Feature Article - November/December 2010

People Power

The Value of Engagement

By Rick Dandes

Fully engaged and satisfied employees are persistent, proactive and consistently make decisions that are in line with their company's strategic goals and objectives.

This can be a crucial factor in an organization's survival, particularly during tough economic times. And when conditions improve, engaged employees are even more valuable, making their company stronger and better prepared to take advantage of future opportunities.

"When we consider an engaged employee, we think of an inspired individual with a strong desire to be part of the values their organization creates," said Deanna Baker, vice president, human resources and employee development, InteliSpend Prepaid Solutions (formerly American Express Incentive Solutions), of St. Louis. "It's the term 'above and beyond' personified through a profound connection to the company and constantly thinking about how their role can make things better."

No question, there is great power in a fully engaged employee. And, the more fully engaged employees you have on board, the more powerful your organization's performance will be.

But, over the past few years, layoffs and cutbacks have taken a toll on the workforce. The cost-cutting, belt-tightening measures used by some employers to deal with the recession have left many businesses with disengaged, rather than engaged employees.

An article in The Economist ("Overstretched," May 22, 2010) painted an even darker picture: Disengagement as an employee condition is growing rapidly, particularly among high-potential top performers.

"That is an alarming trend," said Mike Ryan, senior vice president, marketing and client strategy for New York City-based Madison Performance Group and president of the Performance Improvement Council.

"The reason for the disengagement is that employers are looking to get more with less," Ryan added. "Top performers are getting to the point where they are feeling overstretched and underappreciated."

If engaged employees bring peak performance to your organization, what happens when they become disengaged? What does it mean for an employee to be disengaged?

"A disengaged employee," Baker explained, "is going through the motions without energy. The motivation switch in them has 'turned off,' so to speak."

Finding ways to power up employee engagement is critical if you want to remain competitive and keep your business running smoothly. So, what can be done?

Effectively structured incentive programs can play a key role in powering up employee engagement. Motivation experts generally agree that engagement improves when employees and customers are recognized and rewarded.

But how do employers really know when an employee is fully and psychologically engaged? In one case, an employee might be totally motivated and not achieve as much as another employee, who achieves good results, but is not completely engaged.