The one thing that most executives will say their companies need more of—the one thing that they’ve tasked their HR leaders to increase—is employee engagement.

Employee engagement has been a hot topic in the Human Resources space for months, and this week was no different. Among the usual good advice about sharing expectations and offering regular feedback, there were two pieces in particular that stood out because they put hard numbers behind specific practices for increasing employee engagement and productivity.

Meeting Core Needs: Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath published a piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine that had the provocative headline “Why You Hate Work.” Their conclusion: You aren’t properly engaged.

Most of the writing on engagement focuses on the mid- to lower-level employees, but Schwartz and Porath say that dissatisfaction and disengagement is felt all the way to the C-suite—yet can be reversed if employees have four core needs met:

  • Renewal — getting an opportunity to renew and recharge
  • Value — feeling cared about or cared for
  • Focus — being allowed to concentrate their energies on important tasks
  • Purpose — getting to work on the kinds of projects they enjoy best and feeling like they are working toward something important

Schwartz and Porath’s conclusions come from a survey their consulting firm, The Energy Project, conducted in conjunction with the Harvard Business Review, and the results proved that engagement is an issue that companies can tackle in small steps, rather than all at once.

“When employees have one need met,” the pair wrote, “compared with none, all of their performance variables improve. The more needs met, the more positive the impact.”

But the question that so many articles on engagement fail to answer in a concrete way is the how to go about meeting those needs, and that’s what made this piece so interesting. Schwartz and Porath backed their suggestions with data. A few examples:

  • Employees who take a break every 90 minutes are 30 percent more focused than those who take no breaks or just one during the day.
  • Employees who feel supported by their supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67 percent more engaged.
  • Respondents who said they could focus on just one task at a time were 50 percent more engaged.

Opening the Books: Meanwhile, over at the Harvard Business Review blog, Bill Fotsch and John Case argue that improving employee engagement comes down to something much more simple: money.

They say it’s easy to create engaged employees: just open the company books. This puts everyone on the same team. From the executives at the top to the lower-level employees, if they all know where the goal posts are and what winning looks like financially, then everyone can work together for a victory. When people are allowed to identify and monitor key financial indicators, they will start to figure out ways to make them move in the right direction, and that’s what creates the engagement.

In the post, they tell the story of a pilot program run by a global travel-management company. This company picked three branches to try using an open-book method of employee engagement. Each branch picked the financial indicators it wanted to watch and then developed ideas for improving those numbers. How did they do? Together the branches earned more than $1.5 million for the company.

Employee engagement is more than a buzzword—it’s a problem that can be solved, and there are now numbers to back up that conclusion. The question now though is: how will you solve it for your organization? Does your company have a plan for increasing employee engagement in place?

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