Make Employee Engagement your Business Strategy

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It is a common understanding of a vast majority of leaders that the employee engagement is a company’s most important asset. But in reality, that is only true if the majority of the workforce is fully engaged in their work. If not, they are either adding minimal value or are actively working against the organization.

Since the Covid19 pandemic hit, millions of workers quit their jobs because they were looking for something better or they did not want to return to working back in the office again. In May 2021 Professor of Management at Mays Business School, Anthony Klotz, coined this phenomenon The Great Resignation when he predicted a sustained mass exodus. The reasons for this season of mass resignations are varied but generally relate to the newfound freedom of remote work and flexible schedules, coupled with pre-existing job dissatisfaction, particularly among Millennials and Generation Z.

The Great Resignation calls for The Great Recognition;

Recognition that highly engaged employees are less likely to quit their jobs. Recognition that poor treatment and leadership styles yield high turnover. And Recognition that employee retention and development is not an HR function but a strategy function that must be driven by leadership – whether in the C-Suite or department level.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce report, only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs, this means only 15% of employees worldwide are emotionally invested in committing their time, talent, and energy in adding value to their team and advancing the organization’s initiatives.

If you are a leader, manager or director that tends to talk about innovation and high performance or that aspires to have an innovative and high performing team, disrupt your industry or business line, gain advantage over your rivals and market disruptions, and or to stay relevant in a constantly changing world – then you need to start thinking about employee engagement and caring a little more about it.

Why, why should I care about employee engagement? You ask – because Employee DisEngagement is standing in your way of gaining competitive advantage, that is, Making Innovation Happen, Having high Employee Morale, and of Having an Innovative, Proactive and High Performing Team,

You unlock Employee Engagement; you unlock innovation, performance and resilience in your team, department, and overall business.

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is personified by the passion and energy employees give to the organization to serve the customer. It is all about the willingness and ability of employees to give sustained discretionary effort to help their organization succeed. And this engagement is characterized by employees being committed to the organization, believing in what it stands for and being prepared to go above and beyond what is expected of them to deliver outstanding service to the customer.

It is more of a psychological contract than a physical one. It is something that the employee has to offer.

In essence,

Employee Engagement is the above and beyond effort that your team could give if they wanted to.

Employee Engagement can be summed up by how positively the employee:

  • thinks about your organization, department or leadership;
  •  feels about your organization, department or leadership;
  • is proactive in relation to achieving organizational goals for customers, colleagues, and other stakeholders.

What could make your team to not go above and beyond – what causes employee (team) disengagement?

Here are some of the factors that lead to employee disengagement

  • Absence of good employee relationships
  • Lack of transparency, empathy and communication from you as a leader
  • Recognition shortfall (from you as a leader)
  • Micromanagement (from you as a leader)
  • Organisation failing to adapt to change
  • Employee work-life imbalance (financial insecurity & deteriorating wellbeing)
  • Psychologically & emotionally unsafe workplace environment (aka toxic workplace)
  • Organisational Structures & leadership that hinder innovation

Signs of Employee Disengagement

  • No Innovation
  • Bare Minimum Performance 
  • Disconnection & Discord in teams  
  • Division & Subtle colleagues rivalry 
  • Organisation’s market relevance and brand equity prone to disruption
  • Customer switching to your competitors

What you can do to cultivate and drive Employee Engagement

The number 1 “hack” to unlocking employee engagement is ensuring that your workplace is emotionally and psychologically safe for your team. Make your workplace as inclusive, conducive and enabling as required. Below are two practical ways of improving engagement.

  1. You need to be engaged – to have an engaged team starts with you as their leader being engaged first. The only way to know that your team is disengaged and what to do about it, is if you are involved. Covid19 pandemic gave us ideas on how leaders can be more engaged. You probably implemented these strategies before when Covid19 hit, and you can do it again…
  • Lead with empathy – During the pandemic it was recognized quickly that risk tolerance regarding Covid19 varied wildly from employee to employee, as such employees where to a certain extent allowed to define their work parameters, work from home and there was less supervision. And by putting employees in control of their work, trust and understanding was signaled. As a result, leaders were rewarded with unprecedented effort, commitment, and results. It is quite a big deal for an employee to feel trusted to do their job (preferably without micromanagement) and to feel seen and cared for by their leaders. The truth is, no employee is going to give above and beyond effort and slave away in pursuit of KPIs if they feel their boss don’t care about them as a human and don’t convey decent and courteous treatment towards them. Trust your employees to do their jobs and they will reward you with optimum performance. Add empathy to that and they will push boundaries to make you look great and you’ll never have to give rha rha motivations for them to meet targets – they will exceed them with just intrinsic motivation and your enabling culture.
  • Regular communication – The pandemic and its quarantined economy brought about great uncertainty which induced fear and anxiety both around job and income security as well as wellness. To address the then buzzword of “The New Normal” and fear, leaders communicated regularly with their employees, sharing information they knew and plans to thrive. In South Africa we even coined this “Family Meeting” because of how regularly our president addressed us, with updates. Personally, it eased the anxiety a bit and I felt less alone. Your team is not supposed to be alienated, and colleagues rivalries and divisions are not supposed to be let go unnoticed. Address issues. Check in with your team. You have diverse teams check how you can make the workplace more inclusive and conducive for them. Communication and lack thereof builds culture. And you should want a culture where people are open, communicate with you, engage, share ideas, trust each other and can work well together.

2. Equip & Empower your team – As a leader your performance is dependent on your team’s and their individual’s performances. Therefore, you take care of your team, you take care of your business or division.

You will know that employee engagement is on track in your department or organization if your team is able to confidently say;

I know what is expected of me and my work quality; I have resources and training to thrive in my roleI have the opportunity to do what I do best everydayI frequently receive recognition , praise and constructive criticismI trust my manager and believe they have my best interests in mindMy voice is heard and valuedI clearly understand the company and my division’s mission and purpose, and how I contribute to eachI have opportunities to learn and grow both personally and professionally;

Do a quick survey and check where your employees are currently at with their engagement, using the above metrics as guiding questions.

The benefits of Employee Engagement

Creating the conditions where employees feel able to give of their best results in benefits such as:

  • Greater productivity
  • Increased passion for and commitment to the organization’s vision, strategy, and goals
  • Greater alignment with the organization’s values
  •  A high-energy working environment
  • A greater sense of team
  • Higher levels of creativity and innovation
  • A greater sense of loyalty to the organization
  • Higher staff retention, lowered attrition rate
  • Employees being better brand ambassadors
  • Attractive reputation
  • Improved customer experience and customer loyalty
  • Boosted business growth

Make employee engagement your business strategy and you wont worry about lack of performance, innovation nor will you worry about becoming irrelevant in the market and getting kicked out of business by disruptions, competitors or industrial revolutions because your employees/team will become your source of market intel, will have their fingers on the pulse of your market, will give you innovative products and business models, and they will fight for your brand.


Kgadi Mmanakana is an employee engagement speaker from Johannesburg, South Africa.

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