January 2018
Issue Map
January 2018
Newsletter Article

Employee Engagement Primer

Employee engagement is the hot topic these days and it certainly is important. But what is employee engagement? Why should you care? How do you define it, and what can you do to promote it?

An obvious benefit of high engagement is that your people will work hard and well and really care. But more than that, high levels of employee engagement can become a competitive advantage and include reducing turnover, improving company image and brand, more successful implementation of initiatives, and a focus on continuous improvement.

The usual definitions say engaged employees:

• feel a heightened mental and emotional connection to their jobs, their manager, their coworkers, and their organization and its mission

• are fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work

• have a positive attitude towards the organization and its values

• will be more dedicated and more willing to apply voluntary, discretionary effort to their work above and beyond the norm to help their organization succeed

• take positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.

Those all sound great, but they are missing the key ingredient. You see, the real key to employee engagement is simple. You engage employees by making sure they see how what they do fits into the big picture. If they know the “why” behind how their contribution matters, they will more likely feel a sense of purpose and, therefore, be engaged. There are two basic ways a leader can do this:

• Show your employees how what they do fits in the big picture. That without them the system doesn’t work like it should and the organization can’t reach its goals.

• Help your employees understand that everyone in the organization should be valued. There is no value-less job. Promote the benefits of valuing everyone in your organization.

Engagement strategies

Leaders can help promote engagement in many ways. Here are some ideas to get you started:

• Define engagement; then communicate the definition and infuse it into all of your communications

• Gain executive buy-in on the importance of engagement (if you don’t to that, you might as well forget being successful)

• Create engagement champions to create messaging, monitor engagement, and look for opportunities to infuse the engagement message

• Make valuing others one of your organizations core values

• Leadership must walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to valuing everyone

• Communicate clear expectations around engagement

• Make clear that’s all opinions are valued and follow through with processes to gain feedback from the entire organization

• Show everyone the clear connection between their job and the organization’s objectives—create a graphic if that helps

• Have regular reviews with your employees to discuss how they are doing, talk about their vision of success, and create a plan to achieve that vision

• Provide a wide variety of developmental opportunities

• Provide training on soft skills such as communication, coaching, project management, and diversity

• Set ambitious goals for employee engagement levels

• Measure levels of engagement regularly and determine plans to increase engagement as needed

• Thank and recognize employees who demonstrate high levels of engagement (as you have defined it)

• Make sure everyone understands how what they do affects others and show the chain of accountability

• Hold everyone accountable—have clear goals for the organization, leadership, and all levels and hold everyone to those goals

• Provide coaching training to your leadership

• Promote work–life balance


• Hire for attitude over aptitude—you can train for aptitude, but it’s a real challenge to change the wrong attitudes

• Break down silos through cross-training, job shadowing, and communication

• Communicate and promote developmental and job opportunities within the organization

• Encourage lateral movement to create a broad depth of experience within your employee pool

• Make it fun; engage your team in ways to keep their work challenging but fun

• Conduct team outings and other activities to let folks engage in a non-work setting

• Hold structured team-building events regularly—especially when new members join the team.

• Provide for the basic needs of your employees while at work, such as a cafeteria, business supplies, sundries, fitness center, nap room—whatever fits your culture and your employees’ needs

• Provide competitive benefits like health, dental, and mental health

• Provide parental support such as leave, daycare, and basic understanding that the family comes first

• Promote diversity (communicate, train, walk the walk)

• Implement a vigorous and healthy feedback process

• Ensure that your employees feel challenged but not overwhelmed by their roles

• Take a look at your processes and eliminate frustrations for employees

• Empower your team to make decisions (but be clear on their authority level)

• Allow failures with learning

• Follow through on training—create action plans for how employees will translate learnings to on-the-job behaviors

• Follow through on initiatives—don’t let them be the flavor of the month

• Have leadership show up at every event consistently

• Go to lunch with your team

• Create unique perks for your employees by partnering with local companies and leveraging employee connections

• Explain during the hiring process and again during orientation the definition and expectations around engagement

• Ensure that you provide regular, consistent feedback on performance—no surprises

• Create appropriate competitive incentives for demonstrating engagement (as you have defined it)

• Ensure you have a clearly defined corporate culture (vision, mission, and values) so that your employees will know if it matches their own values

• Reward high performers

• Maintain a safe and healthy work environment

• Communicate company performance with transparency

• Involve employees in running the company

• Offer service opportunities (especially if tied to employee skills and strengths)

• Ask your employees what will keep them engaged

© 2018 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
David has more than two decades of experience as a training leader, instructional designer, facilitator, e-learning designer, and project manager with world-class companies including Disney, Merck, and Assurant. He is an experienced consultant to senior leadership with deep experience in learning strategy, curriculum development, corporate cultural transformation, leadership and executive development, and team alignment. Adelman's experience includes creating comprehensive, branded, measurable training processes for organizations that are integrated with the talent management process, address performance gaps, and minimize costs while maximizing return on investment. He is currently a relationship manager with TrainingPros, president of Adelman Training Solutions, and a director of community relations with Atlanta ATD. 
1 Comment
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David these are great points. It will help leaders and HR managers and employees understand and follow these better if you can put these strategies into some sort of model or categories. Easier for the reader to know what am I not doing well. What area needs more work. It will become more planned and actionable. Thoughts?
Thanks for the suggestion, Qazi! The thought here was that by offering such a huge list, on organization could find one or two to implement. I will definitely cogitate what a model for selection and implementation would look like. Sounds like a future article!
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