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Your team is the most important asset in the organization you lead. But that’s true only when they are engaged.

In 2017, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, only 15% of employees worldwide were engaged at work. By engaged, Gallup means “emotionally invested in committing time, talent, and energy in adding value to their team and advancing the organization’s initiatives.”

Engagement levels among U.S. employees aren’t much better. Only 31% report they were engaged at work. That means 69% are not engaged or are actively disengaged.

Gallup defines 3 levels of employee engagement:

  1. Engaged – Loyal, emotionally committed to organization, working in roles where they excel and their talents are utilized.
  2. Not engaged – These workers do only what’s asked of them, they don’t contribute energy or intellectual capital toward the organization’s vision and goals. They essentially draw a paycheck, and nothing more. They do the bare minimum.
  3. Actively Disengaged – These are workers who are openly critical, negative, and contribute to a culture that stifles growth. The actively disengaged employee consumes a disproportionate amount of their direct report’s time.

Here’s the good news (or bad news, depending on your perspective): You as a leader are the biggest contributor to your team’s level of engagement or lack thereof. And most of the things you can do to increase the level of your team’s engagement have nothing to do with money.

Here are several key factors reported by team members who are fully engaged:

  • I know what is expected of me and my work.
  • I have the resources and training to thrive in my role.
  • I have the opportunity to do what I do best—every day.
  • I frequently receive recognition, praise, and constructive criticism.
  • I trust my leader and believe he/she has my best interests in mind.
  • My voice is heard and valued.
  • I clearly understand our organization’s vision/purpose, and how I contribute to it.
  • I have opportunities to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

Hmm, no mention of salary level. The truth is, we can’t buy engagement. We must cultivate it. So what can a leader do to increase their team’s engagement? Here are five powerful behaviors:

Get the right people in the right seats, doing the right things

When we release people into roles where they have passion and proficiency, they produce at high levels. They don’t need to be tightly managed. They enjoy work more. They buy in.

Continuing education

If you want a team member’s engagement to increase, make room for them to grow professionally. Invest in ongoing training. The business world in general does a much better job than the nonprofit world when it comes to committing to their employees’ continuing education.

Show genuine interest

Your staff and team are not robots, nor simply cogs in a machine. They are human beings with families, feelings, dreams, and yes, pain. I’m not suggesting you become a pseudo-counselor. Rather, regularly take a few moments to ask how a team member is doing, how their family is coming along—and really listen to them. Genuinely care about the answers to those questions. Authentic interest in their lives from you sends employee engagement soaring.

Connect dots between what they do daily and the big-picture vision of your organization 

During the 1960’s when NASA was working toward the compelling vision set by John F. Kennedy of putting a man on the moon and returning him safely by the end of the decade, a NASA custodian was asked, “What’s it like to mop floors at NASA?” He replied, “I’m not mopping floors, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” That guy was engaged!

One of the most motivating things you can do for your team is help them understand how their daily work contributes to the compelling destination your organization is striving to reach.

Recognize a job well-done

Your teammates can run in the strength of a well-deserved compliment for weeks. What gets celebrated gets repeated. So look for what they are doing well and give them proper recognition.

Here are two million-dollar questions: Why does engagement matter? Why should you as a leader care?

  1. If you’re serious about reaching your full potential as an organization, you need a team. A fully engaged team. And here’s a secret . . . you can’t delegate engagement. It falls on your shoulders as the leader.
  2. A fully engaged team is much more fun to be around and work with. It’s a blast to work with people who are rowing in the same direction. You won’t need to waste precious time and energy managing them tightly. An engaged team will self-manage and self-police. Your employee retention rate will soar.
  3. The clients you serve will benefit greatly. They’ll be happier, and more loyal to your organization. The customer experience will be fabulous, and clients who receive great value often transform into fans and promoters of you and your team.

How engaged are your team members? Here’s a great resource to help you think this through.

One last word . . . can I encourage you to avoid the tendency to blame your teammates for their lack of engagement as your first response? First take a long look in the mirror. Do you have the right people in the rights seats doing the right things? Are you investing in their growth? Do you genuinely care about their life outside of work? Do they understand how what they do every day connects to the big picture vision of the organization? And do you recognize their accomplishments?

If you want to win, you need a talented, fully engaged team.

I’m rooting and praying for you!


John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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