Article main image
Dec 16, 2020

Employee engagement has been top of mind for HR professionals and strategic-minded leaders for more than a decade, and research keeps confirming its importance. According to Gallup, employee engagement has lately been on the rise as a result of greater satisfaction with recognition received for work accomplishments and for relationships with coworkers and with supervisors.

The difference is significant: 83% of employees who receive recognition of their performance and 80% of those receiving feedback report a positive employee experience, compared to 38% and 41%, respectively, of employees who don’t.

Building engagement means participating in its four essential components: enablement, energy, empowerment, and encouragement. 

If you want to create a workplace of truly engaged employees, each of these four elements must be alive and thriving in your organization. These human workplace practices ultimately contribute to a positive employee experience and, as the research shows, potentially enhance financial performance. 

Enablement means helping people do their jobs, providing the means to accomplish work, and also getting rid of impediments. It might mean approving the purchase of a second monitor for a workstation or changing a work schedule so someone with an aging parent can spend every Friday tending to the parent’s needs. It might mean confronting a team member whose rudeness is alienating others and teaching the person more positive behaviors. In each example, employees get the message that helping them succeed is a management priority. 

Mark Royal, senior director at Korn Ferry and author of The Enemy of Engagement, has said, “If organizations want to get the most out of the engagement and motivation that they are working so hard to build, they also need to think about enabling employees, or putting them in a better position to succeed.”

Energy might seem an individual quality (as in, “He’s so energetic!”), but it’s always responsive to context at work. Tony Schwartz, CEO and founder of The Energy Project, says companies that measure effort in longer work hours are using the wrong metric. It makes more sense to help people manage their energy. 

“Time is a finite resource,” says Schwartz, “and at some point, people don’t have any left to invest. Energy is something you can expand, regularly renew, and use more efficiently.” Schwartz explains that energy, like so many other human qualities, is an interaction among several factors. Unlike machines, human beings require four separate sources of energy to operate. 

Schwartz defines those sources as 

  1. Physical energy, the quantity of energy available to a person
  2. Emotional energy, a qualitative state that we can imagine on a scale from negative to positive
  3. Mental energy, the ability to focus on one thing at a time
  4. Spiritual energy, derived from the belief that what we’re doing really matters

Companies that help employees manage physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy demonstrate significant improvements in engagement. They do this by cultivating positivity, good working conditions, common values, and a common purpose. 

Empowerment nurtures and sustains engagement over the long run. Empowerment transfers the power to achieve results from the manager to the employee. It is the foundation of accountability. When people can really make decisions and take action without asking permission every time, they own the results, and they can deliver on commitments. 

The feeling of empowerment is subjective. Employees who work and connect in ways that best suit them feel a sense of agency and work more efficiently. A 2017 study by the IBMSmarter Workforce Institute and Workhuman found that organizations that deliver a positive experience — in part by empowering employees — outperform their cohorts threefold for return on assets and twofold for return on sales.

Encouragement can mean a simple word of support. It can be given in an unexpected recognition of a job well done or a gesture of gratitude. Sometimes people downplay the impact encouragement can make, especially in bureaucratic settings. They think it’s only needed in an urgent or stressful situation. But if you make encouragement a habit, it builds a foundation of confidence and resilience that will support employees all the time. It literally means “giving courage” to employees, which is another way of empowering them. 

Engagement is a state of mind unique to each employee, but it doesn’t happen on its own. People in leadership positions who want the proven benefits of engagement should ask themselves, “What am I doing today to build, enable, energize, empower, and encourage everyone in this organization?”

Adapted from Making Work Human: How Human-Centered Companies Are Changing the Future of Work and the World (McGraw-Hill Education, 2020) by Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine.