement as “a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.”

Engaged employees have been shown to willingly contribute their time, talents and abilities to the success of an organization. They not only commit to achieving a company’s goals, engaged employees often, at their own volition, extend their discretionary effort to go above and beyond their management’s acceptable performance standards.

There have been many studies on the benefit of employee engagement. According to a Gallup study, 54% of employees are not engaged, 17% are actively disengaged, and only 29% can be considered as engaging their time and talents.

Gallup’s research also revealed how disengaged employees adversely impact a company’s performance and profits. According to the research findings disengaged employees result in 27% more absenteeism, 31% more turnover, 51% less effective and 62% more accidents. Stephen Covey, in his book “The Speed of Trust,” indicated that these numbers conservatively cost American businesses between $250 billion and $350 billion annually.

Now for the good news. The research findings also reported that engaged employees account for 12% higher customer satisfaction scores, 18% higher productivity, 12% higher profitability and 17% higher earnings per share.

How do organizations capitalize on these results? There are many drivers but the strongest of all is the performance of leaders which carries the most influence on the actions, behaviors and, ultimately, the engagement of employees. At least four studies support some common drivers of engagement which correlates with leaders:

  • Trust and integrity: How well do managers communicate and walk the talk?

  • Nature of the job: Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?

  • Career growth opportunities: Are there opportunities?

  • Pride in the organization: How much self-esteem does the employee feel by being associated with the organization?

  • Employee development: Is the organization making an effort to develop the skills and knowledge of its employees?

  • Relationship with management: Does the employee value his or her relationship with management?

    The responsibility for engaging employees falls squarely on an organization’s leadership team. Fortunately, there are a few low cost, low tech and high touch ways that leaders can build higher levels of engagement into their organizational culture.

  • Show that you care about your employees. On a regular basis, demonstrate a sincere interest in them not only as a person but in their health and safety.

  • Demonstrate genuine interest in their development. Improve engagement by demonstrating a sincere interest in your employees’ professional growth and development. Consider engaging in frequent, structured and realistic discussions about their development interests and plans.

  • Recognize achievements. Simply offering genuine praise and low-cost recognition earns higher levels of engagement. Praise and recognize employees whenever their behavior or actions tie into your organization’s goals and desired results. However, make sure the recognition offered holds specific meaning for the individual.

    Leaders have the responsibility to foster a culture of high engagement. If leaders practice the aforementioned actions on a regular basis, employees will recognize and appreciate their active engagement and be highly motivated to respond by becoming more engaged in return.