Employee engagement

The 5 Magic Keys to Employee Engagement

Employees will feel engaged if the company asks them to coalesce around an important goal, such as increasing revenue and profits, right? If the company succeeds, employees will be rewarded and feel valued. That’s seem logical on the face of it.

But management consulting firm DecisionWise says that goal not going to inspire employees to work harder or be more productive. Based on their years of advising companies on employee engagement surveys, 360-degree feedback, leadership, and organization development, the firm has identified what it calls the 5 Magic Keys to employee engagement.

The Drivers of Employee Engagement

According to DecisionWise, the keys to driving or inhibiting engagement are:

  • Meaning: Do employees find meaning and purpose in their jobs? Does their work make a difference for others?
  • Autonomy: Do employees have freedom, self-governance, and an ability to make choices about their work?
  • Growth: Does the job provide development and growth opportunities. Does the work challenge and stretch employees to grow and improve?
  • Impact: Do employees feel like they are successful in their work? Do they see that their effort makes a difference and contributes to the success of the organization?
  • Connection: Do employees have a personal connection with the people they work with, their boss, and the social community of the workplace?

My take is that C-suite executives view employee engagement in monolithic terms. “Are we getting buy-in from employees in meeting our goals?” Instead, each manager should be asking herself these questions about her communication with direct reports, “Am I engaging my people based on their individual skills and needs? Do I give each individual immediate feedback? Do I encourage their feedback?”

Too often the only time a manager provides feedback or engages an employee in conversation about his job is during the annual performance review. That is not employee engagement.

In its 15 years of tracking employee engagement, the Gallup organization has found that employee engagement has consistently averaged less than 33%. Employee engagement is a hot topic, yet companies don’t walk the talk. They are not  doing what it takes to engage employees, even though Gallup’s extensive research shows that engaged employees support the innovation, growth and revenue that their companies need.

Employee Engagement Myth Busters

Maybe the situation hasn’t gotten any better because companies are trying to measure the wrong things. Based on its extensive experience in advising companies on employees engagement, DecisionWise has debunked the following eight myths:


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  1. We could apply the concept to US voters as well. In the recent presidential election they were not engaged by the establishment. Hence one hundred million Americans did not bother to vote.

    • Catarina — it’s shocking and disheartening that so few Americans vote in our elections. I think they take our freedom and open society for granted.

  2. Great infographic! I love these questions. I agree employees need to have purpose. They need to now the focus and meaning of what they are doing. This is the foundation of any great business.

    • Sabrina — yes, they need to understand how their jobs support the organization and also their own needs for efficacy.

  3. I have a friend who really struggles to find meaning in their corporate job, which is described as “keeping plates spinning” to maintain the facade of getting work done. I’m often amazed by how tuned-out employees can be and how unproductive.

    • Jeri — unfortunately, most people don’t like their jobs. Managers don’t give feedback so employees don’t know where they stand. My first job after college was as a reporter for a daily business newspaper on Long Island. One day after I had been there for a while, I asked the editor how he felt I was doing. His answer, “You’re doing fine. You’ll know you’re not doing OK if we fire you.” Great feedback!

  4. This post really resonated with me. I found myself saying YES several times as I read it. It’s sad that employee engagement has averaged only around 33% and that so many executives view it in monolithic terms. It’s really quite a simple thing when the myths and facts are laid out. I’ve never thought of burn-out before as a symptom of disengagement.

    • Donna — it’s sad when employees feel so disengaged because that’s a symptom of unhappiness in their jobs. Unfortunately, the corporate focus on the bottom line trumps investment in employees.

  5. Interesting post, Jeannette. I once worked in an environment in which employees were discouraged from expressing new ideas or challenging authority. It was extremely difficult for me as I am a free thinker. Eventually, I had to leave in order to maintain my sanity and self respect.

    • Doreen — good for you for quitting. I once had a job I hated. I took the bus to work every morning and there were days when I felt riding to the end of the line and bypassing my stop. Nothing worse than disliking your job.

  6. I was nodding my head in agreement throughout your entire article Jeannette! At one point in my career in travel, I was blessed to work for a company that excelled in employee engagement. The general manager was hands on, often had lunch in the employee cafeteria, made certain there was a clear two-way path of communication, and genuinely cared about every employee working for him. In an unheard of move – when the owners of the hotel decided on a major renovation that would close the property for 3 months – Mike arranged for every single employee to continue receiving their pay and since they couldn’t work at the hotel they would work at a nonprofit organization serving the Maui community. This was so typical of him and the company (because of course the owner had to approve this!) that no one ever questioned his motives – it was just the way he ran the business.

  7. Employee engagement is so important because we spend so much of our time at work that it should really be a place where we can thrive and feel appreciated and valued not somewhere where we feel bogged down and trapped.


    • Emily — It’s true. We spend most of lives at work. That’s why is so important to pick the right career — and the right companies to work for.

  8. An “engaged employee” is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests hence builds you up. The infographic is what I loved too. Thanks for sharing!

  9. The myths you listed are important. I know many companies think a cookie cutter approach applies to everyone. Some people want to engage, others don’t. The problem with these companies (and I have worked for them) consider what they are doing to engaging the employees is the final product to judge the employee, not the output of his job.
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Hello Jeannette, we’ll I love your post and infographic. I have to say I agree with Catarina’s assessment entirely. Comparing employee engagement to voter engagmemt is spot on. Especially now. I’m sure much knowledge can be gained on the impact of not engaging. Too bad they didn’t realize it sooner.

    • Susan — well we saw what happened in the U.S. with voter engagement. One candidate did it brilliantly (and unfortunately in my view) while the other more qualified candidate didn’t. Proof that engagement works on a grand scale.