How to Solve the Mystery of Employee Engagement

There have been many studies that indicate employee engagement — a measure of bringing one's best and full self to work — is not just a fluffy nicety. It has become a hard business imperative, and it is linked to a number of organizational performance measures, including profitability, customer satisfaction and retention. In fact, a study from McKinsey added to the evidence, noting that organizations with top scores in employee motivation are about 60% more likely to be in the top quartile for overall business health. Companies in all industries who have done their own internal research have found similar linkages.

Of course, engagement is an emotional and deeply personal experience; it's not simple or straightforward to address. But leaders must do so for the sake of not only their employees, but also their companies. Here are pointers to help you to make real inroads in this area:

First and foremost, leaders need to understand the basics of positive psychology and engagement research. We recommend an HBR classic on employee motivation, in which the famed management psychologist Frederick Herzberg argued that workers respond positively to more responsibility and authority in their daily tasks. This finding is resonant with a recent, comprehensive and exhaustive study by Daniel Pink for his book, “Drive,” that has identified the human desire for autonomy as one of three factors that influence motivation. In other words, people generally do well when they are empowered to make choices and decisions for themselves. The other two factors are purpose (having a sense of meaning in work) and mastery (having the opportunity to grow and improve skills and abilities).

Plenty of research has been done on work engagement, showing that additional factors such as social support and feedback can drive positive experience. Managers and HR professionals need to understand these and other robust psychological theories to more effectively shape their engagement efforts. While increasing employee engagement isn’t easy, it’s doable and worth it. A wealth of information is out there, ready to be put to good use. Dig in!!