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The Y Factor: How To Successfully Increase Employee Engagement

As a business leader, if someone asks you the “why” of your business, you need to have an aspirational answer or they’ll quickly lose interest. The same goes if you’re chatting up a potential investor or talking to your team members.

A clear vision and mission statement is the bedrock for employee engagement. Think about the number of volunteers worldwide who contribute their energy to causes they care about and expect nothing in return.

When it comes to employee engagement, start with your why and build from there. In this article I’ll take you through how to increase employee engagement, covering:

What Is Employee Engagement And Why Should You Care?

Employee engagement is the level of mental and emotional commitment an employee has for your office environment and the work they do.

It’s something I think about a lot with my own team members because highly engaged team members will work harder and stick with your company longer. The time and energy put into supporting an engaged workforce will benefit your company in so many ways.

When team members are highly engaged, you’ll see positive trends in:

  • Productivity
  • Innovation
  • Retention
  • Employee health
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Profitability 

In fact, you could easily say that high employee engagement is the key to a thriving company. 

Who’s Responsible For Employee Engagement?


When it comes to engagement, every team member plays a part. 

However, while each employee is somewhat responsible for their own level of engagement, it’s managers who create the conditions and relationships that foster engaged employees. Or the opposite–a supervisor can also have a serious impact when it comes to disengaged employees, resulting in lower levels of engagement that negatively impact the mission and vision of your organization.

“The manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement.”


Present leadership and strong relationships within a team are necessary for high engagement. Employees want to work for leaders who: 

  • Put their people first
  • Value what employees bring to the table
  • Show integrity on a daily basis.

People want to feel a strong sense of purpose and meaning within their work, and they want to be known for what makes them stand out. Employees want relationships with managers who take them to a higher level of job satisfaction.

How Do You Gauge Employee Engagement?

So what does engagement actually look like? And how would one measure employee engagement?

An engaged employee is present, motivated, and ready to get the job done. They:

  • Look for ways to function at their best
  • Take accountability–they don’t blame others when issues arise
  • Are open to feedback from others and want to respectfully give feedback
  • Are willing to go above-and-beyond for the greater good of the workplace
  • Are there for the long haul–they care about the mission of the company and want to be a part of it.

Employee engagement levels can be measured by evaluating the organization as a whole, teams, or individual staff members. In fact, a combination of all three is most effective to ensure you have a clear picture of where your organization is in terms of employee involvement.

You can assess employee engagement by utilizing an employee engagement survey and conducting interviews. Frequent pulse surveys are also an effective way to ask staff why they stay and what factors could make them more likely to leave in the future and does wonders in improving internal communication.

Be transparent when you’re collecting feedback—tell your team members why you’re doing the survey and the goals you hope to achieve from it.

You should also spend time talking with your staff, either informally or in a stay interview, to ask them how they feel when it comes to engagement.

Consider asking questions like:

  • What motivates you to wake up and come to work every day?
  • What’s your favorite part of your job?
  • What’s something you’ve done with our company you're most proud of?
  • Can you think of one new thing you’d like to work on or do differently?
  • Is there something about your job that you really don’t like?
  • After ___ months/years with our company, how do you feel overall?

An open and honest conversation will likely yield more information and also help build rapport and trust. 

I’ve had to become comfortable being uncomfortable in my role as a leader. This means putting yourself out there to hear honest perspectives that might not match your own.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make changes, and sometimes as leaders we can’t, but your team members will feel valued and heard.

8 Drivers Of Employee Engagement

Once you have a feeling of where your own workplace stands, it’s time for your leadership team to look at areas you can improve employee engagement and then create a strategy. Leaders should take an active role in the action plan and lead the way when it comes to needed improvements.

In my experience as both leader and team member, I've identified these 8 key drivers that lead to more engaged employees.

1. Know Your “Why” 

As an organizational leader, it’s your responsibility to communicate why you come to work each day and what your business stands for. You should be able to clearly articulate your company's vision and mission statement, and you should talk about the passion you have for your work often. 

When you know your “why,” you instill passion into your work and you’re better able to push through hard times because you know the importance of what you do. 

Don’t buy it? Check out this video I regularly show to fellow leaders and team members that demonstrates the awesome power of “why” (warning, tingles coming up):

2. Model Your Expectations

Your employees should know what’s expected within your work environment not just by hearing your words, but from your actions. When you approach your work with energy, enthusiasm, and a strong sense of purpose, staff will see this and do the same. 

3. Put The Right People In The Right Seats

To maximize employee engagement, it’s your job as a leader to make sure you’ve got the right people in the right positions. We need to play to people’s strengths and have them working in the area that best suits them as often as possible. 

In my own office, we realize not everyone excels in the same areas. This is seen within day-to-day operations and conversations with staff about their strengths and areas of improvement—and it’s often reflected within performance evaluations

As leaders, we have to understand individual employees enough to know the areas in which they excel and then put them there whenever possible.

4. Ensure Effective Training And Continued Coaching

Engaged employees are most effective when they’re clear about their job expectations and know-how to meet those expectations. 

Help employees get a strong start with clear and accurate training related to their job roles, then ensure management is present for continued coaching after the initial probationary period has ended. 

Staff should know they work for an organization interested in professional development, and that means there’s no end to coaching. Keep them appraised of growth and career development opportunities, and push them to reach the next level.

Gallup recommends using pulse surveys to identify what your employees want to learn more about. They also help reveal gaps in knowledge you need to be aware of as a manager.

Related read: Why And How To Build An Internal Talent Marketplace

5. Communicate

If you’re not willing to listen, it means your staff doesn’t feel heard—a significant contributing factor to disengagement. So, be willing to listen to employee feedback, even if you don’t have the same perspective. And trust me, your staff is likely to have better employee engagement ideas than you do. Be open to this possibility and listen to your team members. 

Also be willing to have those uncomfortable conversations and address issues you see early on, rather than waiting for them to become bigger problems down the line. If you see an employee not meeting deadlines, ask them questions about it constructively

Here’s an example:

“Hey Sarah, I see this deadline was missed. Are you having trouble getting it completed? Do you need help?”

You’d be amazed at the doors these simple questions will open, and it’s much more effective than assuming you know the issue and best solution. 

6. Give Continual Feedback 

Staff needs to know where they stand on a regular basis—not just at annual evaluation time. It’s important for managers to have honest discussions with employees to talk about their hard work and also areas of need. Engaged employees respect managers who are open, honest, and willing to have those discussions that can feel a bit uncomfortable. 

It’s also a lot less stressful at evaluation time to know employees are already aware of their areas of need because it’s been previously discussed. 

7. Recognize The Wins

Employee recognition is paramount to strong workplace culture and increased engagement. So, be sure you’re recognizing wins of all sizes on a regular basis. 

There are many effective ways to recognize staff milestones and they don’t have to be extravagant. Consider things like:

  • Stopping by their door to let them know you saw the win, and you appreciate their work
  • Sending them recognition through email and including their direct supervisor
  • Sending an office-wide email to make others aware of their good work
  • Recognition within a staff-meeting
  • A phone-call or text to the employee to express your appreciation.

These little acts go a long way in keeping employees feeling appreciated and engaged.

I remember when I was just a few years into my current job, my office underwent major renovations. My boss back then asked the construction team if he could keep these big, concrete chunks of the floor they’d removed (I’m sure they thought it was a strange request). 

My boss then gave out those chunks of our building to staff as awards to show his appreciation, and to remind us that we were an integral part of the office and the work. He showed us we were valued, and we were needed

It’s been about fifteen years since then, but that piece of the concrete floor still sits by my desk and reminds me every day what I do matters. 

Image Of Concrete Floor
Still by my desk fifteen years later!

Showing appreciation as a leader doesn’t have to cost money, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It really is the little things that mean the most when it comes to recognizing the great work of your team.

Related read: 30 Creative Employee Recognition And Appreciation Ideas

8. Prioritize Wellness

Staff want to know you care about them and their wellbeing, so an effective way to ensure you have engaged employees is to make their wellness a priority. 

This covers encouraging them to take needed time off and letting them know they can make their families and their mental wellness a priority. Consider options like increased telework or a flexible work schedule to help meet the needs of staff and encourage a healthy work/life balance. 

Remember, being busy, overworked, and stressed isn’t a badge of honor. It’s a sign of health issues, such as burnout, to come, and leaders need to encourage employees to slow down and rest when needed.

Now that you know what it takes to increase employee engagement, let’s take a look at how to maintain it. 

Methods To Maintain An Engaged Workforce

1. Regular Check-Ins

Engaged employees need strong connections with management to feel valued. This means it’s your responsibility as a leader to take the time and make the effort to build those relationships and maintain them over time. 

Relationship-building doesn’t have to be a formal event. It can be as simple as stopping by an employee’s office door to say hello, walking the halls to check-in, or giving staff a call to see if they’re in need of anything that day.

2. Be Open To Improvement

As leaders, we have to be open to recognizing that we might have improvements of our own to make when it comes to employee engagement. In fact, we should always have improvements to make, and we should always look for ways to learn and grow. 

We do this by being open to feedback, learning from mentors and their experiences, and making learning a priority. Read about employee engagement and ask colleagues to tell you how they found success and where they failed. 

3. Address The Issues

There will be times when an employee isn’t engaged, and it’s your job as a leader to address it. It’s crucial that you do, or you risk the disengaged employee spreading negativity in the workplace. 

Have open conversations with the team members to find out more about why they don’t feel engaged and potential ways to improve their level of buy-in. Then make a plan.

4. Nail Onboarding

With each new hire, the goal is to strengthen your organization. This requires a strong onboarding process. Finding the right people for the job increases long-term employee retention, productivity, and improves your workplace culture. 

Onboarding starts before a new employee steps foot in the door (physically or metaphorically) on their first day, and you can easily take steps to ensure your new employee is ready, engaged and remains that way.

Related read: How To Write A 30 60 90 Day Plan For Your Org’s Onboarding + Template

What’s Your Next Step?

You can see why employee engagement is so crucial to the well-being of your team members and the success of your business. 

Now it’s time to get to work by honestly evaluating how engaged your employees are. Then you need to decide–what will be the first step in improving your employee engagement? 

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By Brandy Bischoff

Brandy Bischoff is the Deputy Chief of a public-safety organization in the United States. While she’s had successes as a manager, she’s always working to become better in her role and wants to learn all she can about leadership. She believes deeply in treating people with respect no matter the circumstance, exercising patience, and continued learning in all aspects of life. Brandy believes in the guidance provided within her writing and hopes it’ll help other leaders learn and become better too. Outside of her full-time career, Brandy is passionate about her loving and supportive friends and family, and she follows her passion for writing when the kids go to bed.

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