What Does an Engaged Employee Look Like?

For better or worse, ‘employee engagement’ has become a corporate buzz-phrase of late. We all talk about it – but do we know what it really means to have an engaged employee?

Perhaps most importantly, do we have the right tools at our disposal to boost and maintain engagement?

David Zinger, of The Employee Engagement Network, defines employee engagement as:

“The art and science of engaging people in authentic and recognized connections to strategy, roles, performance, organization, community, relationship, customers, development, energy, and happiness to leverage, sustain, and transform work into results.”

But with so many moving parts – how can leaders and managers effectively identify employees who are engaged? 

And equally as important: how can we recognize those who are falling off the radar?

Because whilst it’s great to have motivated, involved and dedicated staff members propelling your business forward – disengaged employees can grind a business to a halt.

Creating a team of engaged talent will be the driving force for your business. Indeed, talent can be your biggest competitive advantage.

But the uncomfortable truth is: the majority of employees – 67%, in fact – are either not engaged or are actively disengaged. That’s a big proportion of your business.

And if we take into account that disengaged employees cost companies $450-500 billion each year, it certainly pays to have a solid idea of how engaged your employees are – and, most importantly, how to actively work towards improving and sustaining their engagement.

So: what does an engaged employee look like?

Here’s five of the key traits you should look for, and how to encourage these characteristics in other members of your team…

An engaged employee puts in discretionary effort

Discretionary effort – that is, “the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, but above and beyond the minimum required” – can mark the difference between a strong team and an extraordinary one.

That’s because a team that only puts in the effort required to complete the job at hand, never achieves beyond expectations. 

Because of this, if an organization can identify employees who show potential to push their team beyond the original brief – these individuals should be promoted to leadership positions and given the chance to manage others for how they personify the kind of work ethic that will help your business grow. 

Extra effort deserves appreciation, both in terms of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.

And by showing recognition to the most engaged employees, you can encourage others to work toward discretionary effort, too. 

But it starts with placing your trust in your staff, giving them the resources they need to take control of their own work experience.

A word of warning here, though: it’s easy for managers to want to assign more work to staff members who go above and beyond. But employee burnout is a real issue to consider. 

A 2018 Gallup survey found that about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job – so if you look around you at work right now, there’s probably a great deal of overwhelm waiting to happen. 

Look after your engaged employees – remember they, too, need to go home at the end of the day and rest.

Organizations can trust engaged employees to be self-directed

Self-direction, autonomy, independence: whatever you want to call it, when an employee feels they are in control of their day-to-day work experience, this translates to greater engagement and higher productivity.

And freedom from micromanagement is all part of this. 

It’s hard for an employee to feel engaged and motivated, if they are working directly in the shadow of their senior manager, rather than being empowered to take ownership over their tasks. The impact of micromanaging can be so severe that one paper labeled it among the top three reasons employees resign.

Indeed, when comparing 360-degree feedback scores, employees who feel they are trusted by their managers are far more likely to be engaged than when trust isn’t felt.

So, how can you recognize autonomous work ethic?

Self-directed workers will make their own decisions, they’ll come to the team with new ideas for projects or clients to approach, and they’ll have a clear idea of where they want to go within the organization.

Of course, not all employees will seek the same level of autonomy. 

The important thing is, to grant your employees the ownership they need. Assign them projects to run themselves. Provide them with the tools they need to reach their goals, and use collaborative means to share – and track – how those goals are progressing. 

As studies show that a large share of highly engaged employees receive weekly feedback – and 88% of HR leaders agree that ongoing peer feedback is key for successful outcomes – this is an easy win to create engagement within your teams.

Interestingly, autonomy also correlates with overall wellbeing. And for some, it’s the secret to being happy at work

With the ever elusive work-life balance still a significant contributor to job satisfaction, autonomy can help lower your churn rate.

If an employee is engaged, they’ll perform well even when management isn’t watching

They say that company culture is what happens when the CEO is not in the room.

And the same can be said for employee engagement, too. If a staff member excels and out-performs expectation even when there’s no guarantee for reward or recognition, then they clearly care about the business’ success.

Again, this can be cultivated through greater autonomy. 

If a manager gives their team the space to make their own agenda – to set their own objectives, in line with the organization’s wider strategy – the leadership team will quickly be able to identify who in the team is actively engaged, and who may need further support to get there.

Your most engaged staff members will speak positively about your organization

If you could be a fly on the wall at Friday 5pm drinks, would you be happy with what your employees tell their friends about a working week in your organization?

Hopefully, yes. Because engaged workers will speak positively about their employee experience. 

Not all the time, of course – everyone has their bad days. But on the whole, you can spot an engaged employee by the way they speak about the work you do. And as we explored when we looked at the employee lifecycle, employee will keep talking about your organization, whether they have good or bad things to say, even after they leave.

These days, purpose and meaning in the workplace is a significant factor in job satisfaction. Being able to understand how and why everyday effort amounts to wider company success is a key part of this – as is being satisfied with the direction their business is working in.

And this is true for every person within your organization, no matter their role or job spec.

You’ll probably have heard the story of a janitor at NASA in the 1960s, but it bears repeating: when asked by President Kennedy, “what do you do here?”, the janitor answered, “Sir, I’m helping put a man on the moon”.

As this story tells us, engagement isn’t saved for the highest positions in a business.

So, what can your organization do to create purpose, at all levels in your company?

It could be through linking their effort to altruistic impact – but this isn’t possible in every industry. At the least, continuous feedback and recognition can be used to create a sense of purpose. By linking an employee’s individual actions to the company’s mission – as in NASA’s case – you can establish long-lasting engagement.

What’s more, taking the time to craft – and follow – individual personal and professional development plans can encourage buy-in from all levels of the organization.

Engaged employees create a ripple effect in their company — motivating their colleagues and re-shaping the business for the better

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

Last but not least, you can identify an engaged employee by their impact on the rest of the team.

They might be the person who rallies the troops early on a Monday morning; they might be the person who keeps the agenda on track during a long meeting.

Whatever it is they do, an engaged employee will have a positive, knock-on effect throughout the business. 

But this certainly doesn’t mean going along with the status-quo, just because that’s how things have been done historically.

An engaged employee will question ways of working – “Is there a better way we can do this?”

In these instances: listen to what they have to say.

A company’s greatest limitation can be a hesitancy to change. If an engaged employee can see their ideas rise through the company, and cause a shift in how things are done – seismic or not – it will only strengthen their commitment and engagement in your objectives.

Equally so, responding to constructive feedback will encourage others to take a more active role within the team – sending positive ripples further and further across the organization, as a result.

The bottom line? If you can learn to spot engaged employees within your team, you can use them to bolster engagement across the board

Often, withdrawn employees are easier to detect than engaged ones – and that’s because disengagement often goes hand-in-hand with absenteeism, disruption, and lack of vision for the future. Certainly if you ask an employee where they’d like to be within the organization in the next six months, and they have no answer: this is a clear red flag in terms of engagement.

Motivated employees, on the other hand, are sometimes happy to just get on with things – needing little involvement from senior management.

But that’s where on-going employee reviewing and feedback loops can help to identify both engaged and disengaged individuals – either learning what’s working for your team, or spotting engagement issues before they result in resignation. Moreover, such a process is fundamental in building and maintaining the kind of collaborative manger-employee relationship that’s so crucial to engagement.

Duuoo’s continuous performance development software allows managers to build a comprehensive record of each individual – tracking one-to-one discussion points and plotting a team member’s trajectory toward progression, or recognizing their wavering interest. Most importantly, it gives them a powerful way act on that knowledge.

To learn more about Duuoo’s collaborative feedback platform, and how it can increase engagement within your organization – get in touch today!

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