Employee Engagement Defined
Engaged employees are those who feel a sense of connection to their work, a sense of identity with the company brand, values, and mission, and a sense of community with their co-workers.
Employee Engagement is any system, program, protocol or combination of these designed to achieve this result.
How to Tell if an Employee is Engaged
It’s not as easy as looking for a ring (pun intended), but there are other observations that may help you make the distinction. For example, engaged employees commonly use inclusive language when casually discussing themselves and their organization.
If you ask an engaged employee about their company, they will probably say something like, “We develop software for educational institutions.”
If you ask a disengaged employee the same question, they will likely respond with, “They are a software company.”
Generally speaking, an engaged employee is more likely to include themselves when talking about their company.
It’s Not Black & White
There are varying degrees of employee engagement. Understanding these variations can help you establish a strategy to improve employee engagement across your teams, and across your organization.
Although employees will fall into the broad categories of engaged or disengaged as described above, knowing this distinction alone will not help you facilitate any significant change.
Employees are individuals, and engagement typically happens at the individual level.
We’ve all been told at some point in our lives that “there’s no ‘I’ in team,” as a means of encouraging cooperation and the letting go of stubborn self-interest for the betterment of the group.
Now that this maxim has permeated our culture, we must balance this sentiment by remembering that teams are made up of individuals, and without individuals there is no team.
The Individual Matters
A one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement without respect to where each employee already falls on the engagement spectrum would be like sending a typhoon through wetlands, and a desert, and somehow expecting each location to benefit equally.
A unique approach may be necessary for each individual in order to increase their level of engagement.
The Degrees of Engagement
- Actively Engaged
- Moderately Engaged
- Actively Disengaged
By dividing the engaged and disengaged into smaller subgroups, leaders can focus on moving each subgroup up one rung of the engagement ladder.
The goal is not to get all disengaged employees to become engaged overnight, but rather to transform Engaged employees to Actively Engaged employees, the Moderately Engaged to Engaged, and the Disengaged to Moderately Engaged.
Where to Start
A common mistake leaders make is to not concern themselves with the Actively Engaged since they are already “where they need to be.” On the contrary, this group should receive the majority of leadership’s energy!
Consider that many Disengaged employees are former Actively Engaged employees who didn’t receive the respect or resources they needed to sustain their momentum.
Leaders need to help sustain the attitudes of the Actively Engaged, and convert them to advocates of whatever change initiatives are coming for those lower on the engagement scale.
The Actively Engaged can be your biggest asset when it comes to making more like them.
According to Jill Mierke and Dr. Vicki Williamson in their excellent journal, A Framework for Achieving Organizational Culture Change, culture transformation is comprised of six essential elements:
- Identify the catalyst for change
- Strategically plan for successful change
- Engage and empower organizational members
- Cultivate leaders at all levels
- Foster innovation, creativity, and risk-taking
- Monitor progress, measure success, and celebrate (even the small changes) along the way.
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