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Getting {and Staying} Engaged

bees on a flower

*GULP* We said the “E” word. Suddenly your palms are starting to sweat, your heart rate seems to have increased, you notice an uncomfortable pit take root in your stomach, and why is everyone suddenly staring at you? This happens every time you hear that word because you know how important it is and the commitment that is involved, yet you just can’t figure out how to do it. You’re a grown adult, just pop the question already….

“Are you happy here?”

There are of course many other ways to ask, which is why it can
seem overwhelming to tackle Employee Engagement. We were thinking about the
same thing, right?

Now That We’re on the Same Page…

When you consider it, deciding on a partner for life is not all that much different than attracting, developing, and retaining high quality people to help you meet your organizational goals (bear with us, here). Both situations require a consistent effort to build mutual trust and understanding, regular and open communication, balanced praise and constructive feedback. In both scenarios, the parties involved must believe that they are not just a number – you are genuinely interested in who they are as an individual, will support them, and want to help them grow.  Given the level of effort and commitment required for both romantic and employment relationships, it is no surprise that approximately 45% of marriages end in divorce, and only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work.

Employee Engagement is commonly understood as the level of discretionary effort any employee is willing to exert; highly engaged employees will go above and beyond what is expected based on personal commitments to their role, their team, and the greater organization.  It should be no surprise that highly engaged workforces see improvements in these key business outcomes Gallup found in recent research:

How to Identify Disengagement

All these metrics are measurable, but some symptoms of disengagement, sometimes referred to as burnout, are more apparent than others to observe (if you’re paying attention).  You know when employees are not showing up, not meeting goals, and making easily avoidable mistakes. They are reluctant to participate in any cross-functional projects or extra-curricular activities with the team and are often irritable at work. Catch phrases of a disengaged employee are “that’s not in my job description,” or “it’s not going to make a difference either way,” and the classic “here we go, another change effort” with the quintessential eye roll. It is frustrating and makes you want to pull your hair out because you are not quite sure what to do about it or how it happened, so you try to ignore it and hope it goes away.  And it probably will… right out the door.  Disengaged workforces experience 25% – 65% more attrition, and these departing employees can be very vocal about it to their friends and family, on social media and, which will ultimately have an impact on your ability to attract new great talent.

Engagement (along with aspiration and ability) is a key
ingredient of a high-potential according to Gartner’s
definition. With high levels of engagement and intent to stay, likelihood of
rising to (aspiration) and being effective in (ability) senior level roles,
high potential employees can account for anywhere between 4x-10x of the
productivity compared to an average employee.

Flying Monkeys, You Say?

There is certainly enough motivation to focus efforts and investment on increasing engagement, in our humble opinion. And we have great news for you!  You do not have to launch a big expensive employee survey. You do not need to offer free lunches or organize a company-wide retreat. There is a simple, albeit not always easy, guaranteed approach to significantly increase employee engagement, decrease burnout, and improve on all those key business outcomes shown above.  Just identify and coach or get rid of your flying monkeys.


We have all experienced flying monkeys, a term for ineffective managers or leaders used by Jill Christensen, employee engagement expert (yes, a nod to the winged minions of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz movie).  These managers create toxic work environments where signs of burnout and disengagement are clear, yet no action is taken to improve, and the environment persists or worsens.  There could be several causes, but managers are often promoted to roles with direct reports and greater responsibility with little to no support or resources for the new role. They continue operating in an individual contributor mindset and are overwhelmed by their own retained tasks and new added managerial responsibilities, so they resort to what they feel more comfortable doing – task and operational functions, not leading. This results in the manager becoming disengaged and perpetuating an environment of disengagement.

How Do We Put an End to This Vicious Cycle?

As we mentioned previously it is simple, but not easy.  You need to close the gap between management and leadership, which is a greater focus on people. To shift managers into leadership gear they need a more empathetic mindset, which can be done by listening more than talking and asking more questions than giving answers. Put in a consistent effort to build mutual trust and understanding, have regular and open communication, and share balanced praise and constructive feedback. Their teams must believe that they are not just a number, but their manager is genuinely interested in who they are as an individual, will support them, and want to help them grow. This requires some significant mindset changes, and consistency in implementing new behaviors– having a coach would greatly increase the chances of success moving managers to leaders.

This should all sound familiar (if not, refer to paragraph three); see if more leaders entered employment relationships with the people on their teams in this mindset, and consistently practiced some simple behaviors treating their people as individuals, engagement wouldn’t be such a scary word because they would be more confident with the answer to the question, “Are you happy here?”

What now?

If this article resonates with you, please share it with others. You can also leave a comment below to let us know you visited and share any additional insights you might be able to offer other readers.

And, if you’d like to know more about how you can unlock the potential in your High Potential employees in a safe, sustainable and scalable way, please visit, or join our mailing list

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