Employee Engagement Starts with Culture

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employee engagement, motivation, motivating employees, workplace culture, leadership

Research consistently shows that customer service, innovation, and meeting organizational goals are natural outcomes when employee engagement is high. In our book, The Culture Question, my co-authors and I conducted a survey of over 2,400 people to explore what makes a workplace healthy and engaging. When we asked participants about what makes them feel engaged at work, we heard a unified and consistent answer – culture matters.

Unfortunately, employee engagement is currently at an all-time low. Statistics tell us that 63 percent of employees are not engaged, and that 24 percent are actively disengaged (Gallup, Inc., 2013, “State of the Global Workforce”). That’s a lot of people who aren’t particularly interested in doing the jobs they have been hired to do – 87 percent in fact. That leaves a mere 13 percent of the workforce who are engaged and doing their tasks with energy and enthusiasm. In trying to make sense of this predicament, we hear statements like, “There is a lack of talent to draw from,” or “This generation just doesn’t know how to work!” But we need to stop looking to lay blame and start making some changes.

Employees don’t intrinsically lack motivation; rather, their organizations haven’t created environments where people like to work.

Is it even possible that 87 percent of people in the workforce are naturally lazy or incompetent? Or could something else be perpetuating these statistics? At ACHIEVE, we believe that there is. Our consulting work, our experience as an organization, and our conversations with leaders from a wide variety of industries have shown us that culture plays a large role in employee engagement.

We recently worked with a large organization that, after years of success, could no longer meet industry standards. Employees were disgruntled, sick leave had dramatically increased, and clients were not getting the service they expected. Management had already removed several of the “bad apples,” and when this was unsuccessful, they got rid of a few more. Then, to the organization’s surprise, several staff opted to leave on their own – employee engagement was at an all-time low.

Although the organization felt they had “dealt with” the 87 percent, they were left with a dwindling and exhausted workforce. The vacant positions were filled, which initially brought a burst of energy, but they soon found themselves back at square one. They were unsure of how to make things better, so they decided to ask employees what they needed. To their surprise, employees shared that they wanted to do better, give more, and make the company successful. However, staff also shared that they were unhappy with the workplace culture.

 Customer service, innovation, and meeting organizational goals are natural outcomes when employee engagement is high. 

Management often wonders how they can promote employee engagement. As leaders, the onus is on us to create workplaces where people are able to give their best efforts. People often know what they need to feel supported in their work – we just need to listen. Employees don’t intrinsically lack motivation; rather, their organizations need to create environments where people like to work.


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Wendy Loewen

Wendy is an author from ACHIEVE’s new book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. The book is available now in hardcover, e-book and audio book.

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