In today’s economy, the companies most successful at growth and innovation are the ones that are able to actively engage their employees. This article will give an overview on what employee engagement is, what it isn’t, how it will empower your organization, and how you can increase and maintain it.

 

Employee engagement: what it is and what it isn’t

First of all, engagement is not to be confused with happiness or satisfactions.

You can be happy because you work in a cool office space with co-workers you like spending time with. This is a great thing to have, but office parties, coffee bars, and game rooms alone will not make you an exceptional worker.

You can consider yourself satisfied simply because there isn’t really something to complain about. This should be a minimum requirement for every workplace and every company’s aspiration is for its employees.

Engagement sets the bar higher. Engaged employees are not only happy and satisfied at work, they find fulfillment in what they do and add tremendous value to the company they work for.

 

How companies benefit from actively engaged employees

Studies conducted amongst business units and whole workforces agree that a low level of engagement leads to a higher level of absenteeism and quality defects. On the bright side, a high level of engagement is associated with enhanced performance and an increased likelihood to remain with the organization. This was, for instance, found by researchers from Gallup and LSE.

Engaged employees are committed to their work, their company, and its mission and vision. Therefore, they have an intrinsic motivation for giving their best each day to help achieve their company’s goals. Independent of their hierarchy level within the organization, they know that their work contributes to a vision they strongly identify with.

A popular example of a truly engaged employee is the one of a janitor:

When touring the NASA headquarters for the first time back in 1962, president John F. Kennedy asked a janitor what he was doing. The janitor–with a mop in his hands–replied: “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” Seven years later, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. There were many obstacles that made Apollo 11 a dangerous mission. However, we can be pretty confident that dirty headquarters weren’t one of them.

You may call this janitor a dreamer or a showoff, but he’s not. He simply realized that he contributes to a mission he’s excited about. Great achievements require many, perfectly aligned steps. They don’t depend on a few people at the top but the aligned efforts of a committed group. Just imagine a company where every single employee is as engaged and motivated as that janitor. In such a work environment, incredible things can happen.

 

How to create and maintain sustainable engagement

Engaged employees are a real gift for a company and can make the difference in a tough competition on the market. Managers need to offer them the right work environment—or they will sooner or later lose their outstanding drive and commitment, or even change employers.
Main conditions that both result in higher employee engagement and help to maintain it are:

  • Purpose: Without seeing the purpose of your work, you’ll never be motivated to do your best. Employees need to know how their efforts contribute to worthwhile goals.
  • Participation: A high level of identification with company’s goals and values usually results in a desire to be somehow involved in decision-making processes. Giving employees a voice, asking them for feedback, or even encouraging them to set their own goals instead of just obeying orders serves as balm for engagement at work.
  • Transparency: In order to commit to their work and their company, employees need to know their organization’s mission and vision, as well as its priorities and goals.
  • Trust: Engaged employees will do whatever it takes to support their company, even if nobody is watching. When managers still observe and control every step they take, they will not feel acknowledged and soon get frustrated.

 

How OKR can help

Managing goals through Objectives and Key Results comes along with several positive effects aiming at the conditions mentioned above. Making goals accessible and relatable for everyone in an organization drastically improves transparency and commitment. OKR also enables a focused and purpose-oriented work environment in which every employee is actively involved in the company’s journey towards achieving its vision.