12 Most Effective Ways to Engage Employees

12 Most Effective Ways to Engage Employees

Did you know that job satisfaction is at an all-time low? According to the Conference Board, only 45% of workers are satisfied with their jobs, which is the lowest level ever recorded. In fact, one in three workers actually hope to find a new job in the year ahead.

Beyond just “satisfaction,” a truly passionate, engaged employee is even harder to find. An engaged employee is the one who routinely works through lunch. It’s the person who calls up her friends to tell them when their company has a new job opening. Engaged employees are ones who give discretionary effort—not just so they can succeed, but so that their organization can succeed.

So how can we combat the engagement crisis? How can you, as a leader, truly engage your team members?

My recommendations are drawn from surveys of over 10 million workers in 150 countries, and based on my own experience as a serial entrepreneur who has won a “Best Place Work” award for employee engagement. While every organization and individual is unique, in general leaders need to create culture that fosters Growth, Recognition and Trust.

1. Hold career-path meetings

A manager should have a conversation with each team member, to discuss their career path. What is the person’s career goals over the next 5 years? What does that person need to learn or experience between now and then to reach their goal? What can you do together to close the gap in knowledge and skills? Continue these meetings every six months to track progress.

2. Design informal learning opportunities

People are engaged less by formal training courses and more by experiences that enable them to grow. Setup a mentorship program or a formalized job rotation schedule to enable people to gain exposure, experiences and relationships outside their department.

3. Leverage “lunch and learns”

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to foster ongoing growth is to implement a weekly or monthly lunch-and-learn program. You simply recruit volunteers to lead a one-hour program and buy some pizzas or sandwiches for the conference room. Perhaps someone can share the key findings from a conference they recently attended. A senior programmer can teach the finer elements of Ruby to newer programmers or the sales team can do a mock pitch for the service team.

4. Give real feedback

Too many managers wait for the annual review process to give “feedback.” It can be hard to tell people to their face what they can be doing better–but they want to know. In fact, a lack of feedback from a manager makes people feel like they aren’t progressing, or worse, that you don’t care.

5. Say “thank you”

People want to feel appreciated. It has nothing to do with the annual awards dinner or the end of the year bonus, and has everything to do with being recognized throughout the year. Thank you’s of course have to be well deserved, otherwise they’re cheapened. The right way to say “thank you” is to (1) say thanks, (2) mention the behavior or accomplishment you are acknowledging and (3) indicate how their action benefited the company or team.

6. Write “thank you”

In addition to saying thanks, all great leaders write thank you notes. Remember that the value of the thank you is often tied to the amount of time taken to deliver it—a hand written note is more valued than an email, a gift more valued than a note, a party more valued than a gift. It’s the effort that counts.

7. Ask for ideas and opinions

A great way to make people feel appreciated, is to ask them for their opinion and ideas. You don’t have to accept or implement every idea, but it’s important for people to know that their ideas count. This can be as simple as going around the table at each meeting and asking, “Do you have anything you’d like to add?” or “What do you think about this approach?”

8. Praise your employees to your boss

Praising your employees to your superiors is perhaps the highest form of appreciation. When possible, do it in front of the employee or “cc” the employee if you’re doing it via e-mail.

9. Be transparent

More than ever before, a leader must be 100% transparent in her communication. If employees think you are hiding something, or only giving the good news, they’ll dream up far worse scenarios and rumors than anything you could actually share. Having a reputation for being a “straight shooter” earns trust and credibility.

10. Your words and deeds must match

This is another area where you can never compromise, and even the little things count. If you say you’ll visit the factory in Cleveland again before the end of the year, do it. If you say you will personally follow-up on a matter, do it. And if ever you can’t follow through on something in the way you intended, own up to it.

11. Don’t say things privately you wouldn’t say publicly

It’s a simple rule, but many leaders violate daily: don’t talk about someone behind his back. It’s easy to think it’s OK in the spirit of confidentiality, or being candid, or what’s the harm if they don’t know about. Unfortunately, this type of behavior either does get back to the person, or the person you are talking to will wonder if you are also talking about them behind their back. If you get caught doing this, you’ll lose respect and trust.

12. Focus on the future

People need to feel confident in their future. They need to trust that their leaders will guide them to their collective goal. Make sure all team members know what the long-term vision is for the company, and how they fit in to the strategic plan. Don’t worry about sounding like a broken record, reminding people of the future vision is at the core of what great leaders do.

The downward trend in job satisfaction is not a recent phenomena. It’s been dropping for over two decades across all ages, income levels and job types. It has reached a crisis point that is stressing families and companies alike. To solve it, company leaders must focus on creating an environment that fosters growth, recognition and trust. Only then will employees feel fully engaged, and release their true passion, commitment and extra effort.

Photo courtesy of Michael Molthagen. Used under creative commons license, some rights reserved.

Kevin Kruse


Kevin Kruse is a successful entrepreneur and co-author of the NY Times bestseller, We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement. You can contact Kevin or catch him at his blog.

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