How to Keep Your Employees Engaged

How to Keep Your Employees Engaged
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This story appears in the September 2013 issue of . Subscribe »

Q: How do I gauge employee engagement?

A: Don Rheem believes keeping employees invested in their jobs and dedicated to the company vision--that is, engaged in their work--is one of the seminal workplace issues of our time. And maybe the most misunderstood.

As a founding partner with Engagient, a Centreville, Va.-based consulting firm, Rheem has advised thousands of CEOs on the topic. "For us," Rheem says, "it's almost a mission."

The core of his pitch echoes a familiar refrain: Culture is king. As Rheem explains it, company culture, with its enormous impact on employee engagement, might be even more critical to success than most entrepreneurs ever realized.

"Culture is a social ecosystem--it's rarely in a perfect state," Rheem says. "It's either thriving or it's in the hands of the gossipers and the rumormongers and the cynics and the grudge collectors."

Rheem considers engagement the key result of discretionary effort. That's the difference between a worker who does the minimum amount of work required (or less) and the worker who goes above and beyond. Employees are more likely to put forth discretionary effort when their objectives align with the company culture. "We're trying to create a work environment where employees see their own progress in the company's progress," Rheem says, "where it's not just a career but 'a place I go to find meaning and purpose in my life.'"

Frequently the depth of employees' engagement is a barometer of a company's direction. Engagient's work with a new client typically begins with a 26-question online poll of employees. Do your opinions count? Are you consulted on key decisions that impact your job?

Do you have resources to do what you need to do? Do you trust your manager? "You can't manage what you don't measure," Rheem says.
Subsequent polling will tell an entrepreneur whether engagement is improving. "If you see you're trending down," Rheem explains, "you know with great certainty that every goal you have is going to be harder to achieve, whether it's about customer loyalty, profitability, the wellness of my employees--all of those things are on the decline."

Rheem commonly asks CEOs: What does it feel like to work here? "The answer to that question is your culture, because the way people feel determines how they behave," he says. "You want to create a place where employees love coming to work every day. Because when they do, they're less focused on money, more productive and much more aligned with you and your goals."

Greater Good

There's a sweet spot for employees where maximum job satisfaction and their maximum contribution to the company line up--it's called engagement. Here's what employees in North America had to say about it, according to a survey by consulting firm BlessingWhite.

40 percent
40 percent of employees reported feeling engaged in 2012--up from 33 percent in 2011.
55 percent
55 percent said they "definitely" intend to stay in their jobs--"intent to stay" being an indicator of their commitment to company success. 12 percent said "no way."
48 percent
48 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they have career opportunities with their employer.
74 percent
74 percent of engaged workers agree or strongly agree that they trust their manager. For disengaged workers, the number was just 14 percent. "It stands to reason that managers who develop an awareness of trust and how to earn it will have much greater success in engaging their team members," the report says.

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