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Turning These 5 Keys Can Help Leaders Ignite Worker Engagement

  -Perhaps engagement is the result of resolving other issues first

by Celine Healy

Much has been written about employee engagement imploring leaders to ignite this behaviour within their employees. Sometimes the simple answer of implementing better communication’ glosses over the underlying deeper issues to hand.

We’ve learnt all behaviours are habits. To change a behaviour, you have to over-lay old habits with new routines. This takes time and effort and a willingness to grow and change. And. We know any change can be fearful not only for those who have been in a particular job for years, but for anyone. So, each step has to be carefully planned, communicated, accepted and instigated, firstly at the leadership level, then at the advocate level, before final at levels  agreement lower down.

Here are 5 keys to help leaders ignite worker engagement.

  1. De-stress

At the basis of all non-engagement, failure, non-success is stress. Stress comes in many forms and impinges upon performance from: external personal situations, the physicality of a work station, a physical ailment, or the actual work environment where workers may experience bullying or harassment, but mostly, from unresolved emotional issues carried forward throughout life, that the individual brings to their job.

The type of stress that impinges upon and affects workers’ personal external lives and work environment most, and which generally is overlooked because it appears to be “too hard” to define, is this unresolved emotional stress.

Because stress response invokes a chemical reaction throughout the body, these chemicals are what is causing lack of judgment, impaired communication, loss of clarity and focus. It is not a case of ‘better communication’. One of the first steps leaders can take to help employee engagement is by instigating stress resolution programs into their basic training.

  1. Increase energy

Employees need to have a certain amount of energy to complete tasks and have sufficient over to think creatively and come up with problem-solving solutions.

Energy can be drained merely by sitting at a desk for long periods of time without a break. This cuts off the flow of creative juices and leads to inefficiencies. Workers will then take far too long to complete tasks and keep repeating unnecessary steps because they lack focus and energy.

Energy can be depleted by internalising feelings of being undervalued by the employer.  As soon as the worker goes into a negative state/stress of any kind,  cortisol is emitted. This then takes time and energy for the body to get back into balance. These types of stresses are not apparent and are therefore overlooked. Research indicates workers feel their employers do not care about their mental health and well-being. If this is the case then the work-force is suffering an enormous blight.

Leaders can help increase an employee’s energy by instigating short doses of exercise programs that can be done in minutes per session, at their work station, throughout the day. Movement and stretching will help here.

The objective is to break the nexus of what is currently being done and to create opportunity to allow for the creative juices to flow. However, the underlying feeling of lack of self-worth needs to be addressed separately.

  1. Being in the correct role

Exceptional employees who are good at their work, love what they do and seem to thrive, no matter what, and who are engaged and love coming to work, are in the minority. It has been estimated in a recent study only 13% of workers fall into that category.

Why is this so?

It is because they have hit on a job role or function that fully satisfies their innate skills, talents and abilities. If they are utilising these innate skills at least 80% of the time in their job, the job will feel easy and satisfying.

If it is the other way around and they find themselves utilising only 20% of their innate skills and talents, then this is where stress comes into play and there will be a mismatch between job role and the employee’s skill set, and these workers will struggle daily in that job. They will be unhappy and be disengaged.

Leaders need to be mindful of this and take measures to re-define roles to assign employees to the right tasks and vice versa. Job descriptions and redefinition may need to become a priority.

  1. Passion

Workers are engaged when they are passionate about what they are doing. Have you, as a leader, taken the time to find out what your workers are passionate about? Or tried to instigate some of these interests and activities within the workplace?

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Scale, people eventually get to that stage where they have overcome their most basic and intermediate needs of survival and safety and then want to self-actualise and make a contribution to society or their immediate community in some way. One of the easiest ways to do that is for the company to foster engagement in charitable activities, and to have the workers involved in searching out and planning what is available and what would be a good match for the charity and the company. This will benefit both the giver and the receiver.

  1. Purpose

Each of us has a purpose in life and there could well be any number of purposes for individuals to take. The purpose of work for many disengaged workers, may well be, purely, working for the money to make the dollars to pay the bills. If this is happening there will be a sense of withdrawal or, in some cases, a major disconnect between a person’s work and home life. One will be a refuge and the other may appear to be a hostile place.  If this is happening, it will ignite lack of passion. There will also be no commonality of an individual’s work purpose and the companies’ vision and goals.

Leaders need to be aware of this and take time to not only communicate the corporation’s vision and goals and purpose, but also to be able to connect individually with each person so that they feel a valued member of the team. Workers need to feel their contribution is not only necessary, in order for the company to thrive and succeed, but also that they, the worker, feels validated, heard and valued. One way to do that, especially in group meetings, is to make sure that every person has equal opportunity and equal time to put forth their ideas and opinions and not be fearful of judgment. The leader must make sure that everyone feels heard and has equal time to express their opinion, even though they may not use it every time in every meeting. In this way individuals will feel validated and feel a valued member of that team.

Change management consultants may well be getting this back-to-front. They suggest implementing better communication systems first when really, they need to be resolving the underlying stress issues that create the disconnect and disengagement in the first place.

Originally published in


Washington Post Study 2013 on Engagement

APS Study ( 2100-2015) Effects of Stress on the Work Force
Actually, It’s About Love – C Healy
Boost Success in All Areas of Your Life – C Healy
Your Life Your Legacy – Roger Hamilton
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
Smarter Better Faster – Charles Duhigg