T.E.A.M. Communication Styles

How to Develop and Sustain Employee Engagement

how to create successful teams in the workplace

What is Employee Engagement?

Depending on who you ask, employee engagement consists of either 4 elements, 3 C’s, or 5 C’s.  My definition of employee engagement is simpler: “a measurement of how committed an employee is to their job and how connected they are to the company and their work team”. An engaged employee is more apt to be happy in their work and will keep in mind the best interests of the organization and its customers.  Therefore, employee engagement is a great strategy.

What are the challenges in Employee Engagement?

While it’s clear that we all want our employees and coworkers to feel connected and committed, most people don’t really know how to make this happen.  Employers are looking for “self-motivated” employees.  This is another way of saying a “highly engaged” employee.  Unfortunately, when they find and hire “self-motivated” employees, many employers inadvertently start to disengage them, starting Day 1!

How do they disengage? When on-boarding, companies focus on HR paperwork and not on the employee’s needs for clarity and connection. Once on-board, supervisors often ask highly engaged employees to take on more work to make up for others’ shortfalls. They also often leave these employees alone or ignore them because they don’t need direction. Managers often focus primarily on poor performers.  This leaves high performers feeling unappreciated. In my workshops on motivation, I ask:  “What do you get for doing a great job?” and the answer invariably is “More work!”.  Not a great motivator!

Inevitably, the result is quiet quitting. While this has become more pronounced recently, even years before the pandemic, company and employee engagement had become weaker over time in companies where employees felt ignored.

How Do You Measure Employee Engagement?

You can try to measure employees’ commitment and connection through surveys, interviews, focus groups, turnover/retention rates, absenteeism and many other indicators.  If front line supervisors are actively engaged with their teams, they should have a good pulse of the team regarding commitment and connection.  If HR can review retention/absenteeism stats across the company, they can identify highly engaged teams vs those less engaged.  If Finance and Operations can produce measures of productivity by department these can also be indicators of employee engagement (and also measures of process efficiency and effectiveness – an engaged team with a poor process will not be productive… and probably won’t be engaged for long!)  For more about ways to measure engagement, see this article from Team Insights.   


Two engaged employees talkingHow Do You Get Employees More Engaged?

What is a good reward for a hard worker when you can’t afford bonuses and frequent raises? It can be as simple as appreciation and recognition! Many studies over the past decades have shown that employees don’t only focus on pay and benefits. Many highly value being appreciated, recognized, and valued as an individual.  I noted earlier that good employees are often left alone. While some may think this is a vote of confidence, when it is taken too far, it leaves them feeling isolated, unappreciated, and unrecognized.  

Recognize, Recognize, Recognize

In my leadership workshops and in a recent study from Workhuman® and Gallup, many leaders report that they give frequent recognition to their employees. However, employees report that they receive recognition much less frequently.  The Workhuman Gallup study found that:

  • 67% percent of leaders and 61% of managers say they give recognition a few times a week or more,
  • Yet 40% of employees report receiving recognition only a few times a year or less from a manager, supervisor, or other leaders at their organization.

One challenge people face is how they can keep recognizing someone week after week without it feeling trite or meaningless.  The solution is to focus on a wide range of factors – specific notable job successes are an easy one, but others can include:

    • An employee going out of their way to help a customer or co-worker

    • An employee giving a suggestion or raising an important issue

    • A work anniversary or achieving a milestone on the way to a goal

    • Important life events – birthdays, anniversaries, hobbies, children’s accomplishments

This requires a leader to be engaged with their team. They need to be listening and taking notes.

The Workhuman Gallup study also found that only 42% of employees say they give their co-workers recognition on a regular basis.  If employees were encouraged to do more of this, positive recognition would likely cycle back to them as well, and would build strong work teams.

While Workhuman Gallup focused on recognition, I’d suggest broadening that to appreciation, positive feedback, and gratitude.

What Else Builds Engagement?

Burnout, work overload, and being asked to do even more with even less, all lead directly to disengagement.  And we’re hearing about this more often. While the workload may sometimes spike, if it’s a regular occurrence, leaders need to take care of their team. They need to find more resources or ways to prioritize and let the low priorities go. If people trust that they won’t be pushed to burnout, they are more likely to commit more deeply to the work.

Empower to Engage

Another key element to engagement is empowerment. Empowering employees requires giving them the skills, knowledge, and tools to make good decisions day to day – and then letting them make those decisions.  It means setting clear expectations and boundaries and letting employees operate freely within those constraints.  As employees prove themselves, it means broadening the boundaries to give them more room to move within.  Empowerment means treating mistakes as learning opportunities, not as something to be punished for.

An empowering leader needs to be a hands-on leader who works to build the competence of their team. They need to check in to see if employees have concerns or questions, and then step back to let them work.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

A constant theme in my writing is that there is no one best way to work with people, whether co-workers, customers, or direct reports.  The same holds true for recognition, appreciation, and feedback. Here are just a few of the ways employees’ preferences vary.  They may want:

  • Positive interaction on a daily basis – or – less frequent positive interaction
  • Recognition as individuals – or – recognition as workers
  • Detailed information to answer their many questions – or – just the key points

As leaders and co-workers, it’s important that we learn to read these cues and then adapt to give people what they want, how and when they want it.  T.E.A.M. Communication Styles® is a great tool for helping you recognize others’ preferences for workplace interaction.   The T.E.A.M. report provides tips for how to adapt to be most effective.