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Engaging Employees, One Step at a Time Cultivating a highly-engaged workforce takes time, but most of all, it requires intention.

By Josh Stevens Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"Employee engagement" is the term du jour amongst employers seeking to improve retention and lower costly employee churn. In light of the oft-quoted Gallup statistic that 70 perenct of the workforce is "disengaged," company leaders must focus on how to drive engagement across their workforces.

But what exactly is employee engagement anyway, and how can employers ensure that their employees are "engaged" on a regular basis?

According to the formal definition of the term by William Kahn, engaged employees "express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances." Likewise, the more an employee is involved with, committed to and satisfied with work, the more the person is engaged. And this helps a business's bottom line.

The Corporate Leadership Council studied the engagement level of 50,000 employees around the world and determined that engaged companies grow profits as much as three times faster than their competitors. Additionally, highly engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization.

Related: Here is a Simple and Fun Way to Boost Employee Engagement

On the flip side, McLean & Company has found that a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary, and the American economy misses out on as much as $350 billion per year due to lost productivity.

To improve employee engagement and increase retention, companies need to focus on specific driving factors, such as the following:

Focusing on employee health

Employee engagement comes down to how your employees feel when they arrive at work, how they process their work and when they leave work. In our connected and always-on world, employees are naturally working harder then ever before, often at the expense of their own health and well-being.

But unhealthy employees tend to be the most disengaged, as poor health interferes with focus, self-confidence and motivation. This predicament is not only worrisome for the state of health of the average American, it can also be very costly to a company. In fact, unhealthy workers cost companies more than $1.1 trillion in lost productivity, according to a recent Milken Institute Study.

By investing in programs to reward employees for taking steps to improve their health, your workforce receives an important underlying message that their well-being matters. This kind of positive messaging can be achieved through implementing platforms like Keas, a health management platform that companies leverage to maximize employee health and engagement.

Even without an extensive digital health-management platform, companies can still make progress when it comes to stimulating healthy behaviors, such as a "weekly walking mission" that rewards employees who have recorded taking the most steps during breaks in the span of a week. These kinds of reward-based challenges not only show employees that an organization values their well-being, but also allows workers to express themselves physically and emotionally: two keys to employee engagement.

Related: Build Brand Advocacy From the Inside Out

Contributing to a bigger mission

The next component of employee engagement is directly linked with all employees knowing how they are contributing to a larger mission. How do their daily tasks tie into the goal of the company? While any CEO wants to expand the bottom line, companies need an even bigger mission that they can clearly communicate to employees and stand behind.

For instance, at Keas our big-picture goal is fueled by the mission to revolutionize employee health. Our entire team is clearly aware of and passionate about our purpose to make it easy for employees to lead healthier lives by fully utilizing all of their employer-provided benefits while also helping employers solve the headache of health management in the age of health reform.

Connecting with others

Just as personal health and feeling like a part of a bigger mission are crucial to engagement, so is the level of connection that employees feel with their colleagues, families and themselves. With telecommuting becoming the norm in many workplaces, it's essential to provide online systems that foster both social and collaborative interaction to keep employees engaged.

The Keas team extends across the country, with employees in not only our San Francisco headquarters but also various regions such as Rochester, N.Y., Atlanta, and Minneapolis. Nonetheless, we all feel connected because our culture prioritizes team engagement every day -- whether that includes sharing what we're eating for lunch or connecting via video chat throughout the day.

Recognizing and rewarding great work

As a company grows, it's easy to get lost in the weeds and forget to recognize employees for their contributions. Instead of waiting for annual performance reviews, sharing ongoing feedback -- both positive and constructive criticism -- goes a long way in enhancing engagement at the office.

While it's key to compensate fairly for a role to retain top talent, employees rarely leave jobs because they are simply unhappy with their pay. More often, employees leave because they do not feel rewarded or appreciated for the work they do, and ultimately aren't engaged. In fact, 82 percent of employees find lack of recognition considerably annoying or a deal breaker, according to a survey by BambooHR.

Managers from the top down must focus on creating a rewarding environment to recognize team members who contribute to success at all levels of the organization. Since recognition can help ignite satisfaction (both personally and with work), rewarding employees for a job well done is critical in promoting engagement.

Cultivating a highly-engaged workforce takes time, but most of all, it requires intention. Implementing specific steps, like clearly communicating to employees that their health matters and recognizing their work, can mean the difference between your workforce falling within the 70 percent of disengaged workers and the 30 percent who are at the top of their game, passionate about their work and fueling your organization's productivity.

Related: Lower Employee Turnover and Improve the Bottom Line

Josh Stevens

CEO of Keas

Josh Stevens is the CEO of Keas, an employee health and wellness program.

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