Getting engaged: How do you motivate employees?

Carlene Goldthwaite

Business owners and managers are beginning to realize that economic conditions, for the time being, constitute a new normal. Gone are the days of high margins and deep pockets. In this new reality, businesses face the ongoing challenge of doing more with less.

In the past, that’s meant giving more work to the best employees because they’ll get it done, do a good job and show up the next day to do it all over again. But now, business owners and managers are finding they’ve reached capacity with those top performers who physically can’t take on any more. Either that, or those top performers have moved on with hopes of finding a situation with more reasonable expectations.

At the same time, customer expectations continue to rise and the business is caught between customer and market demands and static or lower productivity in the work force.

For some organizations, the answer to this dilemma is employee engagement. Wikipedia defines it this way: “An engaged employee is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work and thus will act in a way that furthers the organization’s interests.”

The concept has been around for more than 20 years, but has been gaining more notoriety as various studies reveal exceptional business performance as measured by sustained profitability and innovation in organizations that have a highly engaged work force.

Most engagement models characterize workers as engaged, not  engaged or disengaged. Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to the company. Because of this connection,  engaged employees tend to have higher productivity, fewer on-the-job accidents and readily offer suggestions that  improve work processes and business outcomes. These employees also tend to promote and recommend their companies’ products to others. It’s estimated by the Gallup organization that 33 percent of workers are actively engaged.

Disengaged employees tend to be visible — or vocal –— in their unhappiness with their lots in life. These workers have lower productivity and are less reliable. They often have challenges meeting attendance standards. They make up about 18 percent of the work force. While they might or might not actively undermine the work of colleagues, disengaged workers find it difficult to adapt to change. Because these employees don’t feel a personal connection to their organizations, they will have less effective relationships with co-workers and customers.

By far the largest group of workers — 49 percent — is characterized as not engaged. They’re putting in the time and usually meeting performance and production standards, but are essentially “checked out.” Employees who are not engaged could exhibit some of the characteristics of the “engaged” group from time to time — becoming highly involved and committed to a new project, for example. People in the “not engaged” category could also occasionally exhibit the same attendance problems or issues interacting with co-workers and customers as seen with disengaged employees.

There are many different directions an employer could choose to increase employee engagement and improve business performance. Here are some of the most effective steps:

Understand what employees want to get out of their jobs and be realistic about whether or not the job or company can meet those needs.

Set challenging, but attainable, performance standards. Promptly recognize and reward those who meet the standards and definitively address those who don’t.

Connect employees and their work to the overall mission and vision of the organization.

Include employee engagement in the performance expectations of supervisors.

Train supervisors to develop productive and unique relationships with the employees who directly report to them.

Periodically look in the mirror. As a business owner or manager, are you demonstrating the behaviors of an engaged, not engaged, or disengaged worker?

Carlene Goldthwaite, a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources, has worked in HR management for more than 20 years. She’s a past president of the Western Colorado Human Resource Association and past director of the Colorado Society for Human Resource Management State Council. A work force development specialist, Goldthwaite will provide more information about employee engagement at the next meeting of the WCHRA, set for 11:30 a.m. Aug. 18 at Two Rivers Convention Center, 159 Main St. in Grand Junction. To register or obtain more information, log on to