In 2019, the number of engaged workers reached an all-time high (according to Gallup).
The problem is that number is only 34%. Another 16.5% are "actively disengaged."
Workers in the remaining group usually show, put in the minimum required, and race home to binge-watch Netflix (or some non-work-related activity).
Disengaged workers hold themselves back and hurt their organization.
Here are some proven methods for encouraging employee engagement.
What Does An Organization with Great Employee Engagement Look Like?
An organization with engaged employees is a healthy organization.
In the book, Beyond Performance: How Great Organization’s Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage, authors Scott Keller and Colin Price outline the nine vital signs of organizational health.
- Direction—clear indication of where the organization is heading.
- Leadership—the extent to which leaders inspire others.
- Culture and climate—shared beliefs and interaction among employees.
- Accountability—the extent to which individuals know what’s expected of them.
- Coordination and control—the ability to evaluate organizational risk.
- Capabilities—the presence of the right skills and talent to execute strategy.
- Motivation—what drives employees to exceptional effort.
- External orientation—the quality of engagement to drive value.
- Innovation and learning—the quality of the flow of new ideas and the ability to adapt where needed.
In this article, we will show the main contributors to employee engagement. You will also see the direct connection between employee engagement and flow.
Why Are Unengaged Workers A Problem?
You may think that unengaged workers provide you a competitive advantage.
Easier to stand out in a crowd full of underachievers, right? Wrong.
The problems with worker disengagement are numerous and far-reaching.
- Unengaged workers will leave their positions as soon as a better offer comes around. This causes workplaces to deal with the stress of high turnover rates.
- Companies with unengaged workers earn less—affecting raises. salaries, and benefits for everyone.
- Customer satisfaction is much lower. It damages the organization to client relationship. This causes more anxiety and stress with every customer interaction.
- Unengaged workers take more sick time, causing others to bear the burden of their absence.
Most companies try to combat the problem of low employee engagement by throwing money at it. They raise pay, stock the break room with free snacks, and adjust benefits (like offering more PTO).
As we will see, there are other employee engagement strategies to employ than just better compensation.
Some of them do even more to move the needle long-term than a paycheck.
Driving Employee Engagement with Flow
Research has recognized two types of flow states. There is individual flow, where you get so focused on a task that everything else disappears.
Then there is group flow, a collective experience of a group performing at their peak. Group flow may just be the most powerful drug on the planet.
Workplaces with the highest engagement encourage both types of flow.
For an employee to regularly drop into flow, they need to have their passions and purpose aligned. Their work should be as novel as possible. It should also be slightly more challenging then their current skills. All of these conditions trigger flow, which we will look at in more detail in the section below.
Keith Sawyer, author of Group Genius lists these conditions as being essential for group flow in the workplace:
- Having group goals.
- Employees encouraged to practice close listening and give their complete concentration to their coworkers.
- Employees having a sense of autonomy and control over their own destiny.
- The blending of egos.
- Equal participation among group participants.
- Team mates knowing each other.
- Open and clear communication across the organization.
- Being progress-oriented.
Collaboration is another essential ingredient of group flow. Optimal work conditions share a lot of similarities with the best labs or even a Montessori classroom.
A Gallup poll found that highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability.
Group flow has the added benefit of enhancing creativity in the workplace.
Many of these conditions begin with company culture.
Creating a work environment that is conducive to flow states should be a part of a company’s values. That will ensure it takes priority.
The Importance of Feedback for Employee Engagement
Organization’s need to create a work environment that encourages immediate honest feedback. 89% of HR leaders agree that on-going peer feedback is key for successful outcomes.
Immediate, clear, and frequent feedback also happens to be a flow trigger.
Leadership must give clear feedback about their company’s goals and direction.
When everyone knows the big goals an organization is striving for, it reduces collective cognitive load. Every worker is able to better align their personal goals with that of the organization. We cover the correct way to write and carry out goals in our Zero to Dangerous training.
On the flip side, employees who feel heard by leadership are more likely to feel empowered to perform their best.
"Leaders must make it possible for employees to work with joy, to their heart’s content,” writes positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Good Business: Leadership. Flow, and the Making of Meaning.
By giving employees the autonomy they need to construct a high-flow, high-productivity work day, leaders are assuring that employees will be more engaged.
Timothy Gallwey’s research into how people develop excellence in working contexts uncovered this formula:
Performance = Potential - Interference.
Immediate feedback helps reduce much of the interference employees face—allowing them to achieve their full potential.
Employee Engagement and Meaningfulness of Work
MQ stands for the meaning quotient of work. A metric that should be actively tracked and improved.
When the MQ of an organization is low or undefined, you’re stuck with a lot of unmotivated workers. This leads to procrastination and poor productivity.
Psychologist Tim Pychyl studies why people avoid doing tasks.
Three big ones that pop up at work are:
- The task seems boring.
- The task is too difficult.
- The task is unstructured or ambiguous.
You can see the full list in our article on avoiding procrastination.
Not every work task can be intrinsically rewarding.
Organizations should find ways to build more rewards into employee tasks.
Results can be gamified to encourage healthy competition. Also, regularly acknowledging employees for their work on public Slack and Teams channels helps employees to engage more.
Employees reading those positive messages about themselves will get a little dopamine rush. Dopamine neurons become activated when people receive an unexpected reward.
Motivation is your general willingness to do something. The set of psychological forces that compel you to take action.
If a more motivated employee = a more engaged one, then the more compelling companies can frame a person’s work the better.
For this to happen, there must be:
- Clear goals for every employee task.
- The right tools (technology) and support (feedback) for employees to do their best work.
- Assigned work that is aligned with the organization’s values and purpose.
Employee Engagement Equals Profitability
$550 billion a year—that’s how much disengaged employees cost U.S. companies (The Engagement Institute).
Engaged employees are absent from work less. They also change jobs less. Both of these benefits have a direct effect on a company’s balance sheet.
An engaged employee is also more productive because they are passionate about their work.
Steven Kotler has developed a “passion recipe” to drive performance. As Kotler says, “why is passion important? Simple. It’s a profound focusing mechanism. We pay more attention to those things we believe in.”
Making Employee Engagement a Priority
Organizations that are serious about improving employee engagement will:
- Structure work policies to encourage group and individual flow.
- Empower employees to share their voice in the workplace.
- Match employee’s skills to the most relevant tasks.
- Encourage employees to take ownership over their success.
- Create rewards and feedback that go beyond compensation.
Are you an executive coach or business leader? Check out our Flow Trainer Accelerator.
We want to give you the tools and science to help others unlock the power of flow state.