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Employee Engagement: The Key to a Strong Culture
Sep 23, 2019 - Joe White, Director, AEU LEAD

Employee engagement is one of the most important human factors impacting operational performance. By definition, it’s the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work. In practice, it’s a direct measure of how employees feel about their jobs and a reflection of how those feelings impact them.

The subject of an enormous amount of research over the past few decades, employee engagement has a clear connection to some of the most challenging pain points companies experience and is a leading indicator of turnover in personnel, productivity and efficiency rates, and customer satisfaction.

As a front-line leader, you have a tremendous amount of influence on employee engagement. In fact, there’s probably few within your organization that have more impact on your direct reports than you – be it good or bad. That’s the stone-cold truth.

As an example, of the employees that voluntarily leave jobs, roughly half do so to escape their direct supervisor. As for reasons given, about 75% indicate it’s because they don’t feel valued or appreciated. Employee engagement is deeply rooted and highly reflected in the relationships that exist between employees and first-line supervisors. As such, it’s a great place to start when trying to improve the employee experience and the downstream benefits those improvements can provide.        


Offer Opportunities
A sense of purpose is important to most employees. By seeking their help to resolve challenges, overcome barriers, and develop operational strategies, employees form a connection between themselves and critical performance objectives. When and where possible, provide them opportunities for involvement and input. Also, look for learning and development opportunities that could result in personal growth for employees. By providing these experiences, employees develop additional skills further enhancing their sense of purpose and connection with their job.


Show Value and Appreciation
Surveys consistently confirm employees don’t feel valued or appreciated. Additionally, many supervisors admittedly struggle with the process of demonstrating it. While most on the front line readily acknowledge the need for it, few have the knowledge or skills required to effectively do it.

When showing value and appreciation for employees, one must first understand how it differs from recognizing performance. Value and appreciation are shown for the individual. Recognition is best suited for acknowledging performance outcomes.

As noted in the previous section, employees need a sense of purpose. What exactly is it about the individual that you value or appreciate most? Is it their experience, their insight, their candid or painfully honest opinion? Is it their ability to anticipate barriers or to handle challenging circumstances? Whatever it is, let them know. Be specific and avoid generalized jargon that may hide or disguise your true observations involving the individual. Equally as important, when showing value or appreciation, it must be personalized. While some may appreciate being publicly acknowledged in front of peers, others may find it uncomfortable. By getting to know your employees individually and establishing rapport with them in advance, you will find it much easier to align your expression of appreciation with their personality. Whatever you do, make sure it’s sincere. Employees have a strong intuition about what’s real or fake. Done properly, value and appreciation are a strong source of motivation. Otherwise, it feels like manipulation – a caustic and damaging outcome that you want to avoid.


Give Constructive Feedback
Employees want and appreciate routine feedback regarding how they’re doing. They also need ongoing input on ways they can improve when performance falls short of desired outcomes. Whereas value and appreciation are provided based on individual qualities and traits, constructive feedback is given based on performance outcomes opposite job or behavior expectations. While this process seems simple enough, it’s routinely missing in application.

When feedback regarding performance outcomes is warranted, it must be communicated in a manner that is both relevant and in perspective. Relevance ensures a connection is made between performance outcomes and job or behavior expectations. Having perspective provides a holistic viewpoint of the matter being discussed. If you wish to provide feedback to an employee who failed to use a required tool or piece of equipment properly, you need to first understand why they did so. This is a clear case where seeking to understand first far outweighs the potential cost of prematurely seeking to be understood.

Feedback is most effective when it’s given in real time. While this isn’t always practical, it’s an important standard to strive towards. Time and distance between actions and feedback are indirectly related. The more time that elapses, the less impact feedback will have on the targeted behaviors in need of modification. This is one of the primary reasons annual performance reviews have lost favor as a tool for performance management with many organizations. If feedback is deemed necessary, don’t sit on it too long.

The path forward and subsequent outcomes are what ultimately ties this element back to employee engagement. Action items resulting from feedback received should ideally involve mutual agreement between the supervisor and employee. They should also convey a sense of ownership and responsibility for changes the employee will make. Employees grow from the experience and develop respect for those leading them through the process. All these factors contribute to a positive experience for your employees.


Growing employee engagement is more important than ever, given the challenges organizations face in attracting and retaining skilled labor. The process involved isn’t complicated, but it does require efforts to interact with employees on a routine basis. Provide ongoing opportunities for involvement and input, show value and appreciation for individual strengths, and give feedback on performance outcomes when needed. Do this often and employee engagement will respond accordingly. Sustain it over time and you will gain a competitive advantage directly impacting the bottom line and improving your organization’s strength in the marketplace.


As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.
The opinions and comments expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the opinion of ALMA, The American Equity Underwriters, Inc., AEU LEAD or Amwins. None of the aforementioned parties or the authors are responsible for any inaccuracy of content or for any loss or damages incurred by any party as a result of reliance on information contained in this article. Content may not be published or reproduced without the written consent of the authors. Prior articles may not be updated for accuracy as pertinent information changes over time. The AEU LEAD blog is intended to provide general information and should not be construed as legal advice.
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