Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Employee Engagement Techniques

We can all talk about engagement in the workforce, but do we know exactly what that means?

Engagement is what I was talking about with Kelley's exemplary follower style in the previous post: people who are critical, independent thinkers and are very active and constructive on behalf of the organisation. They are consistent in behaviour, deal appropriately with conflict, cope well with change and are mindful. They use their power - referent, expert, network and information - well, and habitually practice acts of leadership (Kelley, 1988).

But these people need good leadership to perform this way. They need a work environment which is supportive, empowering, positive, open to discussion and new ideas, where entire business systems are approached as a learning opportunity and new solutions are sought as a matter of routine.

Setting up a workplace culture like this is the role of the leader: and, as Schein thinks, the most important thing that leaders do (1992). Engaged employees make up 30% of your workforce. Michael Smyth suggests that engaged employees are "worth their weight in gold. Treat them well and they will pay you back many times over by going the extra mile" (2008, p. 10).

However, what do you do, as a leader, when you take over an organisation or a department, where the employees are disengaged?

Disengaged employees are those who do not get satisfaction from their work, nor do they 'get' what the organisation is trying to do. The reasons for this can range from being shut down by management early in their careers, to simply being unmotivated. Disengaged workers fall into Kelley's model largely as passive followers, but very alienated followers could also sometimes be regarded as disengaged (1988). Smyth suggests that around 9% of workers in New Zealand are disengaged (2008), and aligns it to a cheating personal relationship, where the guilty party lies and deceives their partner.

The disengaged cost you a lot. They can damage the company's reputation by bad mouthing your firm. They do not give your customers the excellent service that customers should have for you to be sure of repeat business. The negativity that disengaged workers put into the workforce pulls down the morale of the rest of the employees, which in turn damages team function. Then you get the knock-on effects of reduced return on assets (ROA) and reduced profits.

There is a huge cost to the business from this. Smyth reports on a study done by JRA (NZ) Limited in 2007 which estimated that engaged workplaces had a ROA 95% higher than disengaged ones, and that engaged workers generated 68% more sales than a disengaged one. Further, engaged workplaces had a 29% higher retention rate (2008). Keeping a good worker for longer saves a company a lot of on-boarding and productivity costs.

The best thing is, as a new leader, talking to everyone and getting your head around how this cultural machine works is now your job. Think of it as your preliminary survey: until you know what you are getting into, you won't know what you need to do to repair it.

You will have to go quietly, and build trust. Employees who have had poor leadership will take some time to change those behaviours which have arisen as a stress-response. John Kotter and Leonard Schlesinger wrote about some excellent change management techniques in 1979, which also apply to strategies for changing the mindset of disengaged workers:
  • Communication: talk with the entire team. Then have a chat with each person, and find out who they are, and what their aspirations are, what their skills are, and what their interests are. Sometimes people are simply in the wrong position, are unchallenged, have got lazy, or have other stuff going on in their lives which is distracting them from work. But everything should start from a conversation.
  • Training: sometimes people have moved into positions but have not had good training for that role. When chatting to each person, find out what training they have had and what they think they need - or what you can suggest. A small investment in training can show people that they have value to the company; it can re-energise them; as well as creating organisational productivity gains.
  • Coaching: where workers are really stuck, either set up an internal mentoring programme, or coach individuals yourself to help them understand that they have organisational value. Remember that, if you treat everyone like they are in the in-group, they will live up to your expectations.
  • Participation: When reorganising work, processes or results, talk to the team. Use the team's knowledge, skills, methods & ideas for improvements. Set clear outcomes - end goals - but don't decide the shape of the journey - the instrumental goals: let the team organise that collectively.
  • Negotiation: Where there are certain things that you are required by your KPIs to achieve, negotiate with the team. Good compromise or trade-offs can allow necessary change to be accepted, as well as building trust. The elements of participation present in negotiation can remind the team that the organisational goals must be met in order to meet their own needs.
  • Support: If the previous items don't work, use the organisational EAP already in place to help disengaged individuals readjust; counselling, stress leave or re-assignment within the organisation. Work with the employees to help them find their mojo... or to help them make the decision to move on.
  • Exit: if all else fails, then work with your HR team to help help disengaged employees to move on. 
Ensuring that employees are engaged makes for positive workplaces. It is a leadership role to ensure that engagement happens.


    • Kelley, Robert E. (1988). In praise of followers. Harvard Business Review, November 1988, Volume 66, issue 6 (pp. 142-148).
    • Kotter, John P. & Schlesinger, Leonard A. (1979). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard Business Review , March /April 1979, Volume 57, issue 2 (pp. 106-114)
    • Schein, Edgar H. (1992). Organizational Culture & Leadership (Second Edition). USA: Jossey-Bass
    • Smyth, Michael. (2008). Employed But Not Engaged. NZ: The Approachable Lawyer


    1. Great Sam! Succinct and to the point with some excellent suggestions. Thank you.

    2. Thanks Lis: much appreciated :-)

    3. Not only is telecommuting desirable for employees, but it's also proven to boost employee productivity. In fact, companies that allow remote work have a 25% lower employee turnover rate than those that don't. Flexible working helps businesses attract, hire, and retain top talent. Flex Genius

      1. Thanks Jaime. Hope you get some clicks on your link.


    Thanks for your feedback. The elves will post it shortly.