Want Engaged Employees? Start Here


Employee engagement is defined generally as the willingness of an employee to give his or her best at work. Interestingly, global measures of employee engagement have hovered around 30 percent for the past 20 years. Despite a recent uptick (to 33 percent), employee engagement continues to be a major concern of CEOs, HR officers, and others who lead teams. 

According to the Deloitte’s 2019 Annual Human Capital Trends report, 84 percent of its survey respondents rated employee engagement “important” as an issue, and 28 percent identified it as one of the three most urgent issues facing their organization. Yet, just 9 percent say they are prepared to address the issue. 

The aerial adventure industry may mirror global trends. Employee engagement was among the top requested subjects from Adventure Park Insider’s recent reader survey. And if the industry is like the rest of the world, leaders are not feeling like they have a good game plan to address employee engagement.

Why is employee engagement so important? The research is very compelling. PwC recently released a study showing that employees most committed to their organizations put in 57 percent more effort on the job than employees who consider themselves disengaged. 

Gallup, in its annual report, showed that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share. And organizations with strong employee engagement scores generate revenue growth at a rate 2.5 times higher than companies with lower marks, according to the Hay Group, a management consulting company. 

Further, higher employee engagement creates: 

  • More productive teams. In an increasingly competitive world, companies are seeing employee engagement as a competitive advantage. Engaged teams are 21 percent more productive and innovative than disengaged teams and put in 57 percent more effort on the job, which enables them to adapt to changing market conditions more rapidly with products and services that meet customers’ needs.
  • Higher customer satisfaction. Neuroscientists say that our brains can sub-consciously pick-up on inauthentic or insincere emotions. So, customers probably see employees’ fake smiles as fake. Engaged employees are genuinely happy to be at work and customers feel that. The most engaged teams have 10 percent higher customer ratings than the least engaged teams.
  • Higher employee retention. PwC research shows that employees most committed to their organizations are 87 percent less likely to resign than employees who consider themselves disengaged.
  • Role models for your culture. Low engagement behaviors, such as doing the bare minimum, can spread like wildfire in your organization. Engaged employees can serve as a firewall to keep negativity from spreading and to help disengaged employees see their jobs as something more than a paycheck. These gems are already in your organization, and you can find them.
  • A more meaningful workplace experience. We all want to feel like the work we do matters. When teams are engaged in their work, they feel a stronger sense of personal purpose and a deeper connection to the organization. Oftentimes, a taste of success or well-timed recognition is all it takes for an employee or team to see themselves in a new light.

What Can I do to improve employee engagement? It’s easy to get discouraged when you see that global engagement has been so low for so long. It’s also easy for leaders to bemoan low engagement as a symptom of a broader societal pattern (e.g., “those darn Millenials”). 

The truth is that engagement is not hard-wired in your organization. It’s fluid, and it changes daily. There’s no quick fix. The best, most highly engaged teams and companies demonstrate the following strategies consistently over a long period of time. 

So, the best thing to do tomorrow would be to commit to any of the following:

  • Admit that you’re the answer. As a leader, your behavior influences employee engagement more than any other factor (more than even ping pong tables!). Put simply, if you’re not engaged, it’s likely that your team isn’t either. Research from Real World Group—makers of the Performance Leader Identifier behavior self-assessment for director-level+ leaders—shows that leaders who simply show genuine concern for others can make a huge positive impact on their team’s performance. It makes sense: when a person feels like a person at work instead of, say, a task-fulfiller, he or she becomes more invested in the job, teams, and company.
  • Share strategic direction. Sharing where the company is going will give each employee an opportunity to learn how they are contributing, and how they can continue to contribute. Too many meetings are focused on the “what” (visitation, weekly revenues, customer reviews, or other discrete metrics). By sharing the broader “why”, employees will realize that they’re on a team and that the organization’s success is the cumulation of lots of individual success. The feeling of being a team contributes to the sense of purpose and meaning that most employees crave.
  • Stop and listen. I once met a manager who was afraid to talk to his teams because he did not want to get inundated with requests to do things. He was already busy, and he couldn’t handle any more tasks that would take him away from his “day job.” Listening to what employees want is proven to be an effective strategy to increase engagement. You don’t have to grant all requests, but taking time to listen—really listen—to people creates trust and greater professionalism in the workplace.
  • Tackle the frustrating bits. Now that you’re listening to your employees, work on making their lives easier. Is the time tracking system cumbersome and slow? Fix it. Is the process for requesting time off broken? Fix it. Is the flickering light bulb in the staff room driving people nuts? Seriously. Fix that. 

Acknowledging the “yuck” shows you care. In fact, many companies are abandoning annual employee engagement surveys—and the frustrating aftermath of “action planning” and implementation—in favor of bi-weekly or monthly pulse surveys. This enables managers to respond more rapidly to changing employee sentiment.

  • Training and coaching. You’ve heard that most people forget what they learn in workshops within a day or so, right? It’s true. A research-based, time tested, classic guideline for developing managers into executives is the 70-20-10 rule. Studying what makes the most impact, researchers found that a mix of challenging assignments, developmental relationships, and formal coursework made the difference. 

The ratio is: 70-percent challenging assignments (such as leading an initiative, the opportunity to manage people, or a lateral move into another department); 20-percent developmental relationships (such as a mentor or coach); and 10 percent formal coursework (such as training programs or online courses).

  • Make introductions. If you are a leader in the aerial adventure industry, chances are you have a network of colleagues who have supported you or given you a break. Relationships are critical, and if you regularly introduce your employees to your network, you are giving them an incredible gift. You’re making a connection, but you’re also saying, “this person is worth knowing.” Also, encourage employees to connect with others at conferences, online communities, or even local events.
  • Dial-up meaning and purpose. Employees have a need to be fulfilled at work. Today, employees see where they work as an extension of their values and purpose. So, workplaces need to deliver more than “job security” or “a paycheck.” 

Finding purpose through work is a top driver of engagement, according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report. People are seeking meaning in their lives, and they want to work for an organization that’s contributing to the community, is socially responsible, and is about more than just making money. To accommodate this, many companies are moving beyond employee engagement to “employee experience.” 

There’s no shortage of what you can do to start the process of improving employee engagement. Remember that employee engagement is an outcome, not a destination. All organizations must continually work on improving it or else it will erode. 


About Author

Paul Thallner is CEO and Founder of High Peaks Group, a U.S.-based consulting firm that helps leaders and organizations tackle the tough people challenges in order to accelerate business performance.

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