Employee engagement is a term used in organizations to describe the commitment of employees with the "heart and soul" of the company. Employees engagement can range from the highly engaged (where they believe its purpose and lives out its values) to the disengaged (where they drag their foot through the door everyday).

This presents a problem to managers and HR professionals all over the world. "How do you keep employees engaged?"

What's all the Fuss About Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement can be defined as “the bond employees have with their organization." What makes this important for organizations is “when employees really care about the business, they are more likely to go the extra mile.”

Studies have shown that the more engaged the workforce is, the better its return on "customer retention and consequently sales performance."

Where Old School Meets New School


If you look at the right-most side of the graphic, a person's motivation falls under two categories:

  1. Intrinsic (Motivators); or,
  2. Extrinsic (Demotivators)

On the left-hand side, you'll notice that there are five (5) types or levels of engagement that are directly associated with each level of the hierarchy. From best to worst, they are as follows:

  1. Highly engaged
  2. Engaged
  3. Almost engaged
  4. Not engaged
  5. Disengaged

Disclaimer: This image does not, in any way, suggest that you need to fulfill each level in the hierarchy the same way the original hierarchy of needs does. It is just a way depict where an employee's engagement falls under that particular moment.

Two Categories of Motivation

What this mean is an employee's motivation can either come from within (intrisic) or from the outside (extrinsic). 

"I will meet my deadlines because that is who I am -- a person who works hard and honors commitements." 

This is an example of an intrinsic motivation. The peson does things that comes from within. Contrast this with the example below:

"I will meet my deadlines because I don't want to get scolded by my boss; else, I might get fired."

How this relates to employee engagement is that a person who is intrisically motivated are more engaged than those who are motivated by extrinsically. 

On a high level, when you, the manager, is focusing your "motivational efforts" on the bottom two levels (security and survival), you are dealing with demotivating factors; on the other hand, if you focus on the top three levels (belonging, importance, and self-actualization), you are motivating your team.

A more specific example is when you constantly threaten to fire your employees. You are addressing their securities (level 4).


Five Levels of Employee Engagement

The five levels of employee engagement allow you to visualize where each of your employees stand. In the image, there are statements that they tell themselves secretly that place them at that level.

  • Highly engaged
    • "What can I do for others?"
    • "I love working here."
  • Engaged
    • "I feel important at work"
    • "I'm really busy and very likely I'm highly stressed"
  • Almost engaged
    • "I'm proud to work here but I wouldn't necessarily shout it from the rooftops"
    • "I might leave if I'm tempted"
  • Not engaged
    • "I don't like my manager or working in my team"
    • "I don't like my job much, but I get on with it."
  • Disengaged
    • "I'm leaving when I can"
    • "I'm a clock watcher"

Focus on the top three levels in the hierarchy and you will end up with a more engaged team. Talk to your team about them as being part of a team (belonging), that their contributions are valuable to the organization (importance), and help them become a better person and professional (self-actualization).

A Simple Tip for Managers and HR 

A simple tip to achieve high engagement is to give the bigger picture. Always explain it in a way that makes sense to them. Think along the lines of "here's the decision, and here's what it means for you..."

It's not just about assigning tasks and deadlines. As a manager, your goal is to achieve a specific target. How you get there doesn't matter. What matters is that you get there (as long as it's both ethical and within the values of the organization).

Always explain the why in what you do. Why is the company undergoing an organizational restructure; why do the company need to implement this new software; why do you need to put in extra effort in this project; why do you have to improve your skills in this area, etc. 

The quality of your employees is the single, biggest differentiating factor in successful organizations. It's not the systems. It's not the processes. It's not the perks. It's always the people. Focus on attracting the right talent and keeping them engaged. That's how you grow your organization -- one person at a time. 

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