The Productivity and Payback of Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is a top contributing factor to high-performance growth cultures and an undeniable producer of productivity and payback. But what exactly is employee engagement?

There is no consensus answer. However, I generally define employee engagement as the measure of an employee's personal investment, sometimes called discretionary investment, in their job. Gallup defines it as "involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace." And Gallup should know, as their most recent engagement survey collected data from over 195,000 U.S. employees.

The survey results were published in the State of the American Workplace report, and found that only 33% of employees are engaged in their work, a trend that has been disturbingly flat since 2000. According to Gallup CEO, Jim Clifton, "At the other end, 16% of employees are actively disengaged, they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build. The remaining 51% of employees are not engaged, they're just there."

Engagement Payback is Clear and Undeniable

When compared with business units in the bottom quartile of engagement, those in the top quartile realize improvements in the following areas:

Employee Engagement Benefits

Bain & Company is another organization that frequently measures employee engagement, and its most recent survey results found some similar benefits.

  • Engaged employees contribute 20% more revenue than less engaged employees
  • Satisfied employees are 40% more productive than non-satisfied
  • Engaged employees are 44% more productive than their satisfied peers
  • Inspired employees are 125% more productive than their satisfied peers

Engaged employees also contribute to customer engagement. An IBM research report, titled The Employee Experience Index, found that 95% of employees reporting a positive employee experience with their company said they engage in activities which are not part of their job but beneficial to customers and their company. That figure fell to 55% for staff reporting a poor experience with their employer.

How to Improve Employee Engagement

Once you recognize the financial and operational benefits, the next question is how to achieve employee engagement. And while there is no single answer to that question, I have found three items that deliver the highest impact in the shortest time.

  1. Make engagement part of a high-performance culture
  2. Improve communication and collaboration
  3. Measure and improve

First, make employee engagement part of your high-performance company culture. However, recognize employee assimilation is a precursor to two-way engagement so to achieve both you are well advised to first satisfy three intrinsic staff values.

  • Know me. Employees want to be known and recognized as individuals.
  • Value me. They want to be valuable and be valued. They want to know the company cares about them.
  • Empower me. Empowerment varies. Some staff want increased responsibility, while others may want things like training and development.

Making staff engagement part of a growth culture will also entail creating engagement focused values and behaviors. When engagement is part of your culture DNA, and is communicated, modeled and reinforced by management, the results will appear.

Second, systemically improve your communication and collaboration.

Studies shows a clear pattern, whereby you can predict team performance by ignoring the informational content in the communication exchange and instead focus on the frequency of interactions, something called 'signals', and the context of how those interactions are given and received, something called 'belonging cues'.

Companies can improve their employee communications by initiating a higher volume of smaller messages to more staff more often. You don't need long or particularly important communications but frequent communications. Team collaboration is improved when everyone talks to everyone, in roughly equal measure, and those who don't speak up are prompted and brought in to the conversation.

Belonging cues show empathy for the speaker and sincerity for what they say. They include non-verbal behaviors such as active listening, eye contact, hand gestures and head nods. They occur in close proximity and benefit from physical touch. Research shows that belonging queues quite often matter more than what is said.

Written communications contribute to signals and should be part of a communication plan. However, in terms of effectiveness, they pale in comparison to face to face communication as they don't deliver the belonging cues.

Team-based collaboration generally doesn't occur naturally. Management will have to provide direction, coaching and rewards to shift the all too common individualism and lone wolf mentality to the sharing of ideas and knowledge among teams. When management promote team collaboration from top to bottom, align staff in the pursuit of common goals, remove actual or perceived individual competition barriers, and reward team-based outcomes, high performing teams will steadily evolve. Eventually they will advance under their own momentum.

Lastly, engagement must be measured to be improved. There are several methods available, but my experience is that engagement measures are most effective when part of the overall employee experience measurement. The three measures I have found most helpful are corporate culture values, employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) and the realization of the personal fulfillment factors Know Me, Value Me and Empower Me. Once you have captured your measures and analyzed progress, it's critical to then quickly broadcast the results, celebrate successes, and double down on needed improvements.