How Smart Companies Are Keeping Employees Engaged

Although “employee engagement” is one of the most popular workplace topics, it may only be a catchphrase at many companies. According to a 2020 Gallup Poll, 36% of workers report being engaged, 51% are not engaged, and 13% are actively disengaged.

The term "engaged" means people who are highly involved in, enthusiastic, and committed to their work and workplace. "Not engaged" refers to people who are psychologically unattached to their work and company and who are looking for other jobs. Those who are actively disengaged have awful work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their co-workers.

A Gallup Poll revealed that millennials are the least engaged generation in the workforce, followed by Generation X, baby boomers, and traditionalists (the Silent Generation).

As baby boomers and traditionalists (the Silent Generation) retire, companies need to understand how to engage a younger and radically different workforce—especially millennials, who have surpassed Generation X as the largest generation of employees. While lucrative wages are important to millennials, other factors are just as critical for millennial employees. 

Key Takeaways

  • Many employees, especially millennials and younger workers, do not feel engaged in the workplace, according to recent research.
  • Disengaged workers can lead to a drop in morale and innovation in the workplace, and productivity and revenue overall. 
  • Ways employers can keep employees engaged include allowing them to be individuals instead of forcing them to conform and keeping employees in the loop insofar as corporate developments and company news.
  • Employers can provide training and other opportunities for employees to improve skills, and give their employees reasons to be proud of the company, rather than just focusing on the shareholders.
  • Employers can also help employees see how their work fits into the company's big picture, and have rules and policies that are understandable and consistently applied across the workforce.

Engaged vs. Disengaged Workers

Autumn Manning, an Austin, Texas-based technology entrepreneur and former CEO of YouEarnedIt, conducted an employee engagement survey published in Strategic HR Review that reveals three distinctions between engaged and disengaged employees. The distinctions are:

Engaged Employees

  • Want to feel like a part of the team
  • Want real-time feedback
  • Prefer perks and rewards such as happy hour and group yoga to money or paid time off

Disengaged Employees

  • Don’t have opportunities to interact with co-workers
  • Are subject to bad managers
  • Only receive annual performance reviews

Some companies do not seem to understand the importance of keeping employees engaged. It’s not uncommon to find managers and executives who say, “You should just be glad you have a job,” or “I don’t care how you feel about your job–just do it.”

However, disengaged workers largely determine an organization's success. When your employees aren’t happy at work, they don’t care about meeting goals, providing great customer service, or increasing revenue. In fact, another Gallup Poll revealed that lost productivity costs American businesses anywhere from $450 billion to $550 billion a year, so it's crucial for employers to keep employees engaged.

6 Ways to Keep Employees Engaged

So how can companies create the type of workplace where employees feel engaged?

“Creating the Best Workplace on Earth,” a Harvard Business Review report, asked this question hundreds of times over the course of three years and determined that there are six important ways to engage employees. Investopedia asked a few experts to weigh-in on each point.

Just over one-third of workers in a recent Gallup Poll said that they were engaged, or highly enthusiastic about the workforce, while the remaining nearly two-thirds of workers surveyed were either not engaged or actively disengaged.

1. Let People Be Themselves

Allow your employees to be individuals instead of forcing them into stereotypical categories. Employees are comfortable if they have the freedom to look and think differently. Blake Moore is the owner of mo marketing + pr, a Detroit-based marketing agency that primarily hires millennials. Moore tells Investopedia, “Millennial behavior is perceived as idiosyncratic and, even unpredictable.” Moore says embracing the millennial mindset may be the difference between successfully interacting with them putting up communication barriers.

In short, it’s important to treat employees as individuals. Recently, the Center for Generational Kinetics named accounting firm Porter Keadle Moore one of the Best Places to Work for Millennials. Christie Bell, the firm's director of human resources says, “You can’t take a broad stroke approach—you really have to get to know each individual as a person.” Bell notes that it is important to make an emotional connection with each employee and says that leaders need to work on building relationships with their staff.  

2. Unleash the Flow of Information

Always tell your employees what’s going on–even if it’s bad news. And your leaders should want to hear the truth from their employees–even if it’s not flattering. If employees are not penalized for pointing out negatives about the company, this fosters an environment where employees feel that they have a real voice. Moore says millennials want to be treated as collaborators, not underlings. He says they have strong opinions about what they want in the workplace and will fight for what they believe in.

Bell also notes that communication is essential if you want to keep millennial employees engaged: “Be as open as possible. Provide regular feedback that is positive and constructive."

For some companies, this may require changing the traditional feedback process.

Sherry Dixon, senior vice president at staffing firm Randstad in Atlanta, Georgia, says baby boomers are accustomed to receiving feedback during annual or biannual reviews. However, this practice is different from how millennials like to be managed, says Dixon: “Given millennials’ desire for upward mobility, they are likely to ask for feedback regularly, rather than waiting for an annual performance review.” Dixon says this type of regular open dialogue keeps employees more engaged in their work. 

Millennials are the least engaged of all the generations surveyed in the workplace, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

3. Magnify People’s Strengths

Allow good employees to develop their skills, and allow underperforming employees to improve their performance. Companies can achieve this by providing training and coaching opportunities to help workers develop their skills and abilities, and add more value to the organization.

Career growth is one of the most important job aspects for young professionals, says Dixon: “There is no doubt that Millennials are ambitious. With entrepreneurial role models like Mark Zuckerberg, millennials dream big.” Bell says it’s important to make sure that your star performers know that they are stars. She advises companies to be intentional about crafting individual career plans for their employees, provide mentoring opportunities, and create pathways for staff to be promoted.

Additionally, Bell warns leaders against making the mistake of assuming that employees who “don’t do it the same way that I did” are lazy or incompetent. Instead, companies need to embrace different ways of solving problems or completing tasks.

4. Stand for More Than Shareholder Value

Give employees something to believe in, aside from a paycheck. Make the organization a place that workers are proud to be associated with. According to Moore, millennials want to give a damn about the work, and align their morals with those of a moral organization.” Moore feels many companies may not understand how important this concept is: “When the workload merges with our combined personal interests, a personal brand emerges. And when it means something to all of us, it means something to others.” As a result, Moore says the ability to make that connection separates good ideas, and even great ideas, from white noise. 

5. Show How the Daily Work Makes Sense

Give employees work that adds value instead of having them perform meaningless tasks. Also, make sure that they understand the importance of their job and how it fits in the big picture. Moore says he realizes that his company’s millennial team members bring unique views, brainpower, and insight that help to shape recommendations and best practices for the future.

6. Have Rules People Can Believe In

Rules and company policies are necessary, but there should be an easily understood reason for them. Also, rules should be consistently applied to everyone in the organization.

Moore warns that attempts to micromanage millennials will likely end in disappointment: “From structuring tasks and schedules to maintaining deadlines and deliverables for clients, millennials don’t want or need a lot of hand-holding, so micromanagers beware, you may have to change your whole approach.”

The Bottom Line

Keeping your employees engaged is critical to your organization’s success. Knowing how to engage them as well as what practices to avoid can help you create a team of workers excited to use their talents to meet the company’s goals.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Gallup. "U.S. Employee Engagement Reverts Back to Pre-COVID-19 Levels."

  2. Gallup. "Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged."

  3. Manning, A. "Unlocking the power of employee happiness: what top employees seek from the workplace today." Strategic HR Review, Vol. 15 No. 4, Pages 191-192.

  4. Gallup. "How to Tackle U.S. Employees' Stagnating Engagement."

  5. Harvard Business Review. "Creating the Best Workplace on Earth."

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