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3 ways to improve employee engagement

By Kim Eagle

Your employees are a critical resource in your business. Getting the best out of them drives the success of your organisation and leads to a greater quality of life for you, the leader and for the individuals that make up your staff.

Engagement is one of those ideal terms that we use almost daily but do not truly take the time to appreciate it’s importance. Engagement is more than organisational newsletters, so what is it? It is the process of imparting values; it is changing psychological states and behaviour through words, behaviour and actions.

Do you remember why you got into business in the first place? Why create a specific product, why deliver a certain service? If you can understand why you get up in the morning to go to work, and then why your staff should buy in to this too and internalise it– you are more than halfway in creating real engagement.

Getting that salary at the end of the month is not enough to drive commitment, we all want to be part of something greater than ourselves. Loyal employees create loyal customers, giving the leader peace of mind. Great leaders inspire those around them to act, this and job attributes are essential in driving engagement.   Great are the leaders who motivate through inspiration, not manipulation.

1. What do your employees even want?

Do you base your information about the state of your staff on feedback from a few key individuals or from your personal perception? This is usually not enough information and can be biased or inaccurate. Make it quantitative. Start your process by finding out what your employees are actually thinking and feeling. An anonymous satisfaction survey for example, can be used.

Find out if your people appreciate where the business is headed, if they understand the organisational goals and if they know that their effort is fundamental in achieving those goals. Do they see themselves as part of the mission, or do they believe that they are simply worker bees with no connection to the future of the business. Measure at the beginning and measure at the end of your engagement drive, prove that you are making a real difference.

2. Engagement starts with fulfilling basic needs

The principle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs outlines that basic needs first must to be met before the greater actualisation needs can be fulfilled.

Employees need:

  • To be heard: we believe that someone cares when they take the time to listen
  • To be respected: it almost goes without saying, and building a culture of respect internally means that your customers get the same treatment
  • To have competence: nobody wants to suck at what they do, develop your employees based on their strengths
  • Autonomy: can you trust individuals to do the job they have been hired for? If not, why did you hire them?
  • And Relatedness: the sense of purpose. I worked at a hotel and conference centre and before starting a session on service delivery with the cleaning teams I asked a few people what they do at the organisation. One gentleman explained that he was a back-of-house cleaner, another the laundry assistant and one man with a genuinely warm smile said he worked here to create a fantastic place where his guests could enjoy themselves thanks to his great service. He was the elevator cleaner. He was also promoted later and his name mentioned in guest feedback forms. He understood that he was part of something greater than himself.

3. Reward and recognition

We still believe that financial rewards are a great motivator even in the face of 50 years of research to the contrary. The difference between the two is the nature of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Intrinsic motivation can be thought of as internal thoughts or feelings that feed the desire to achieve. Intrinsically motivated behaviours are those that are motivated by the underlying need for competence and self-esteem. In contrast, extrinsic motivation stems from the work environment external to the task, it is usually stimulated by external rewards. Where financial reward clearly influences extrinsic motivation, it has little impact on intrinsic motivation. Recognition is needed to enhance intrinsic motivation (Silverman, 2004).

How do we recognise people? It could be a handwritten note from the manager, or a digital notice board to publicly thank the individuals who have done a great job and yes, someone actually noticed. Perhaps a relevant and cost-effective gift with the recognition: a spa treatment for the lady, a family meal voucher for the guy with 3 kids, a ‘free’ leave day, there are a wide variety of ways to recognise. Keep the relevance high and the cost low, it does not need to be expensive to be impactful.

Do you have a recognition programme for your employees? Get the staff to vote for those who should be recognised – another way to listen to your employees.

Whether the recognition is public or private – depending on the organisation and the nature of the recognition – make it about spreading the thanks.  This starts to permeate your organisation’s culture: looking for excellence and an opportunity to recognise it in all the right places.

The consequence of greater employee engagement means greater staff retention, which affects service positively. Better service means higher levels of customer satisfaction; greater customer satisfaction results in customer loyalty that means growth and profit for the organisation. Underpinning all of this is higher productivity from engaged employees. It really is worth the effort.



Silverman, M. (2002) Non-financial Recognition. Institute for Employment Studies: United Kingdom

Sinek, S. (2009) Start with Why. Penguin Group: England

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