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  • Writer's pictureKaren Stern

8 Signs of Engaged Employees and an Interesting Learning

What role does the employee play in their overall engagement at work?

Last week I was so grateful to do a live presentation. I say grateful and actually mean nervous. I had not presented to anything other than my laptop screen in over two years. I was speaking at the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Accelerator program. It was their “people day” and I was speaking about Employee Experience Theory and Employee Engagement.

Two employees working together in front of a whiteboard in an office board room.
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Throughout COVID I’ve been honing this session, sharing it with the leaders within MH3 Collective and external clients. I’d been seeking feedback on the session and content, improving it, and making it as interactive as it could possibly be (heeding the rule that after about a minute on zoom people tune out). I only had half an hour and was worried about how to make it interactive with a live audience.

Employee Engagement and You

I decided to start the session with some audience participation. I first introduced the concept of an engaged employee, describing the heart and head components: passion, energy, commitment from an engaged heart and innovation, efficiency and high performance from an engaged head. I then proceeded to ask the group to stand up and

answer the following three questions by sitting down if it applied to them.

Sit down if you’ve never worked for anyone else. Nobody sat down and in retrospect, who hasn’t worked for someone else?

Sit down if you’ve never worked for a manager that inspired and engaged you

Four people sat down. I was a bit surprised to see so many people standing, but thought the next question would get them.

Sit down if you’ve never worked for an organization that (outside of their manager) has created a culture of engagement. Another two people sat down with roughly 25 people still standing.

This was not how it was supposed to go.

According to Gallup’s 2021 State of the American Workplace report, 33% of American employees are not engaged at work. In fact, levels of engagement are so low that in 2022 record numbers of employees are leaving their jobs (a phenomenon that has been called the Great Resignation).

So why were there 25 people in a group of 30 still standing?

Group of people standing up in conference room.
Presentation viewers participating in Karen's interactive exercise.

An Interesting Learning

I asked a couple of the still standing entrepreneurs to tell me what it was about their organizations that had fuelled their engagement. One talked about feeling trusted by their employer and being given the autonomy they yearned for to do their work and grow their line of business. Another spoke about the exposure to opportunities for growth and the feeling that she was trusted to do the work well.

My whole interactive demonstration of “see?! organizations do a crummy job of engaging their teams” had failed. My colleague Nora (who had attended for moral support), and I talked about it afterwards. She had an interesting theory – the room was full of entrepreneurs. There is a German expression that my dad was fond of saying – as you shout into the world, so the world shouts back at you. In describing the characteristics of an entrepreneur, Miriam-Webster online dictionary says that the word entrepreneur has “taken on the connotation of go-getter when applied to an independent business owner”. Another possibility is that my questions needed to be worded differently overall – but that’s another blog).

Had these 25 people shouted, “let’s go!” to their organizations and as a result, the organizations had responded in kind?

So what can managers do?

People are incredibly complex, and managing is difficult. Organization’s must teach their managers how to manage well and create an engaging environment for employees. I like the simplicity of the work that Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall have done at Cisco and document in their book “Nine Lies about Work". As part of their research, they studied the Gallup Q12, a series of 12 questions developed by the polling organization in the 1980’s to measure employee engagement. In their research they focused on 8 of the 12 questions to narrow the list to engaged and high performing teams.

As managers, thinking about what we can do to have our team answer with a resounding yes to these questions is a useful exercise:

1. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company.

2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.

3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.

4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.

5. My teammates have my back.

6. I know I will be recognized for excellent work.

7. I have great confidence in my company’s future.

8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

But it’s also important to consider the other side of the equation (and from my failed interactive-exercise-come-research study): the employee plays a significant part in advocating for and developing their own experience as an engaged employee.

The two go hand-in-hand.

What are you doing as a manager to engage your team? How might you empower your employees to advocate for their own growth and advancement?

(Image description: Two employees working together in front of a whiteboard in an office board room.)

(Image 2 description: Group of people standing up in conference room.)


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