How to Turn Employee Engagement into Productivity and Payback


  • Gallup's employee engagement research finds most staff are indifferent about their work and workplace. Only 21 percent of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
  • The research also shows that staff are demotivated and unengaged due to i) unclear and misaligned expectations, ii) ineffective and infrequent feedback, and iii) unfair evaluation practices and misplaced accountability.
  • In high performance cultures people do enjoy their work. But the culture is less about creating a happy place and more about creating a place where people are engaged and energized around solving hard problems or achieving big things.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Employee engagement is a top contributing factor to a high-performance corporate culture. Few dispute that engaged staff deliver improved labor productivity and higher quality work. But fewer know how to define, measure and improve engagement.

What exactly is employee engagement?

There is no consensus answer. However, at Johnny Grow we define it as the measure of an employee's personal investment, sometimes called discretionary effort, in their job. Gallup defines it as "involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace." And they should know, as their survey captured data from over 195,000 U.S. employees.

The survey results were published in the State of the American Workplace report. The report shared that only 33 percent of employees are engaged in their work, a trend that has been disturbingly flat since 2000. According to Gallup CEO, Jim Clifton, "At the other end, 16 percent of staff are actively disengaged. They are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build. The remaining 51 percent of employees are not engaged, they're just there."

The Payback is Clear and Compelling

Gallup compared businesses that scored in the bottom quartile of employee engagement with those that scored in the top quartile. They found that the latter group realized improvements in the below areas.

Employee Engagement Payback

See the research results that show the clear and compelling payback of employee engagement programs.

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Bain & Company also did a survey and reported similar benefits, including the below.

  • Engaged employees contribute 20% more revenue than less engaged employees
  • Satisfied employees are 40% more productive than non-satisfied
  • Engaged employees are 44% more productive than their satisfied peers
  • Inspired employees are 125% more productive than their satisfied peers

Research shows that engaged employees also contribute to customer engagement. An IBM research report, titled The Employee Experience Index, found that 95% of staff reporting a positive employee experience said they perform activities that are not part of their job but helpful to customers and their company. That figure fell to 55% for staff reporting a poor experience with their employer.

How to Rally Employee Engagement

Once you recognize the cost savings from improved labor productivity and the performance gains from improved work efforts it's time to get started.

But how do you improve employee engagement? There are three programs that deliver the highest impact in the shortest time.

  1. Make engagement part of a high-performance culture
  2. Improve communication and collaboration
  3. Measure and improve

First, make it part of your high-performance corporate culture. It’s important to recognize employee assimilation is a precursor to two-way engagement. So, to achieve both you are well advised to first satisfy three intrinsic staff values.

  • Know me. Staff want to be known and recognized as individuals.
  • Value me. They want to be valuable and be valued. They want to know the company cares about them.
  • Empower me. Empowerment varies by person. Some staff want increased responsibility while others may want things like training and development.

Making employee engagement part of your corporate ethos will also entail creating staff focused values and behaviors. When engagement is part of your corporate culture foundation and is communicated from the top and reinforced by management, the results will follow.

Second, systemically improve your communication and collaboration.

Research studies shows that you can predict team performance by ignoring the content in the communication exchange and focus on the frequency of interactions, something called 'signals'. Also review the context of how those interactions are given and received, something called 'belonging cues'.

Companies can improve their staff communications by initiating a higher volume of smaller messages to more employees more often. You don't need long or particularly important messages but instead an active cadence of communications.

Team collaboration is improved when everyone talks to everyone, in roughly equal measure. Those who don't speak up should be prompted and brought into the conversation.

Belonging cues show empathy for the speaker and sincerity for what they say. They include non-verbal behaviors such as active listening and body language such as eye contact, hand gestures and head nods. They are maximized in proximity and often benefit from physical touch. Research shows that belonging queues matter more than what is said.

Written communications also contribute to signals. However, in terms of engagement, they pale in comparison to face to face verbal communication as they don't deliver the belonging cues.

Team-based collaboration seldom occurs naturally. Management will have to provide direction, coaching and incentives to shift from individualism and lone wolf standouts to the sharing of ideas and knowledge among teams. When management promote team collaboration from top to bottom, align staff in the pursuit of shared goals, remove actual or perceived competitive barriers, and reward team-based outcomes, high performing teams will steadily evolve. Eventually they will advance under their own momentum.

Lastly, any program must be measured to be improved. There are several methods available. But our experience is that engagement measures are most effective when part of the overall employee experience measurement.

The three measures we have found most helpful are culture values, employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) and the realization of the personal fulfillment behaviors of Know Me, Value Me and Empower Me. Once you have captured your measures and analyzed progress, it's essential to broadcast the results, celebrate successes, and double down on needed improvements.