A Little Story About Jack and Diane: Did They Ever Get Engaged? (with apologies to John Mellencamp)

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Jack and Diane are two typical employees.  Statistically, each represents about 20% of the workforce.  Jack is not a bad worker – he generally does what he’s told to do when he’s told to do it and usually does it to an acceptable standard.  Diane, on the other hand, takes initiative and performs above and beyond without being told – when she sees something that needs to be done she jumps in and does it. 

The difference between them can be summed up in one word – engagement.   As we define it, “employee engagement” is the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and the organization’s goals. Fully engaged employees exert discretionary effort above and beyond the effort outlined in their job description.  

Source: Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/irsein/5144677794/)Why should we care about employee engagement? The classic management cartoon strip Dilbert addresses this question with its usual cynicism.  The boss tells workers “you need some of this engagement stuff.”  When asked by them what would be different if they were more engaged, he responds “you’re supposed to be happier.”  In fact, engaged employees are not only happier, they contribute more. A number of field studies find a solid positive relationship between the percentage of engaged employees and performance measures of all sorts – profitability, total return, revenue, customer service and even safety rates. 

Engaged employees tend to promote the company, and have significantly lower absenteeism and turnover rates.  Disengaged employees, on the other hand, miss on average four more work days per year, are less productive and cost the US economy an estimated $355 billion a year in lost productivity.  Managers spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with those disengaged workers.

What makes employees engaged or disengaged?  Based on our experience and a large amount of data we have collected over a number of engagement surveys, we believe there are two sets of factors.  The first set is made up of precursors of engagement – things that will not create engagement, but are necessary for it to occur.  The second set of factors are catalysts – those factors that create engagement in employees.

Source: https://plus.google.com/105760189362842623105/postsThe first set of factors, the precursors, are things that distract and frustrate workers if they are not minimally satisfied.  Principle among these is satisfaction with their boss – we all have heard that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. Our previous blog discusses the importance of giving managers the tools and training needed to effectively engage employees, and then holding them responsible for engagement. Many leaders do not have these skills inherently, and far too many are not provided them.

Other factors include physical environment, job skills, role clarity and available resources for the position.  Satisfying these precursors or job context does not engage employees, but it raises them to a neutral state and sets the stage for engagement.

Source: Pixabay (http://pixabay.com/p-298474/?no_redirect)The second set of factors are those things that create active engagement – the content of the job.  These include the critical states of meaningfulness of work (seeing a linkage between the work one does and to the value it creates for others), autonomy (being told what to do, but not how to do it), and knowledge of results (both internal and external feedback). When working to identify the most engaged employees in your organization, many of these factors will be at play.

Besides these factors, alignment with the larger organization plays an important role in engagement – Does the employee know and understand the company’s core ideology (purpose and values)?  Are the goals and vision clear to everyone?  In short, does the employee feel that what they do every day is somehow associated with the greater good the company provides to society. Recognition and reward systems will help employees feel they are valued in your organization, and they can address these catalyst factors.

How can we tell whether the work force is engaged or not?  On the macro level we look for indicators of disengagement – low motivation, poor quality, high absenteeism, and high turnover.  We can also look at the individual employees and try to assess who is engaged based on their behavior, both positive and negative, as shown below.

Engaged Employees

Disengaged Employees




Can’t be trusted

Energetic and Passionate




Finishing work ahead of time

Slow to get work finished

Never missing work

Often tardy or absent

Helping others in the workplace

Focusing on only own work

Recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses

Complaining about work

Participating in out-of-office activities

Skipping out on activities

Engaging Employees Leads to Business SuccessesThe best way to gauge employee engagement, however, is an employee engagement survey.  A survey will not only reveal patterns of engagement or disengagement, but can also identify many of the drivers so actions may be taken to correct the situation.  Surveys provide quantitative data, but mere knowledge does not change the status quo. Creating higher engagement means acting on this data to remove dysfunction by addressing the precursors and amplifying the engagement catalysts. 

Analyze, act, inspire – with a certain amount of effort and a surprisingly small amount of resources, you can move the engagement curve for your own company.  Remember that those companies with high engagement also have higher profitability, retention and satisfaction – and you CAN control it. The thrill of a job can only last so long without engagement. In order to ensure organizational successes you’ll have to ensure continued employee engagement before this thrill is gone.

Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!

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  1. Russ Knight's avatar
    Russ Knight
    | Permalink
    I like this topic of employee engagement and heard where an organization was looking at it and had decided either the employee engages or is given the opportunity to explore other employment. Do you think that is heavy handed? On some level, the pendulum seems to have swung from the responsibility of the employee to now this issue resting almost entirely on the employer. There has to be a middle ground, right?

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