Intent Blog

How to Tell if your Employees are Engaged.

A recent GALLUP study has indicated that engaged employees are, on average, 21% more productive than their less engaged counter-parts. Put differently, engaged employees will get the same amount done in 4 days as normal employees will achieve in 5. This difference becomes larger when you compare engaged employees with actively disengaged employees.

But, leaders are faced with a practical problem. How do they know what kind of employees they have? Are their employees engaged or disengaged, or actively disengaged? I want to highlight one important but subtle difference between an engaged employee and a disengaged employee. Being aware of this difference will help leaders get a sense of whether their people are actively engaged in their jobs or not.

Firstly, it is important to remember that engaged employees are not just happy employees. Engagement is more than being happy or contented at work. Employee engagement is about employees taking ownership. Engaged employees are driven to do their job well because they have taken personal accountability for their work. Typically engaged employees view the success of the company and their own success as one and the same thing.

With this in mind we can start to make sense of the sort of thought process that typically accompanies employee engagement. An engaged employee will typically think in a certain way because they will make certain things important to them. What is important to an engaged employee is doing a good job. Making sure the company’s needs are being met. Making sure the customers are satisfied. Making sure the product is of a very high standard. Making sure the company is moving forward.

If you were to think in terms of questions we would say that the question the engaged employee is asking himself/herself on a regular basis is: “what do I need to do to make my company successful?” Or: “what do I need to do to make sure I am doing an excellent job?”

What you would see in a disengaged employee is a different sort of question because they would be making different things important to themselves at work. The question a disengaged employee would be asking themselves is something like: “what do I need to do to justify my salary?” Or, “what must I do so my boss does not get cross?” Or, “what can I so or say in order to get a bigger salary?”

If these are the sorts of questions that most often occupy a person’s mind then it tells you that they haven’t really taken ownership of their responsibilities. They still view their jobs as something that someone else wants to have done, but they will do it for a price. It is not very important to them personally that the job gets done to an excellent standard. What is really most important is that they get paid on time. Engaged employees also obviously need to get paid. But, what is most important to them when they arrive at work is getting the job done well.

So how is this helpful? Employee engagement is actually a continuum. You have vary degrees of engagement. The more engaged people are, the more productive they are. With all this in mind leaders should listen for the sorts of things that people make important to themselves. What kind of language do you hear from your people? Is it about justifying salary, or is it about achieving a goal? Is there a tendency to dodge accountability or do they treat errors as things that need to be fixed regardless of who made the error? Do you hear them speaking about what can and can’t be expected of them, or do you hear them speaking about what would or wouldn’t be best for the company or the customer?

In this article I haven’t given concrete behaviours to look out for. What I have tried to highlight is the subtle differences in what people make important to themselves at work and what this means for whether they are actively engaged at the workplace.

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Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.