15 salient truths about employee engagement

Offering a culture of fulfillment should not be construed as coddling and spoiling your staff. Ask questions, act on the responses, and provide the tools your people need to thrive in their jobs.


To see results from employee engagement efforts, we must focus on the basics.

We have to ask ourselves whether we are violating fundamental principles of human nature and, if so, how that affects engagement. Given how much time and money has been spent on employee engagement— and how little has been shown for it—it’s clear that most employers are getting it wrong.

Implementing engagement programs without addressing these foundational flaws is like painting a rusted car. You can buy the most beautiful, expensive paint, but it won’t stick.

Your efforts at boosting employee engagement will never stick if you violate the principles listed below:

1. Goodies, gimmicks and galas don’t boost employee engagement; intrinsically rewarding work experiences do.

2. Being the managerial equivalent of an indulgent parent doesn’t create high employee engagement. It creates spoiled, childish employees.

3. Everything matters when it comes to employee engagement, because every interaction, every communication, every decision can bolster or undermine employee engagement.

4. Engagement is built—or damaged—one conversation at a time.

5. Most answers about how to improve employee engagement reside within your employees. Ask questions, and then act on what you hear. Remember, the only way you will get useful information is if you make it safe for employees to speak candidly.

6. If you don’t ask for employee feedback, you are asking for trouble.

7. Ask for input only if you are going to use it.

8. Don’t expect employees to care about you or your goals if they don’t feel you care about them.

9. Don’t try to make employees feel like they matter; design their jobs and give them enough autonomy so they can matter.

10. You’re running a business, not a rehab center for troubled employees.

11. You’re a manager, not a therapist.

12. Uncertainty breeds fear. Fearful employees don’t focus on their employer’s goals; they focus on their fears. Remove the unnecessary uncertainty caused by poor communication.

13. When employees have a strong “why” they can deal with almost any “what.”

14. If you want to improve employee engagement, you must be willing to look in the mirror—especially if you are in senior management.

15. If you are a lower-level manager and want to improve employee engagement, focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t.

If you have more truths to add to the list, please offer them in the comments section.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@Work. You can follow him on Twitter @HumanNatureWork. A version of this post first appeared on TLNT.

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