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Understanding Employee Engagement

Understanding Employee Engagement

What exactly is 'Employee Engagement'?


Like many others you may think it is a bit of the HR buzzword and a fluffy concept made up by someone trying to create work for themselves in a big corporation.
There is a popular misconception that it's about keeping people happy, making sure they're having fun at work, giving employees everything they want, beanbags in the staff room, chocolate biscuits in the kitchen and all of those perks. Keeping staff happy and making sure they are looked after is important, and forms part of it, but employee engagement is actually a far deeper concept, and it's important no matter how big or small your business is.

One thing is for sure and that is that businesses of any size who can get this right and really dedicate the right amount of thought, intention and commitment to nurturing this particular aspect of managing and leading staff can really see the benefits. Benefits including reduced staff turnover, a decline in absenteeism rates, higher productivity, and best of all, higher profit margins.


So, how do we define it? Employee Engagement ultimately is a level of an employee's commitment and connection to the organisation. Two keys words commitment and connection, both are critical to engagement. Commitment in not only showing up, but giving their absolute all, and connection not just to their job, but to a cause or calling bigger than them, their roles or perhaps even this organisation. Connection to the leaders, to their colleagues and to the important part their role plays in achieving something bigger.

Employee engagement is about that little bit extra that those employees are willing to put into their work because they are so invested in the vision because they are so committed to the organisation and they genuinely have a desire to contribute to the needs of the business.


Successful employee engagement is not about working ridiculous hours, but engaged employees will tend to work more than what's required if they're driven to get the task done, but often it's quite the opposite. Employee engagement isn't a you a have it or you don't measure, there are absolutely levels, like a sliding scale, so let's take a look at those. There are many many ways we can define and describe these levels, this is just one example to help demonstrate the point for you.

Obviously the best case scenario is that you have employees who are Actively Engaged. These employees are loyal and productive, they work with passion and purpose. They really feel a really profound sense of connection to the company and its leaders, the vision, the bigger purpose and the goals that need to be achieved as the business strives towards this. Actively Engaged staff loyally and passionately serve your vision above themselves, they drive innovation and they help the organisation move forward. They are like the driving force that keeps your business moving forward.

If you can create a team that is 100% highly engaged employees who are really actively engaged in that vision this is your absolute best case ideal scenario.


In the middle we have those who are not engaged, they are your average performers, they don't really think or feel either positively or negatively about the business. These are the team members who turn up physically, but not as much mentally, and certainly not passionately. They are there in body but not in spirit. These employees put in the time, but not the energy. They do what you ask, but they don't do any more than what's required. They see work as a means to getting paid each week, they have no further connection to the business or the leaders than that.


They will absolutely never go above and beyond, and won't show initiative or innovation to do anything other than what they have been instructed to. These people aren't disengaged, but nor are they engaged, they are right down the middle. Most businesses will have an element of someone who fits into this category. This is what I would call an orange light or warning level zone you want to really pay attention to who sits here, as sliding down the scale further from here is where things become toxic and dangerous for your business. People who are in this zone or level really have the ability to go either way, you can positively influence them into engagement or lose them to disengagement.

Now of course the third level, and the worst case scenario is Actively Disengaged employees. So what do these people look like? Actively disengaged employees are unhappy and negative. They are resentful and worst of all, they can be toxic in the workplace. They actively undermined all the great things that their highly and actively engaged co-workers can accomplish. They do less than what is required, less than the minimum, but here's the thing, they stick around in organisations because they are very, very good at figuring out who's going to do better than them and working actively to remove them from the business.

How do they do this? They either make it so uncomfortable that great new starters don't stay or they become toxic. So they create a toxic environment that the best and brightest don't want to work in. They are great at really actively undermining people and what research shows us is that someone like this can impact four to five people minimum around them. So it can take four to five highly engaged employees to counteract the negative impact of one of these actively disengaged employees. You can see these actively disengaged employees can be super dangerous in your business.

So, knowing this, how do we identify our engaged versus disengaged employees? At the core we look at behaviours, for our disengaged workers this may not present as obviously as we'd hope or expect.
One of the main things that we see that really raises a red flag as having someone who is potentially  moving into being actively disengaged is changes in their behaviour. Employees that have always been quite prompt and reliable at work suddenly start to turn up a few minutes late every day which then spirals into five minutes late every day. They become clock watchers when they were never like this previously, it may be a slow and gradual change, but you can recognise the change in their patterns of behaviour.

They may start to take sick leave regularly, as soon as they have a day accrued they are suddenly off sick. Another sign might be the usually social employee who starts to withdraw from any non essential work events or gatherings. They take long lunches with only select colleagues and don't participate in team events and alike.

These employees find the negative in every situation and are very good at constantly making every situation about them, so they're thinking about themselves above and beyond their colleagues. They are also very quick to pass judgement and criticism to others and take credit for themselves.

Now to look at how we can identify our engaged and highly engaged employees. These people are obviously generally more positive, they are punctual and reliable and use their leave only when they need to. They are solutions focused, so they will come to you with solutions rather than problems. They are team orientated and usually very selfless so they're genuinely looking out for the needs of the business as first priority and putting themselves second. If you are seeing this kind of behaviour you know you've got someone really highly engaged and you need to hold onto that and nurture that within them and foster that as part of your team.

So how can you implement strategies to improve and increase engagement in your team, now that you know what you're looking for? Check out our 8 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement infographic, click here to get your free copy now.

Author:Kristy-Lee Billett
About: Kristy-Lee has worked in the field of HR and recruitment since 1999. She holds undergraduate qualifications in Psychology, a Masters in Human Resource Management, is an Professional Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute.
Connect via:LinkedIn
Tags:HRSmall BusinessBrandCultureStaff retentionWorkplace

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