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As organizations seek new ways to increase success, it might surprise some that employee disengagement costs businesses in the US more than $300 billion each year. Although the figure might be a bit shocking at first, after further consideration it makes perfect sense. The cost of unfocused, unmotivated and unhappy employees takes a ridiculous toll on business. In assessing your own staff, you hope that the majority of your workforce fall outside of that camp. In reality, that is likely not the case. Gallup Management Journal found that more than 2/3 of the workforce is not fully engaged in their work .

The effects of unengaged workers can devastate an organization over time. The interesting study captured in “Creativity on the Job,” provides one glaring example of the negative effects. Some of the other devastating downfalls of disengagement include:

• Marginalized Performance
• Conflict and Resentment within the Team
• Lack of Productivity
• Loss of Customer Satisfaction and Retention
• Decreased Employee Satisfaction and Retention
• Decrease in Profitability

Let’s drive this news home. One study compared highly engaged business units to un-engaged units and found that the engaged groups rated 86% higher in customer satisfaction, had a 78% higher safety record, maintained a 70% lower turnover rate, delivered a 70% higher productivity rate and scored 44% more in profitability (Source: Follow This Path, C. Coffman and G. Gonzalez-Molina, 2002). The good news for leaders is that untapped potential of disengaged employees can be turned around. In the rest of this article, we will highlight key strategies to increase the engagement of your staff and the success of your organization.

• Hire Right – The most important decision leaders make is bringing the right talent through the doors of the organization. The right talent means finding a fit between what the job, team, and organization needs and what the employee brings to the table. Too often, leaders hire people they “like” in the interview. The “like” factor creates a personality fit, but commonly misses several other important success factors. We recommend utilizing a comprehensive performance assessment to help objectify the hiring process. An assessment that measures personality, motivation and competency provides the highest level of superior job performance predictability.

• Honor Whole Person – Employees don’t want to be used simply as a vehicle for corporate success. Engaging leaders truly care about workers as unique people. Employees engage when you demonstrate that you authentically care about and are interested in them, their family and their career.

• Honor Competency – In the 21st century, almost all jobs require some level of individual creativity, leadership and decision-making autonomy. An engaging leader understands that employees often have better answers to their own work issues than the boss does. As a leader, honor the competency of your employees by slowing down and asking them to share their opinions and ideas. Teach and coach them to think and create solutions themselves.

• Establish a Partnership Environment – Employees typically want to experience the success of achieving a cause bigger than themselves. However, most organizations miss opportunities to include employees in achieving the vision, mission, and values of the company. Employee meetings are good vehicles for sharing information, but not sufficient. Information and dialogue must flow freely through all levels of leadership to the most entry-level employee. We also recommend transparency of an organizations financial status when possible. Engaging leaders treat employees as partners in the business.

• Encourage Healthy Dialogue – One of the most difficult skills to master in any relationship is healthy dialogue. The majority of people tend to shy away from disagreements and conflict. Engaging leaders master the art of facilitating respectful and open dialogue that honors and encourages differing views. This type of environment not only fosters engagement, it also produces healthier business decisions and increased profitability.

• Resource Properly – Once employees are motivated to perform, it becomes critical that engaging leaders provide all the resources employees need to be successful. These resources include; systems infrastructure (such as IT), financial funding, tools/equipment, information, and skills/abilities. An engaging leader makes it a priority to help employees obtain the resources they need to get the job done.

• Ensure Accountability – When performance or interpersonal issues are not addressed, the team’s morale suffers. The impact of just one un-engaged employee can be devastating to the overall engagement of a department or team. High performance teams within organizations operate just like a winning sports team. Those that win are working together as a cohesive and engaged team. Losing teams may have a few individual stars, but no one performs at their best – not even the stars. Great leaders deal with performance issues to ensure the entire team is functioning at its full potential.

• In implementing new strategies as leaders, you might encounter some initial resistance. We encourage you to persist. It takes time for employees to understand, embrace, and adapt to change. Engaging leaders continually seek business improvements and ways to maximize the potential of those they lead. Just think – your “star” employee may be the next leader. Additionally, your least engaged employee, once fostered, may end up being your next “star”. Engaging leaders see the untapped potential in their employees and deploy strategies to bring out the best in every person/team.