How do you know if your employees are engaged? Is it based on their body language in meetings? Do they tell you what you want to hear, but then nothing really changes? Do you base employee engagement on periodic survey scores?

Engaged business units produce 21% more profitability for a business than non-engaged and actively dis-engaged business units. And yet, many leaders don’t seem to know how to address the core of their employee engagement problem.

Employee engagement isn’t just about happiness. It goes much deeper than that. Employee engagement is about uniting around a shared purpose, open communication, trust, ownership, and appreciation.

Your people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to feel like they are having impact and the journey they are on is important.

Salaries do play a role in employee satisfaction, but there are plenty of examples of small organizations that do not have the budget to pay great salaries and benefits that are still able to attract and retain great employees. It’s because these organizations are able to unite like-minded individuals around an aspirational vision, execute the key goals, and  celebrate their wins (and challenges) as a team.

You know that your employees are truly engaged by their impact, by their willingness to do what it takes to accomplish the project or related tasks. Engaged employees go the extra step and take ownership to ensure it is done well. They get the job done without you being around.

Employees must feel that they own something; that it is up to them to make something happen. They must also experience the impact of their hard work and know that their work is recognized and appreciated.

If employee engagement is an issue for you and your team, try this. In your next meeting or one-on-one, ask your employees for their recommendations on an issue or project: What is your perspective? How should we handle it? How best can I help you? Then, be sure to thank them for their extra efforts.

If they need it, help them put structure and a plan around the issue or project that will help them resolve it, but then give them ownership of the end result. Provide support as needed to ensure they can maneuver around and threw obstacles. Allow them to make mistakes, particularly if this is a new responsibility for them, and be there to guide and help them along the way—but don’t micromanage the project.  If you are not tolerant of mistakes and sometimes failures,  then you are not worthy of the 5.0+ engaged employee.  

Engagement requires trust and you build trust by enabling ownership of  projects and initiatives and support when something does not go as expected. Provide autonomy and support and let them guide you as to how much support is needed. If you micromanage them the whole way through or stay completely hands-off until they fail, then punish them for their failure, they will never develop the personal ownership in the project, overall goal, or your vision. Trust is doing what you say you will do. If you say you are going to fix something or change something, but it is not done, it devalues your trust bank.

Here are my top 5  questions  ask my employees during our 1×1 meetings to  improve and retain engagement among my team:

  • How are you growing yourself as a leader, as a person?
  • What are you most proud of this month?
  • Does our team inspire you to do your best work,  or inspire you to deliver excellence?
  • What are you currently struggling with and how can I help?
  • What’s the one thing I need to know this month that we have not discussed

What are your top tips for assessing, improving, and/or maintaining employee engagement on your team?