Creating an Engaged Workforce (John Hendon Commentary)

by John Hendon  on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 12:00 am  

John Hendon

Virtually every manager on the planet has heard the term “employee engagement” by now, but what is it and should you be concerned with it?

Employee engagement is simply a combination of job satisfaction, ability and a willingness to perform for one’s organization at a high level and over an extended time. This combination of satisfaction, ability and willingness is more critical today than ever before in business.

Many of our employees are highly talented and extremely difficult to replace, but according to a recent Gallup report, 70 percent of them just aren’t “there” — aren’t being made an integral part of the organization through the use of management techniques that cause them to become more interested in both their work and the work of the organization overall. This same Gallup report shows that companies with the most engaged workforce had 147 percent higher earnings per share, better productivity and profitability and lower absenteeism and turnover than their competitors, so there are certainly strong business reasons to work toward a more engaged workforce. So what is a 21st century manager to do?

Higher rates of pay are not the answer — or at least not the complete answer. Evidence shows that increases in pay do not provide the motivational potential that most employees and managers believe they do. Many non-monetary actions such as workplace flexibility and more autonomy on the job provide more return than money. However, actions by the company that increase autonomy alone are not the answer either. Employees are people, and people need strong relationships with other people who feed their collective creativity. So what should you do?

The first and most important thing that companies must do to improve engagement is to find, hire and train the right managers. Train them to communicate, to listen and to be empathetic without being dupes to outlandish employees. Train them to provide the necessary feedback to their workers so that employees know that their managers recognize good work when it occurs. The evidence strongly indicates that poorly trained managers are likely the biggest reason for employees being actively disengaged.

The second thing is to create and adhere to company values and goals that make employees feel they are part of something important, but something that is much bigger than they could do on their own. They will be forced to be engaged with others in order to have access to co-workers who will be available to help in reaching these goals. These corporate values and goals have to be published, they have to have senior executive commitment and they have to be enforced with everyone in the organization down to the lowest levels.

Third, you have to make the hard decision to get the actively disengaged employees out of the company. This is a case of “one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch.” Every manager has seen one dysfunctional individual cause everyone else in that division or department to become less cohesive, less satisfied and less engaged with their co-workers. Actively dissatisfied employees create tension in the workplace, which converts to disengagement among other employees who were, until recently, excellent workers. The damaging individual has to be taken out of the equation in order to restore harmony.

We haven’t said anything here that is new. Managers and executives just need to understand the consequences of failure to create employee engagement. Do you want your company to be the one with 147 percent greater EPS and more profitability, or do you want to be part of the mass of organizations with disengaged employees and poor ROI, low creativity and high turnover? It’s your choice — do the homework. n

John Hendon is co-author of a best-selling human resource management book and a senior instructor in human resources and management at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Email him at



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