What is Engagement?
Engagement is all the rage. Why? Because engaged employees are happier and more productive. Gallup defines engagement as “A belief among employees that they’re doing meaningful work in a climate that supports personal growth and development.” Dan Pink, in his New York Times best-selling book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, analyzed four decades of engagement research to identify three key drivers; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Three ingredients for engagement:
At a practical level, engagement means:
- employees have influence over how they do their work,
- are learning and growing every day, and
- are connected to something bigger than themselves.
Companies with the most engaged employees see real business results, such as reduced turnover, improved productivity, lower safety incidents, increased wellness, higher customer satisfaction, and up to 21% higher profitability. Jim Harter, a chief scientist at Gallup Research summarized it this way, “Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant. They look out for the needs of their co-workers and the overall enterprise, because they ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”
Still, 53% of employees are not engaged, according to Gallup’s 2018 Report. Even more startling, they found that leaders account for around 70% of variance in engagement.
Leaders are largely responsible for engagement. But are they equipped with the skills and frameworks for leveraging this influence in a positive way?
I believe that compassion can be a unifying framework for leaders to drive engagement and improve business results.
A Better Definition of Compassion
The first step for leaders to tackle the engagement challenge is to adopt a full, working definition of compassion. We offer this definition that gives a practical and actionable framework for engagement:
Compassion is the practice of demonstrating that people are valuable, capable, and responsible in every interaction.
Let’s break it down. First, compassion is the practice of demonstrating. This means leaders must show it through their behavior by learning skills and cultivating habits. What are the behaviors? Those that reinforce value, capability, and responsibility. All three. Not one, but all three.
Reinforcing value means believing that people are inherently worthwhile, treating them with respect and dignity, and creating a safe space where they can share what they are really feeling without fear of judgment. Safety matters for engagement.
How leaders can drive engagement by reinforcing value
- Ask people how they are doing, and listen without judgment
- Invite and affirm sharing of emotions
- Empathize through shared experiences
- Never discount or minimize a person’s emotions
- Get vulnerable yourself, and ask for help
- Support your employees emotionally
Reinforcing a person’s value drives engagement because they know you care and their self-confidence goes up so. When people feel safe, they will exert more effort, take healthy risks, and extend that same support to their teammates.
Reinforcing capability means believing that everyone can contribute in some way, and looking for opportunities to help them learn, grow, and participate. Curiosity and contribution matter for engagement.
How leaders can drive engagement by reinforcing capability
- Ask curious, open-ended questions
- Learn about your employee’s strengths and passions
- Build on past success
- Turn failure into opportunities to learn and grow
- Experiment with ideas, no strings attached
- Share information that could help someone else
- Ask employees to teach you something new
- Invite and challenge employees to learn new things
Reinforcing a person’s capability increases engagement because higher self-efficacy leads to more effort, more autonomy, and more responsibility. People who are treated as capable will take more initiative to problem-solve on their own.
Reinforcing responsibility means focusing on what matters most and following through with it. This requires leaders to connect employee behavior to the big picture, walk the talk, and hold people accountable for their contribution. Consistency and purpose matter for engagement.
How leaders can drive engagement by reinforcing responsibility
- Clarify the most important goals, standards, and principles and share them regularly
- Help employees connect their passions and strengths to the company’s purpose
- Keep your promises
- Be someone your employees can count on to support them
- Hold employees accountable without blaming or attacking them
Reinforcing responsibility drives engagement because employees have more ownership over results and loyalty to the company. Like Jim Harter said, they are more attentive and vigilant. They lookout for the needs of their co-workers and the overall enterprise because they ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.
What about younger generations?
Approaching engagement using a compassion framework works remarkably well with younger generations because it balances self-fulfillment with service to others, emphasizes personal growth and team contribution, and it allows alignment with purpose with sacrificing autonomy.
Compassion is the secret sauce for engagement
Compassion starts with the assumption that everyone is valuable, capable, and responsible. It taps into the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of human experience. It recognizes that different people are motivated differently. It balances self-care with helping others. And, it can be learned. This is why compassion is the secret sauce for engagement.
Learn more about how to reverse the drain of negativity and engage differently for breakthrough results. Visit: https://thecompassionmindset.com/
 Harter, J. (2018). Employee Engagement On the Rise In The US. Gallup, August 26, 2018.
 Baldoni, J. (2013). Employee Engagement Does More Than Boost Productivity. Harvard Business Review, July 2013.
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