Why don’t efforts at employee engagement work?

July 3, 2013
Employee Engagement

Author Kevin Kruse

Effective leaders care about employee engagement because they know that engaged employees give more effort–not just the required effort to do their jobs, but the discretionary effort needed to excel. Engaged sales people sell more, engaged service reps provide better service, assembly line workers have fewer accidents and the discretionary efforts of all lead ultimately to better profits and better shareholder returns.

Yet, despite corporate initiatives to improve engagement and more and more training of front-line leaders, engagement in most organizations just doesn’t improve.

Employee-Engagement Partnership

Company leaders can do a myriad of things to try to engage their employees, but if the employees don’t feel like they’re partners in the process, engagement doesn’t usually happen. If you want engaged employees, you have to engage them.

Taking lessons from the positive psychology movement and author Kevin Kruse, here are three things leaders can do to increase employee engagement (and happiness):

1. Have employees identify the motivation triggers that matter most to them

The four primary drivers of motivation and employee engagement are: Communication, Growth, Recognition, and Trust. But each of these things will matter to us differently based on our personality and career stage. I may really crave growth opportunities at the early stage of my career, while you might be more interested in recognition as you approach retirement.

2. Teach employees to be mindful of all that their company and manager is already doing to drive engagement

Ask employees to write down all the things the company does to foster a specific engagement driver, like communication. Some employees will write “Nothing” or “Weekly staff meeting.” Next, share a long generic list of what many companies do, including items like:  one-on-one meetings, team meetings, town hall meetings, company newsletter, intranet, annual performance reviews, Yammer, etc. Then ask employees to circle all the items that their own company is indeed doing and add them to their original list. An “aha” moment occurs when they realize, “I guess my company is doing a lot more on communication than I realized.

3. Teach employees how to proactively partner with their bosses.

Employees need to understand that they actually have an obligation to contact their supervisor if they aren’t satisfied. They’ll be more likely to understand and act upon this obligation if company leaders provide them model e-mails and “conversation starters” to help them navigate these conversations. Employees should feel comfortable asking their managers to a career-path meeting, and managers should be prepared to ask and answer some of the following questions: How is the company supporting your growth? How could it improve? What are your individual goals? What experiences, knowledge, and skills do you need to accomplish them? What do you feel are your strengths and developmental areas?


Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book is Employee Engagement for Everyone: 4 Keys to Happiness and Fulfillment at Work.

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