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Matt Tenney, Contributor

Due to the financial losses associated with high employee turnover and the loss in productivity it leads to, organizations are continuously looking for approaches that help to reduce it. 

Employee engagement initiatives are often one of the main tools used to combat high turnover rates and improve retention throughout organizations, with the ultimate goal of building teams of talented, fully engaged employees. 

A fully engaged employee is an employee who is enthusiastic about their jobs, invested in the success of the organization, and dedicated to its mission. Fully engaged employees demonstrate their commitment through behaviors that help organizations perform well, grow sustainably, and improve profits.

This article will explore what goes into the making of a fully engaged employee. 

The Components of Engagement

We measure employee engagement by the extent to which employees feel enthusiastic and passionate about their jobs and emotionally committed to the organization they work for and its mission. 

The concept of employee engagement is credited to psychologist William Kahn. In 1990, Kahn wrote a paper called “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement” that outlined three dimensions of employee engagement: cognitive, emotional, and physical. 

Cognitively engaged employees are highly committed to their job, physically engaged employees are highly invested in their work, and emotionally engaged employees have a strong emotional connection to their work and the organization.

An employee’s experience influences the varying levels of themselves that employees physically, cognitively, and emotionally bring to their work. Organizational culture has a significant effect on employee experience, and both influence an employee’s perception of their job over the course of their tenure with a company.

Employee experience is one of the main factors that determine an employee’s engagement level. A positive employee experience can lead to a high level of engagement. A poor employee experience can lead to low engagement or high levels of disengagement.

An employee’s level of engagement is tied to how the employee feels about their work experience, how they are treated in the organization, whether or not they feel a sense of purpose in the work they do, and whether or not they feel that the organization is dedicated to an authentic vision and practicing its professed core values. 

Leadership and organizational culture are the main drivers of engagement, but these drivers also play an essential role in engagement:

  • Meaningful work
  • Job clarity
  • Professional development
  • Flexibility
  • Autonomy
  • Inclusive work environment
  • Recognition
  • Feedback
  • Trust-based working relationships 

Levels of Engagement

Employees can be divided into three categories based on their level of engagement: engaged, not engaged, and disengaged. The radically different behaviors we see from employees who fall into each of these three categories can lead to radically different outcomes for organizations.

Engaged employees exhibit positive behaviors and cultural alignment. These employees find the work they do meaningful, which gives them a sense of purpose. 

Having a sense of purpose in one’s work results in a strong commitment to the organization and its goals, enthusiasm for its mission, and a dedication to helping the organization achieve its vision. 

Engaged employees are usually good collaborators, communicators, and innovators. They exhibit more adaptability in times of change and a willingness to improve processes and learn new skills. These employees know the role they play in the organization is essential to the organization’s success. 

Unfortunately, most workers are not engaged. In fact, most workers in the U.S. currently fall into the “not engaged” category.

Employees who are not engaged will feel little commitment to or enthusiasm for their jobs. They do their work but typically do it with disinterest and usually do the bare minimum. These employees lack an emotional investment in their work and rarely go above and beyond for customers or their co-workers.

Their performance can be adequate but, because they are not fully invested in the organization’s success or its mission, they can also perform quite poorly.

Employees who are not engaged miss deadlines, communicate poorly with management and co-workers, and demonstrate a lack of accountability. They may also not actively participate in collaborative projects. 

While “not engaged” employees can hinder an organization’s success, actively disengaged employees pose the most serious threat to morale, performance, innovation, and profitability for organizations.

When it comes to problem-solving, process improvement, collaboration, or innovation, disengaged employees show little interest in participating. They may be averse to change and unable (or unwilling) to adapt to change or learn new processes.

Disengaged employees lack the passion and commitment to their job that engaged employees exhibit. They may engage in toxic behaviors, underperform, refuse to take accountability, and lack a strong belief in the organization’s mission, vision, or values. 

How Fully Engaged Employees Benefit Organizations

The success of any organization depends on how invested employees are in the work they do. This is why we spend so much time trying to figure out what employees need and the best way to meet their needs. When employees have their needs met, they are more engaged. 

High levels of engagement in an organization can result in reduced turnover, increased retention, improved performance and productivity, better customer service, and a healthier bottom line. 

There are also certain common behaviors leaders see in engaged employees that contribute to a positive work environment for all employees. That’s because engagement can be contagious and spread throughout teams.

In fact, high levels of employee engagement can create a “trickle down effect” that can be seen throughout all levels of the organization because it helps engage other employees. This is because engaged employees bring an enthusiasm to their work every day that is expressed through their actions, attitudes, and behaviors—and it inspires their co-workers.

Engaged employees are able to connect the dots between their individual performance and the success of the company, making them more aware of how their performance directly impacts the performance of the organization as a whole. They are also often aware of the wider impact they are making on society through their work.

Because engaged employees see themselves as valued members of the organization, the time they spend at work will be more impactful. Their emotional investment in the organization will help them perform well and make the jobs they do more fulfilling.

How to Identify an Engaged Employee

Engaged employees are driven to do their best and focused on helping the organization achieve long-term goals. Without a high level of engagement, a business will be neither successful nor sustainable. 

Here are a few ways to identify fully engaged employees: 

They Show Enthusiasm for Their Work That Is Rooted in a Strong Sense of Purpose

Fully engaged employees will feel a sense of purpose in the work they do, with an understanding that their work is valued and has a real impact. This makes them more enthusiastic about what they do, and they demonstrate this through a strong commitment to their work by performing well. 

A strong belief in the organization’s mission, vision, and core values set fully engaged employees apart from disengaged and not engaged employees.

However, because they exhibit behaviors that are aligned with organizational values, this can reinforce those values for their less engaged co-workers and improve engagement.

They Have an Improvement Mindset and Seek Professional Development

Engaged employees always strive to perform their duties in a better or more efficient manner. They will often streamline tasks to improve their productivity or suggest improvements in current procedures and processes.

Whether it’s getting better at their current role or aiming for a promotion, engaged employees will want to gain the skills they will need to do this and will take advantage of the professional development and learning opportunities organizations offer. 

This can result in improved productivity, better use of resources, and increased profitability. Another bonus is that innovation often occurs as a result of this mindset. There is even evidence that engaged employees excel at customer-focused innovation.  

They Exchange Feedback Regularly With Managers and Co-Workers

Feedback is crucial for engagement because it gives employees a voice. Reports have indicated that employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

A work environment where feedback is the norm can also be a sign of a high level of engagement. This is because engaged employees thrive on constructive feedback and consider it important to their professional development and their overall performance. 

Engaged employees will be receptive to feedback and will often provide feedback that is extremely useful to management. They make suggestions that improve processes, increase productivity, spark innovation, and save the company money.

They Are Productive and Perform Well

High-performance teams are made up of highly engaged employees who believe in the organization’s mission, believe the work they do is making an impact, and feel instrumental in the organization’s success. 

Employees who are fully engaged typically perform well, are productive, and produce quality work. Engaged employees know the work they do has a direct impact on the success of the organization and will work hard to achieve the desired results. 

They are more focused on the quality and success of the end result and less concerned with the time spent on the project, though this can be very important depending on the task. Fortunately, engaged employees know how to delegate and manage time well.

They Have Good Relationships With Their Co-Workers

Fully engaged employees are good at collaboration because they are able to develop strong relationships with their co-workers. These relationships are crucial to successful collaboration efforts. 

When employees enjoy working with their co-workers, they truly function as a team and can accomplish much more when they work together. This improves problem-solving, increases productivity, and boosts accountability.

Good employee relationships can also boost the well-being of all team members by reducing the stress and anxiety that can result from toxic work environments. 

They Take a Proactive Approach To Problem-Solving

When employees feel that their feedback has an impact on decision-making, they will take a proactive approach to problem-solving. This may mean anticipating issues before they crop up or reacting in a timely manner to issues requiring immediate action.

Engaged employees often take the initiative to personally change their work environment. This proactive behavior is referred to as “job crafting”—this is when employees make changes to their jobs to make them more engaging and meaningful, and, ultimately, better able to meet an organization’s needs. 

Some employees are motivated by work that is not only meaningful but also challenging. This helps employees perform better and can improve their overall well-being, which helps maintain engagement.

They Go the Extra Mile for Customers, Managers, and Co-Workers

Engaged employees often go above and beyond their daily tasks to accomplish things. Whether it’s meeting a tight deadline on a project or going out of their way to accommodate a customer or assist co-workers, engaged employees are willing to do that bit of extra that helps organizations accomplish short- and long-term goals. 

However, this is an area that can have some drawbacks if management isn’t mindful.

Some organizations end up creating a situation where going the extra mile becomes the norm but also a necessity. If employees are constantly having to go above and beyond just to keep their head above water, then it can very quickly lead to burnout and disengagement. 

Fully Engaged Teams Start With Fully Engaged Leadership

Author and Business Leadership Today contributor Laurie Sudbrink says that, of all the other factors that affect engagement, leaders affect employee engagement the most. And a leader has to be engaged to build a team of engaged employees.  

According to a 25-year study by Gallup, the duration of an employee’s tenure is largely determined by the relationship they have with their direct manager. Around 50-70% of an employee’s perception of their work environment is tied to the actions and behaviors of leadership. 

A leader’s ability to authentically build relationships with employees, their level of self-awareness, their personal sense of accountability, and their emotional intelligence shape employee experience and determine how engaged employees are in their roles, and influence their commitment to the organization.

More than anyone else, leadership creates the conditions that determine people’s ability to work well. This is why cultivating positive relationships with every member of the team is essential for high levels of engagement.

Leaders create and guide organizational culture, one of the biggest drivers of engagement, so it’s imperative for leaders to get organizational culture right if engagement efforts are going to be successful. 


Matt Tenney is an active CEO who aspires to create the best workplace culture in the world.  Matt is also the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence.  Matt is frequently invited to present keynote speeches at leadership conferences and meetings.  His TEDx Talk has been viewed over 1,000,000 times since January, 2020.

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