Roberta arrives at her workplace on time each morning, with an air of fresh energy. She says hello warmly to her colleagues before sitting down at her desk and beginning work. Before long, she is absorbed in her tasks, yet her energy never dissipates. After lunch, she attends a meeting, where she asks questions and writes down action items for follow-up. A coworker catches her in the hallway to ask a question, and she listens intently before replying.
Roberta is an example of someone who is fully engaged in her work. When she’s in the office, she is fully present and interested in the work she is doing—without feeling distractions, burnout, or a sense of wanting to “check out.”
If Roberta sounds like an anomaly, that’s because she unfortunately is. Gallup research shows that a meager 13% of employees worldwide exhibit this kind of energy and interest in their work.
That’s not good news, because employee engagement is a crucial ingredient in the success of any organization—and not just for its “feel-good” effect. Research has shown that companies with high employee engagement boast twice the annual net income of companies whose employees are disengaged at work.
How can my organization boost employee engagement?
The same Gallup research found that the 87% of employees who describe themselves as not engaged or actively disengaged are unhappy in the office, unproductive, and likely to spread negative attitudes to coworkers. This phenomenon of disengagement can’t completely be chalked up to people finding themselves in the wrong career or distractions caused by in-office internet use (although those are two possible contributors to disengagement).
Actually, employee engagement is directly related to the work environment, which is cultivated by those in leadership. “A critical element in building confidence, motivating performance, and increasing employee engagement is having people at the top who inspire belief in the organization’s future,” suggests a 2010 research article.
Here are five things leaders can do to create an environment of employee engagement:
Create relationships, not hierarchies. Engaged employees are those who report having friends at work. Strong social bonds can produce some amazing results, including better performance, higher confidence, and an ability to get along well with team members. Encourage employees to create friendly relationships with one another and work to minimize conflict and competition when you spot it.
Know (and use) each employee’s strengths. Using personal strengths to achieve goals is a hallmark of employee engagement. Likewise, struggling against the current of your own abilities can cause frustration, burnout, and disengagement. According to Senior Gallup researcher Tom Rath,
“When leaders focus on and invest in their employees’ strengths, theodds of each person being engaged goes up eightfold.”Practice mindful leadership. If picturing yourself meditating at work makes you break out in a sweat, relax—mindful leadership isn’t about adopting a spiritual practice. It’s actually just about paying more attention.The Institute for Mindful Leadership describes it as the ability to “be focused, see with clarity, cultivate creativity and embody compassion.” It requires a full and nonjudgmental presence to your work and team members, who notice that presence and respond with engagement.
Invest in employee well-being. Research shows that high employee well-being leads to high employee engagement. Healthy employees have more energy, are less stressed, and have fewer distractions. Leaders should encourage their team to take breaks, get outside, foster positive attitudes, and manage stress in a healthy way. The bonus is that engagement at work boosts well-being, creating a nice feedback loop of positive reinforcement.
Engage yourself. Surveys show that only 35% of managers feel engaged at work, and there’s good evidence to show that the trickle-down effect can lead to damaged employee engagement. Boost your own engagement in simple ways by connecting with (and smiling at!) your team members, seeking out ways to challenge yourself, and remembering how your efforts are linked to company success.