When someone says the words “employee engagement,” what comes to mind? Is a workplace that has engaged employees one where everyone is so in love with their jobs they all stay back or log in late to reach their KPIs? Or a workplace where everyone just agrees and gets along? Employee engagement is all about unlocking discretionary effort and getting employees to give their all for the business… right?


This approach to employee engagement really looks at work life from the employer’s point of view. The "what’s in it for me" prioritizes what the business will gain from having an engaged workforce. And while that’s important, it’s not the only half of the equation.

Employee engagement comes down to the relationship between the employee and employer. It is about creating an environment and culture where success for one means success for the other. Both need to be aligned and bought into the other for both to benefit from the relationship.

An engaged employee understands the direction the organization is going in, the company’s purpose, mission and objectives, because their company has invested in communicating these things continually. And because they’re aware and aligned with the company purpose, they understand how their role impacts and contributes to the organization’s success. They genuinely wants the organization to succeed, and will do everything possible to make that happen.

What does employee engagement mean? Discover more in our comprehensive guide »

A high-performance culture requires an engaged workforce, but to maintain effectiveness long-term, it also needs leaders to acknowledge their responsibility to their people. Left unchecked, employers who simply want to find a way to get their employees to work as hard as they possibly can mean even the most dedicated, talented, and generous employees go too far down the road to burn out pretty quickly.

So, as a business owner or leader, how do you stay on the right road?

Realize it’s not about you

Purpose is a fundamental human need. We need a reason to get out of bed in the morning and to make the sacrifices we do to keep our jobs. Most, if not all, people work for money. But I’m sure if we were given a choice, those of us who need to pay off a mortgage or provide for ourselves and our family would choose a job or a line of work that we are passionate about. And because of the passion, we’d naturally go above and beyond to help the company succeed, because we’re personally invested in that mission.

When we, as employers, give our people a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves, we link their mind (work) with their heart (passion). That’s the secret to a truly engaged employee!

The best thing is that even though purpose might sound fluffy, it actually translates to business performance. In their book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras share their finding that organizations driven by purpose and values outperformed the market 15:1 and comparison companies 6:1.

employee engagement misconceptions

Bring everyone on the journey

Employee engagement isn’t about one person, it’s about everyone at your company.

Not everyone’s going to buy into your vision because not everyone is willing or ready to embrace change.

Understanding where each individual employee is in their journey is critical to building a truly engaged workforce. Some employees might be “true believers” and already aligned to your purpose and willing to do what it takes to get there. Those who are vocally resistant aren’t necessarily disengaged – it may be that they have a vested interest and simply want to be heard.

Detractors may be difficult, but they are at least interested.

A “what’s in it for me” approach to employee engagement ignores or silences these detractors, finding opportunities to show them the exit, rather than giving them tools and channels to start a discussion.

These discussions, hard as they may be, are the key to winning over a bigger part of your workforce. Investing in surveys, round tables, and communication platforms that foster a sense of trust and transparency will not only allow you to share the purpose and mission that are so vital to employee engagement, it’ll allow you to journey with your people.

Showing you are willing to walk with your people and change face the challenges with them is a much better approach to employee engagement than trying to force people into submission. Looking for tools and channels that help you mutually benefit is how to build the foundation for healthy — and engaged — relationships between companies and employees.

Kylie Terrell

Kylie Terrell is our Australia Director of Consultancy and is RG’s resident advocate for employee recognition. She loves creating “wow” moments and looking for creative ways to make her coworkers and clients feel special.

Australia Director of Consultancy

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