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What Employee Engagement Looks Like

After spending nearly a decade as a consultant in organizations spanning all industries and sizes, I've been fortunate enough to see and experience the rare, somewhat elusive grail that is employee engagement.

When considering the benefits of an engaged workforce; such as increased retention, productivity and profit, it’s understandable that tapping into it has become a priority for the majority of organizations around the world. Every organization says they want it; some even go through the motions to encourage it, but very few exercise the courage and trust necessary to make it happen.

So what’s the magic recipe? It’s never a one-size-fits-all solution and every employee’s needs are different. However, there are several things that have been shown to enable it. Here’s what it looks like.


Having leaders who people identify with, are inspired by and who walk the talk makes a world of difference. These leaders truly listen because they are genuinely interested in knowing their people and what’s important to them.

Engaged employees have high levels of health and wellbeing because their leaders make them feel psychologically and physically safe. They feel accepted, respected and valued. This creates loyalty and it means they won't be interested when headhunters and recruiters call them.

When shifting from an old school command & control culture to one of trust, development and purpose, leaders of the organization are able to articulate the why and how their daily tasks contribute to the organization…and the world. This transforms the average employee’s day-to-day work into something bigger that has a significant impact. Giving people a sense of purpose and meaning in their work will keep them engaged long after the extrinsic rewards such as salary and title wear off.

The Work

People actually enjoy their work; to the point they may go so far as to work nights or weekends when necessary without complaining. When there is commitment, putting in extra hours doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.


When people are in roles that harness their strengths, while being stretched to develop in less strong areas, they aren’t afraid of failing because the focus is on development. I cannot stress this enough for high potentials and millennials, as they will leave for a competitor if they don't feel they are constantly growing.

Treat Them Like Adults

Allowing a high level of autonomy and flexibility shows employees you trust them enough to treat them as adults. This may include flexible schedules or remote work to accommodate home life. 


Members of the organization enjoy spending time together and socialize outside the office. They form strong familial-like bonds that spur trust and a sense of having each other’s backs.


Embracing and actively cultivating diversity of all types and providing a space for everyone to exist authentically within the organization creates an upward spiral of collaboration, innovation and productivity.

Carrots and Sticks

Align incentives with the type of culture you want to flourish. For example, if you want a collaborative rather than a cutthroat culture, you have to align incentives with behaviors that demonstrate that.

In organizations where employees are engaged, they are not simply going through the motions of their job description; they are committed to, and personally identify with contributing to the success of the organization. This may take place through delivering an excellent customer experience, coaching fellow employees, using their networks to solve a problem, referring highly qualified talent, or even spreading positive word of mouth about the organization…which is free advertising in today’s social-media-driven world.

Engaging your people is a mind-set shift, not a cost center. These levers cost nothing to pull, but hundreds of billions of dollars annually not to. The question is…can your organization afford not to?

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