Are Your Employees Engaged?

by Greg Phillips

I was having a coffee recently with good friend Dr. Ken Standfield and we were discussing “employee engagement” in the workplace. Ken’s credentials are way too long to list however suffice to say he is the world’s leading authority on Intangible Management, an international best selling author and has been described as, “the new management genius of our time who will be as profound to management science as Einstein was to Physics.” Specifically, we were discussing the low engagement level of Australian employees and wondering why so many organisations aren’t doing enough to fix the problem. For example, we agreed that 100 fully engaged people would easily be more productive than 150 disengaged people and that’s probably being conservative.

The interesting thing is that if I started to speak to most CEO’s about employee engagement, I would probably struggle to hold their attention for long. Yet research links employee engagement scores above 60% with higher shareholder return and higher customer satisfaction. What if I mentioned this research or if I asked, “How would you like to reduce your wages cost by over 30%?” or “How would you like to improve productivity by over 30%?” Would that get their attention? I think we know the answer.

There are different levels of engagement in the workplace and the following is my interpretation of the major levels. There will be other opinions; the following is simply mine and therefore not necessarily the only accurate interpretation. Employees can be either:

Actively Engaged:        Achieving above and beyond
Engaged:                      Achieving satisfactorily
Disengaged:                 Doing the minimum
Actively Disengaged:   Actively hurting the organisation

So, what does this mean?

Actively Engaged employees are the top achievers. They are always looking for ways to do their job better and for the organisation to succeed and prosper. Whether or not they are in a leadership position, they encourage others. They get things done and then look for more to do. They are exceptionally proud of their work and the organisation. They are passionate and are the epitome of the “Company man/woman”.

Engaged employees are satisfactorily engaged in their role. They have a clear understanding of what is required of them and they are happy to do it. They strive to do everything well and they generally enjoy their work.

Disengaged employees are just getting by. They generally do just enough to survive in their job. They like to stay under the radar. They know the rules, are clock watchers and do the minimum. They take sick days when they are not sick.

Actively Disengaged employees will get away with whatever they can. They are constantly looking for ways to “get away with things”. They expend more energy finding ways to do less than they expend actually doing their job. They are a negative influence on others and regularly damage the organisation by infecting others with the “disease of limitations”. These employees actively undermine the good work done by engaged employees. They can best be compared to white ants – they destroy the organisation from the inside, are clever at hiding the damage they are doing and if allowed to survive for long, will bring the whole structure to a crumbling mess.

So, how endemic is the problem of disengaged employees? Research results demonstrate the very high cost to business of disengaged employees:
A Right Management Consultants survey found that two-thirds of employees are not engaged in their jobs. Research by the Gallup Organisation found that 75% of workers are either Disengaged or Actively Disengaged at work.

And don’t be fooled into assuming that Disengaged and Actively Disengaged employees are just at the lower levels on the organisational chart – they exist at the highest levels of management as well. Research in the U.S.A. by Towers Perrin HR Services found that only 55% of executives were highly engaged while at middle management level just 20% of supervisors were highly engaged. While this is not Australian research, it would be naïve to believe the problem doesn’t exist here.

So, I hear you ask, how can we find Actively Engaged Employees? You can find them if your recruitment process is exceptional, which unfortunately is not the case in many organisations. Mostly you create Actively Engaged Employees through culture and more specifically, leadership. The simple fact is that even if you employ someone who is normally Actively Engaged they will soon become only Engaged and then possibly Disengaged in a poorly led organisation.

There is a lot we could discuss on this subject far beyond the capacity of a brief article. For example, Engaged employees provide better customer service, are retained longer as employees and make succession planning easy. Of course, there are always the points I raised earlier about improved shareholder return, reduced wages costs and improved productivity. My purpose within the limitations of this short article is to get you thinking about the subject of Employee Engagement. The following checklist can help get you started:


  1. How thorough is your process?
  2. Are you asking behavioural questions in interviews? There is often too much emphasis on only technical questions.
  3. What is the quality of your reference check procedure?
  4. Is your psychometric tool able to measure ‘natural behaviour’ compared to ‘adjusted behaviour’? (Everyone can adjust behaviour in the short term, especially for an interview). If you’re not using a psychometric tool go back to point 1. If you’re using an online tool which can be administered by someone who has not undergone accreditation training, go back to point 1. If you’re using an instrument that doesn’t have an inbuilt results reliabilty measure for each individual assessment (most don’t), go back to point 1.

Does the leadership in your organisation focus on:

  1. The future rather than just day-to-day matters?
  2. Empowering employees rather than micro-managing them?
  3. Inspiring people rather than impressing them?
  4. Long-term or just short-term performance of employees?

So, have a look at how it applies to your organisation and consider what steps you can take to get the ball rolling and implement some strategies to improve the situation within your organisation.