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I write about wholehearted leadership and employee engagement. full bio →

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I'm a serial entrepreneur whose companies have won both Inc 500 and Best Place to Work awards. I'm also a NY Times bestselling author and speaker. My newest book is Employee Engagement 2.0. To download free chapters visit my website at

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The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Leadership 160,359 views

What Is Employee Engagement

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What is employee engagement anyway? Let’s start with what it’s not

Employee engagement does not mean employee happiness. Someone might be happy at work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are working hard, productively on behalf of the organization. While company game rooms, free massages and Friday keg parties are fun–and may be beneficial for other reasons–making employees happy is different from making them engaged.

Employee engagement doesn’t mean employee satisfaction. Many companies have “employee satisfaction” surveys and executives talk about “employee satisfaction”, but the bar is set too low. A satisfied employee might show up for her daily 9-to-5 without complaint. But that same “satisfied” employee might not go the extra effort on her own, and she’ll probably take the headhunter’s call luring her away with a 10% bump in pay. Satisfied isn’t enough.

Definition: Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.

This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.

When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort.

This means the engaged computer programmer works overtime when needed, without being asked. This means the engaged retail clerk picks up the trash on the store floor, even if the boss isn’t watching. This means the TSA agent will pull a bag suspicious bag to be searched, even if it’s the last bag on their shift.

Engaged employees lead to better business outcomes. In fact, according to Towers Perrin research companies with engaged workers have 6% higher net profit margins, and according to Kenexa research engaged companies have five times higher shareholder returns over five years.

How does employee engagement lead to higher stock prices? The ROI of engagement comes from what I call the Engagement-Profit Chain:

Engaged Employees lead to

   higher service, quality, and productivity, which leads to…

      higher customer satisfaction, which leads to…

         increased sales (repeat business and referrals), which leads to…

            higher levels of profit, which leads to…

               higher shareholder returns (i.e., stock price)

As former Campbell’s Soup CEO, Doug Conant, once said, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”

Check out, Employee Engagement for Everyone: 4 Keys to Happiness & Engagement at Work by NY Times bestselling author Kevin Kruse.

Read more:

Manage Or Lead? Do Both. 

The Real Job Creators: Consumers

The Case For Hiring ‘Under-Qualified’ Employees

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  • spacer Ben Simonton 2 years ago


    Very clear and very well stated.

    Unfortunately, there is a lot of bum dope out there about engagement. Not knowing what it is is bad enough, but very very few actually know how to achieve it. As Professor John Oliver wrote in the report “Engaging For Success”, “Ninety-nine percent of failure to engage staff is down to management behaviour”.

    The times when I achieved a fully engaged workforce, I eschewed top-down and used the approach of meeting the five basic needs of all people: to be heard, to be respected, and to have competence, autonomy, and relatedness (purpose). It worked like a charm, productivity rose by over 300%, morale was sky high, and most literally loved to come to work.

    Best regards, Ben
    Author “Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed”

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  • spacer sandra_lombardi 2 years ago

    Completely agree with Ben. I’ve seen management focusing on one or two of these five basic needs but it is often rare to see a consistent pattern for all five of them. Truth is, management prioritizes things differently and although this is understandable (for most employees), it is never a good enough excuse.

    Perhaps a distributed approach where team leaders are tasked with becoming internal collaborators as opposed to ‘being the boss’ can get them close enough to their employees so that their needs are not easily forgotten. It would take a lot of time and conscious effort but it s achievable. Open communication is also key.

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  • spacer Kevin Kruse, Contributor 2 years ago

    Ben (and Sandra!), great minds think alike! :-)

    Too many engagement efforts fail because they are top down initiatives. To modify and old saying, “People join companies but get disengaged by bosses.” Front-line leaders hold the key to engagement, and as you proved with your “five basic needs” it doesn’t require much time or money to address this. Thanks for the comment.

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  • spacer Joan M. Mathew 2 years ago

    Good, thought-provoking article here. I agree with Ben’s comments, but I would also submit the following thoughts:

    1) engaged employees will tend to become disengaged over the long term if they are not happy, which all ties in with the five basic needs Ben mentioned above. Loyal is neither affiliated with the authors of this page nor responsible for its contents. This is a safe-cache copy of the original web site.