“Employee Engagement Is No Laughing Matter” originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Few employers would argue that there are no hard costs to disengaged employees. But it’s usually not easy to pinpoint exactly how much money an organization loses to workers who aren’t committed — with some degree of passion — to their work.

A 2017 study put some dollar signs to the problem and the results might not only surprise you, but also reinforce the importance of taking employee engagement seriously.

Billion-Dollar Problem

The study in question is called DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Can Foster Employee Ownership of Engagement. It was performed by The Engagement Institute, which represents a collaboration of various firms, including The Conference Board, Sirota-Mercer and Deloitte. The study gathered responses from 1,500 participants from U.S. businesses.

The results were daunting, to say the least. The study estimated that disengaged employees cost businesses somewhere between $450 and $550 billion a year. Fortunately, there lies some hope within other insights gleaned from the data. Specifically, 95% of respondents recognized when they’re becoming disengaged. And employees tend to assume most engagement initiatives should come from leadership.

Questions and Answers

I’ve worked with proven tools and techniques for more than 25 years to assess organizational and leadership effectiveness, so I’m always happy to discuss ways to take active steps to increase productivity, employee morale and engagement.

Let’s start with the fact that most employees know when they’re becoming disengaged. This is a good thing. Why? Because if they know it, they can tell you — and you can do something about it.

For this reason, conducting employee engagement surveys is a good idea. Ask the right questions and you should be able to pick up on policies, procedures and projects that are dragging down morale and leading employees on the path to disengagement.

Employee surveys are generally best conducted anonymously to help ensure the honesty of responses. On the downside, this means you’ll be unable to identify specific disengaged workers. But you can still detect negative trends and ask for suggestions on how to correct them.

Of course, the shortest and most direct route to determining whether any given employee is disengaged is to simply ask. I don’t mean barging into someone’s office or confronting anyone in the hallway. Rather, as part of the performance management process, instruct supervisors to ask gentle but pointed questions to determine whether a worker is:

  • Truly engaged;
  • Mildly disengaged (simply going through the motions), or;
  • Actively disengaged (a dangerous state in which the person could willfully misbehave or seek to do harm to your organization).

For both approaches — conducting surveys and discussing engagement as a part of performance management — regularity is key. Ideally, conduct an employee engagement survey once a year and have supervisors check in with their employees several times a year (perhaps quarterly) to discuss progress toward employment objectives and whether their engagement is waxing or waning.

Big-Picture Solutions

Now let’s get back to another one of the DNA of Engagement survey’s interesting findings: that employees typically operate under the assumption that engagement initiatives should and will come from leadership. This, too, is good news — mainly because it clarifies any confusion that may exist about where engagement efforts start.

Some employers may believe that it’s the employee’s job to find his or her own motivation and do a great job no matter what. In an ideal world, sure, maybe this is true. And, under fortunate circumstances, you might encounter employees who are purely self-motivated and go above and beyond the call with little prompting. However, by and large, workers rely on leadership to help them find their way forward and to recognize and reward their accomplishments.

So, make sure employee engagement remains a constant priority for your organization. You can do so in several “big picture” ways:

  1. Establish a clear mission. Every organization should have a clearly worded and actionable mission statement. Without one, employees tend to feel like their work has little value beyond a paycheck every couple of weeks — and that’s not a recipe for long-term success or the retention of good workers. Help employees understand how their work advances your goals. Discuss your mission statement regularly in meetings big and small.
  2. Communicate clearly. Once employees understand the big picture — your mission statement — they need consistent guidance on how to fulfill their respective roles in accomplishing that mission. Doing so means linking strategic planning with job duties, so work assignments make sense and each employee can envision their own journey ahead with the employer.
  3. Leverage technology. It’s the solution to everything, right? Well, no, but there are certainly ways to deploy technology to improve engagement. For example, choose technology tools that are simple and appealing to the type and demographic of employees in each department or work group. Assuming you can put effective security measures in place, a BYOD — bring your own device — policy can help employees communicate naturally using tools they’re familiar with. Also, use unified communication software to eliminate silos and help employees feel less isolated and more connected to their coworkers and the organization.

No Silver Bullet

More than likely, there will never be a “silver bullet” to employee engagement. Every employee is a little bit different from the next, and employers face an ongoing challenge to hire the right people, onboard them properly and then keep them engaged for as long as an employment arrangement makes sense for both parties involved.


Original post by Lynda Silsbee
Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and Member of the Forbes Coaches Council