"People come to work wanting to be productive for the most part, and managers either set them up for success or cause confusion." Jim Harter, Chief Scientist and Engagement Expert at Gallup

One of the hot topics in the Human Resources field in recent years is employee engagement. Engagement is the level of discretionary effort exhibited by employee. Wikipedia defines an "engaged employee" as "one who is fully absorbed and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization's reputation and interest." I want engaged employees on my teams - what about you? Let's talk about why engagement is important, then explore some ways to try and improve engagement.

Why Is Employee Engagement Important?
A recent Gallup study showed only 30% of employees are actively engaged on the job. Why should we care about the level of engagement? Because there is a strong correlation between employee engagement and a number of important performance metrics. For example, Gallup research showed that work units in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed the bottom quartile units by:

10% in Customer Ratings
22% in Profitability
21% in Productivity
25% Lower Turnover
37% Less Absenteeism
48% Fewer Safety Incidents
41% Fewer Quality Defects

Foundational Principles for Improving Engagement
In a recent article in Talent Management Jim Harter from Gallup shared some key principles for increasing engagements based on Gallup's research:
1) Engaged employees need to know what's expected of them at work - role clarity. Only about half of employees say they know what's expected of them at work. This is considered the starting place for building greater engagement.
2) Engaged employees have what they need to do the work. This includes things like adequate procedures, tools, and support from others in the organization when needed (e.g. trainers, supervisors, staff support like IT and HR).
3) Engaged employees are in jobs where that can utilize their talents effectively. It's incumbent on us in management to understand our employee talents and strengths and to place people in roles in which they can excel.
4) Engaged employees receive recognition for good work in a way that's important for them as an individual. Regular recognition is extremely important - and we also want to try and recognize individuals in ways that are most meaningful to them.

The Seven Key Needs of Employees
One approach to increase engagement is to better understand the needs of each of your team members - then respond in ways that are meaningful to him/her. The American Management Association cites research that 99% of employees are motivated by one of the following seven needs:
1. The Need for Achievement. There are some of us that are very motivated by the possibility of achievement. For us, identifying goals to strive for and then celebrating successes along the way is important for our desire to achieve and will motivate us to strive for even greater achievements. Here is a great litmus test to see if you have a very high need for achievement: if you use a "to-do" list and sometimes write down a recently completed task so that you have the pleasure of crossing it off - you are a high achiever!

2. The Need for Power. Some people have a need for power/control. These are the team members that can excel and be motivated by leading special projects or developing policy/procedure manuals or any other task where they have power, control or significant influence. Placing them in a role of power or control will be highly engaging for them and can benefit the entire team.

3. The Need for Affiliation. Some of our team members have a strong need for affiliation - to feel part of a larger team. These are great folks to help organize team building activities and to check in regularly to get a pulse on how the team is feeling.

4. The Need for Autonomy. We have team members that really like to have flexibility in their jobs and to be left alone to do them. These are folks that don't want public attention, but want the freedom to do their jobs with minimal outside influence. Finding jobs and tasks that allow for more autonomy is the obvious key to maximize the engagement of these team members.

5. The Need for Esteem. Some people have extra need to receive esteem. I remember awhile back I had a supervisor that started working for me that I sensed was not as engaged and connecting with me as I thought was possible. I eventually figured out the best way to engage her was to provide extra "atta girls" via e-mail and face-to-face and help meet her need to feel esteemed.

6. The Need for Safety and Security. There are people that have an above average need to feel safe and secure. In today's ever changing corporate environments that we live in this can be challenging to meet that need. But we can address concerns as they arise, and provide realistic hope and accentuate the positive when helping those that struggle with feeling safe and secure.

7. The Need for Equity. Some team members have a strong need to feel that equity and fairness exists within the team and organization. It's good to have at least one person on the team that we can use as a barometer on how we are doing as managers to have equity and fairness in our work environment.

Proven Approaches for Engaging Employees
I recently ran across an article by Donna Fluss in Connections Magazine where she shared a dozen approaches that can help engage employees. I liked her list and wanted to share with you:
1) Listen to Your Employees. Invite employees to share their ideas and really listen to what they have to say. Act upon the ideas that are doable and make business sense.

2) Involve Them. Goal is to create an environment that welcomes innovative ideas and actions.

3) Support them. Be there for your employees - and treat them like adults (not children) and valued family members.

4) Excite them. Communicate your department's direction and plans to your employees. Be the upfront cheerleader and help them see the positive opportunities that the future holds.

5) Invest in them. Our employees are truly our most important assets so let's invest our time and other resources in them.

6) Develop them. Give employees opportunities to develop in their current roles and help them be prepared for future roles.

7) Challenge them. Give employees new opportunities and help them grow to the next level.

8) Recognize them. Recognize both team and individual performance.

9) Celebrate them. Celebrate successes and strive to create a fun and positive work environment that makes it enjoyable to come to work.

10) Respect them. We all like to be respected, and to be respected by your boss is very motivating.

11) Compensate them. Pay people for a job well done as best as you can.

12) Promote them. Whenever possible, promoting from within will be motivating and shows that there are opportunities and that good performance is appreciated and rewarded.

The level of employee engagement on our teams can be positively influenced by those of us in management roles. It takes intentional effort to increase engagement levels - but the benefits are worth the effort. I wish you success in striving to better tap into the power of engagement!

Wes Friesen, MBA, CMDSM, MDC, EMCM, MCOM, CBA, CBF, ICP, CCM,CMA, CM, CFM, APP, PHR is the Manager of Billing, Credit and Special Attention Operations for Portland General Electric, a utility in Portland, Oregon that serves over 830,000 customers. Wes leads his teams with the able assistance of Supervisors Allison Rowden, Jan DeMeire, Heidi Fouts and Matt McHill. Wes teaches university classes and is a featured speaker at national Conferences like MAILCOM, National Postal Forum, NACUMS, and other regional and local events. Check out his personal web-site for free information (www.wesfriesen.com). He can be contacted at pchefdebi@comcast.net.