Reconnect Your Workers to Their Work

by Rob Marchalonis

Employment and engagement data differs widely.  With recent unemployment data in the mid-single-digits (currently around 4.9% according to the Department of Labor), it would be tempting to believe that all is well in today’s workplace.  But this high-profile data only reveals one aspect of employment in America.  Yes, employment is in relatively positive territory, but other data reveals that employee “engagement” is shockingly low. Engagement measures are designed to quantify employee involvement, enthusiasm and commitment to their work, co-workers and employer. According to experts and 2016 tracking data at Gallup1, less than one-third of employees in the United States are engaged!  (Of some consolation, measures are far worse outside the US where only 13% of employees who work for an organization are considered to be engaged.)  Shockingly, Gallup data from 2014 indicated that 17.5% of employees were “actively-disengaged” 2.  This means that some of the individuals you believe are now working for you may actually be updating their resume, shopping online, ordering a latte, or simply daydreaming.  Further per Gallup, Millennials measure only 29% engaged3.  This key group, soon to dominate the workforce and very likely vital to your future, currently makes up 38% of the U.S. workforce with some estimates they will comprise as much as 75% by 2025.  Bottom line, while your employees may be AT work physically, there is evidence that most are not INTO their work mentally.

Why engagement matters.  Engagement is an essential strategy to enhance your workplace environment and results.  Healthy work environments are increasingly relevant, because they allow you to recruit, hire, motivate, and retain the best talent.  Talent is a resource that can rise above all others to determine your success.  Talent untapped however, can doom you to failure.  All of my research and experience indicates that true talent wants true engagement.  Talented individuals want more than participation;  they want to contribute to the planning, preparation, implementation, and rewards of the enterprise.  Like a gifted and confident athlete, they want to “carry the ball” and “enjoy the victories”.  Engaged employees understand the importance of results and they are committed to achieving them.  They don’t lean into these challenges blindly, but rather with a heightened sense of ownership and passion.  At the highest levels, talented and committed employees rise above self, realizing that teamwork and synergy allows them to accomplish greater objectives together that would be impossible to achieve alone.

What is your experience with workplace engagement?  What means are you using to measure the involvement, enthusiasm, and commitment of your employees?  Keep in mind both hard and soft indicators such as these to quantify engagement in your workplace:

  1. Exit interviews.
  2. One-to-one meetings.
  3. Employee surveys.
  4. Performance results.

One top-line engagement indicator is employee retention.  How many employees have resigned or departed against your wishes? Be sure to exit interview each one and encourage transparent feedback. Ask questions about personal fulfillment and engagement to discover opportunities for improvement. Even better, before key employees depart, consider regular one-to-one meetings with them to connect, communicate, and understand mutual wants, needs and expectations. Employee surveys are a relatively simple, consistent, and effective way to solicit worker feedback. Consider the state-wide Best Places to Work program ( which offers a well-structured employee survey and provides comparison and benchmark data for reference.  Performance indicators are my favorite engagement metrics.  Several of these include sales, profit, and productivity per employee.

What to do with engagement feedback.  As your employees reveal their level of and desire for engagement, will you know how to respond?  Don’t let their input fall on deaf ears.  Listen to their concerns, merge them with your organization’s objectives, and commit to finding ways to achieve win-win outcomes.  Include your workgroup leaders in the process and encourage collaboration.  Engagement is significantly dependent on your leaders and their day-to-day connection with peers, subordinates, clients, and other stakeholders.  Train them to develop their communication, coaching, and leadership skills.  Emphasize that engagement is an ongoing process and not a once-a-year event.

Most employees want to do great work in a healthy environment.  After years of experience and leadership roles in various business, non-profit, and volunteer organizations, I believe that most employees genuinely want to do great work and their personal best. Many times this happens. Sadly, when it doesn’t it is often due to unhealthy or weak leadership, strategy, or processes. It’s easy for leaders to lose connection with their workforce, leaving them feeling unheard, disrespected, and unappreciated.  Leaders would serve themselves and their organizations well to keep in mind the following list of employee needs, wants, and expectations I’ve learned and compiled over 25 years.

What Engaged Employees Need, Want, and Expect:

  • Respect & Appreciation
  • Connection & Belonging
  • Clear Expectations
  • Structure & Organization
  • Safety, Security, & Stability
  • Compensation & Benefits
  • Training & Development
  • Career Opportunities
  • Freedom & Flexibility
  • Fun
  • Purpose

Engage by IncentSharing®Consider incentives as a way to motivate your team and boost your results.  Few engagement approaches are as powerful as “sharing your success” with contributing team members.  Incentives can help you tap into the enormous potential and under-used capacity of your employees.  If you can find a way to share a portion of your success, where your team benefits proportionally to the gains or improvements they make, you can unleash employee potential like you never before imagined.    When success is shared, effort, teamwork, productivity, and more can rise significantly, resulting in better outcomes and prosperity for all stakeholders.  Learn more about incentives and custom variable-compensation plans at

Leaders, don’t assume that employment equals engagement.  Realize that engagement may be the simplest way to unleash individual talent and collective teamwork.  Be deliberate about connecting with your workforce, listening to their feedback, and integrating their input each day.  Provide healthy environments within which your team can do the great work they desire.  Know that much of what employees want costs less than you realize financially, but more than you may realize relationally.  Share your success with incentives to focus team effort and lift motivation.  Why settle for everyday employment, employees, and results when you can achieve amazing prosperity through empowerment, encouragement, and engagement?

Rob Marchalonis is the founder of IncentShare and author of IncentShare: Motivate, Recruit, and Get Results with Incentives, now available at Amazon. Connect with him at 

  1. Mann, A., & Harter, J. (2016, January 07). The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis. Retrieved September 19, 2016, from
  2. Adkins, A. (2015, January 28). Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014. Retrieved September 19, 2016, from
  3. Rigoni, J., & Nelson, B. (2016, August 30). Few Millennials Are Engaged at Work. Retrieved September 19, 2016, from