The best companies want engaged employees. The Gallup Organization surveyed over 30,000 employees in 2018 and found that fully two-thirds said they were disengaged from their work. Imagine the loss of productivity, poor customer relations and opportunities that are missed when only a third of employees are engaged and committed to their jobs. Gallup, known for the quality and reliability of their surveys, took 25 years’ worth of interviews with over one million workers and distilled the attributes of organizational success and employee engagement into 12 questions, known as the Q12. In their book, First, Break All The Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman document Gallup’s study and delve in these questions:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last 7 days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important
  9. Are my associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

These questions point to the key difference that makes a difference when it comes to organizational success: the quality of employees’ relationships with their managers. Given that managers play a significant role in employees’ job satisfaction and productivity, what should you as a manager do to increase employee engagement?

Recognize employees are people, not cogs in a wheel. Managers who coach and mentor are interested in the whole person; to them, employees are not just resources to be applied to a task. They get to know what their employees care about, their families, interests and career goals. In addition, they provide clear job expectations to their employees and make sure they have the tools they need to do a good job. They listen to employees’ opinions and solicit their ideas.

Match talents and interests to the work. The best managers look for tasks that their employees enjoy and do well. While they may consult performance reviews to identify a good fit, more often they simply ask employees what they like to do and what they would like to do more of. That conversation demonstrates the manager is eager to understand—and act on—what matters to the employee. Good managers help their employees grow and develop. They encourage their learning and career progression.


Go sideways and deep. I have found that when asked what will make them more engaged, some employees are unsure. They might suggest a higher salary or more recognition, but even when given those things, their satisfaction and engagement don’t necessarily increase. A better approach is to come at the topic from the side, not head on. Ask employees about a time when they were very engaged at work then dig deep into their answer. What was it that made them feel engaged, the challenge of the work itself or the feeling they were making a difference? Was it the way they worked, as part of a team with coworkers they liked or independently with a lot of autonomy? As you tease out these answers a pattern emerges of what engagement means for that individual, pointing to the most effective ways to increase engagement and productivity.

Acknowledge and praise a job well done. Good managers don’t withhold praise like a jailor denying inmates a moment in the sunlight. If you want employees to take risks, learn and grow, they need positive recognition. The best praise is specific. Don’t just say, “you did a good job on the report.” Although it may be nice to hear, it doesn’t help the employee know what you valued and why. Specify what was good about the work, noting for example that using pie charts in the report helped pinpoint the key problems in the inventory system.

Great Managers: The X Factor Driving Engagement

One manager had increased recognition, instituted fun days and happy hours and clarified goals and roles, but he still couldn’t move the engagement needle. Using my “sideways and deep” process, we determined the team members didn’t feel their work mattered to the organization. It just felt like busy work. Armed with that information, the manager made a presentation explaining the connection between what they were doing and the launch of a new product that would open a new service line for the company. When the employees better understood the impact of their work, their engagement improved from 60 percent to over 90 percent.

In another example, a manager had engagement scores in the 40 percent range. He tried all the usual approaches with little to no improvement.

After asking employees to talk about a time when they were engaged and what was missing, he found that the lack of communication about ongoing company changes and layoffs had employees fearful of losing their jobs. Since his team wasn’t slated for layoffs, he didn’t think he needed to address it. Once he realized their concerns, he increased communication about the team’s role and how they were vital to the company’s mission. As in the other example, once people realized their jobs were secure, engagement soared to the 90 percent range.

If you want to create a better workplace, attract and retain the best people and improve your organization’s profitability, employee engagement is key. As a manager, your job is to identify what makes your employees feel engaged and implement ways to maximize it. You will be pleased by the positive results.