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Increasing Employee Engagement Is About Un-Disengaging Your Workforce Limiting emails and phone usage might be the smartest thing you ever do for your company.

By Dan Dowling Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Employee engagement. That's a buzzword in the past, well...century of business management for two main reasons: First, engaged employees are the 20 percent of people who produce 80 percent of your profit, and second, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, it costs the equivalent of six to nine months' salary to replace a disengaged employee, plus an additional 90 to 200 percent in long-term expenses.

So, as hackneyed as it may be, employee engagement is and will always be critically important to companies who kinda sorta want to make money. But what does a 28-year-old with a mustache and capris know about corporate-level employee engagement? Well, to start...I'm an expert in dis-engagement.

I was your archetypical "lost" millennial till age 24. I dropped out of the Army because I wasn't engaged. I dropped out of college because I wasn't engaged. I couldn't hold down a job and had to sleep on my mom's couch throughout my early 20s because...I just wasn't engaged!

There was nothing inherently deficient about me. My disengaged and distracted lifestyle -- which your employees share in common -- was to blame. Here's what my daily habits looked like:

  • I checked Facebook the moment I woke up, and at least 50 times throughout the day. (Think that's outlandish? Survey your employees.)
  • I checked emails and texts about 30 times a day -- totally unrestricted access.
  • When social media and checking messages got boring, I filled my hours with an all-you-can-eat buffet of news and self-improvement stories.

Yes, even self-help can be disengaging, as many of my current coaching clients and their employers will attest. Taking an objective look, these habits were seriously counterproductive: They prevented me from engaging in anything long enough and consistently enough to achieve profitable results. But I actually did them because I wanted to feel engaged -- like I was doing something with my time, like I was making progress.

Your employees experience the same phenomenon. And, as was my case, the main reason they feel so disengaged is simply because of their distracted lifestyle: unlimited social media, constant email and text checks both at work and at home and, generally, not having a plan. They are also disengaged at home because they don't know how to plan for the fun and personal fulfillment they need.

This means that your employee engagement issue is not -- I repeat: is not -- about your work. Yeah, their tasks might not be the most swashbuckling jobs in the world. Unless you're an adventure company whose staff are testing wing-suits and paragliders, work will always be work. Yet employees will find meaning in their work and do it to the best of their abilities if they live an engaged lifestyle. This means "un-disengaging" them.

Related: How to Prevent Disengaged Employees From Killing Your Bottom Line

Un-disengaging your employees

The smartest option is to banish the disengaging habits you allow in your workspace to promote the responsible use of technology and a goal-oriented lifestyle throughout your employee's entire lives, at work and at home.

By scheduling my email/text check-ins, eliminating social media as a daily habit and adopting a daily planning habit that balanced my profession with all the things that made me happy and fulfilled as a human, I shifted into a fully engaged lifestyle in the blink of an eye. I rose rapidly in the writing ranks because I had nothing to distract me from massive improvement. And I created more success by sharing my engagement techniques with coaching clients who found my work on large publications.

Today I coach executives, elite salespeople and professionals from several Ivy League institutions. Yet I was the high school dropout (actually, they kicked me out twice). I flopped out of the Army, and I couldn't bring myself to complete college. All of this is to say that the simple lifestyle and workplace changes I suggest are effective. They work no matter your employees' starting points.

Related: 3 Major Distractions in Your Workplace (and How to Beat Them)

Are you ready for a fully engaged workforce? Great. Follow these three tips:

1. Restrict phone use.

Defense contractors enforce a no-phone policy for their employees for security reasons, but they inadvertently benefit from the zero-distraction work environment this policy creates: There aren't any text or social notifications to disrupt workflow and attention. You'd think this would come at the cost of quality of life. But according to the defense contract workers I've surveyed, they actually enjoy the break from their phones.

You can launch similar "anti-disengagement" measures by creating a cubby system with locks and keys for each employee, or by hiring a couple hipsters to raise their eyebrows at employees who use their phones in the office. You'd be surprised at the effectiveness of hipster-induced shame.

Related: 4 Ways to Keep Employees Focused on Work and Not Their Phones

2. Implement a no-distraction email policy.

According to research by The McKinsey Global Institute, employees spend over a dozen hours a week responding to email—that's more than a quarter of the workday. And unless your employees get paid to email, this is a catastrophic productivity loss and a massive disruptor of employee engagement.

You can encourage responsible email use (read: non-distracted email use) by having your employees schedule out email visits as separate work tasks: 9:00 am, 11:00 am, etc. This way they're not interrupting work tasks with pointless email checks and relying on email as a mental break. Another option, if you want to be hardcore, is to ban emails outright.

Related: 3 Proven Ways to Cope With Email Overload

3. Help them get engaged outside of work.

I'm continuously shocked at how many people don't do the things they love. Life becomes a mechanical function of inputs and outputs for them until it seems that they exist for nothing but meetings and deadlines, meetings and deadlines. So they lose their joie de vivre -- their spark. And it's all for a lack of planning.

Your employees don't plan on not doing the things that motivate them and keep them inspired...they just don't plan.

You can help them out by providing each of your employees with a daily, weekly and monthly planner that helps them organize, plan and execute activities that bring joy and purpose into their personal lives. You'll be surprised at how fast this strategy spills over into higher levels of engagement at work.

Related: 7 Ways to Use a Day Planner to Be a Better Entrepreneur (and Better Version of You)

Assuming that your management doesn't belittle or micromanage their employees, the solution to your engagement problems lies in creating a distraction-free workplace -- in "un-disengaging" your employees. So give the limited phone and email policy a shot. And if you really want to make a smart investment, teach your employees how to plan for an engaged lifestyle outside of work.

Dan Dowling

Solopreneur, writer, and coach

As a former couch-surfing millennial turned solopreneur writer and coach, Dan Dowling writes on personal development. Visit MillennialSuccess.io and learn how to create your own solopreneur success story.

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