Employee Engagement Begins With Recognizing Your Employees

The key to engagement is recognizing your employees with personal conversations and practical mentoring.

If you think employee engagement hit an all-time low during the Great Resignation, think again. Today’s engaged employees still comprise 32 percent of the US workforce, but quiet quitters comprise 50 percent, and the number of actively disengaged employees has risen to 18 percent.

For decades, managers have tried to reignite employee enthusiasm with espresso makers in breakrooms and treadmills at standing desks. However, Gallup’s State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders finds the solution boils down to recognition. Their research reveals that 70 percent of engagement is determined by manager/employee interaction.

Company benefits like ping pong tables, catered lunches, and unlimited PTO make great press releases, but they address only a small piece of the engagement equation. To move the needle, look at how you relate to your employees.

Benefits of recognizing your employees

You work hard to engage your employees as a manager, but things can get in the way. There are problems to solve, questions to answer, and fires to douse. As you rush to deal with daily distractions, you may be shuffling goals for employee relationships into another silo.

Ironically, research indicates that prioritizing your employee relationships may be one of the most significant investments you can make toward ensuring smooth day-to-day operations. Gallup’s research indicates that among the 25 percent of employees with the highest engagement, there is:

  • 81 percent lower absenteeism
  • 18 percent lower turnover for high-turnover organizations
  • 43 percent lower turnover for low-turnover organizations
  • 28 percent lower theft
  • 64 percent lower safety accidents
  • 41 percent lower product defects or issues in quality
  • 10 percent higher customer loyalty and engagement
  • 18 percent Higher productivity in sales
  • 23 percent higher profitability

Recognize employees by meeting regularly

Successful leaders recognize employees with regular one-on-one time. Investing time in your team demonstrates that you value them and their contribution to your company.

Currently, seven people report to me, and I meet with them individually two times each month. It’s a substantial chunk of my schedule, but it allows us to work through obstacles, discuss projects, and listen to feedback.

On the other side of the coin, the company’s CEO is my direct manager, and we meet frequently. After one of our first one-on-ones, he sent a note saying, “Logan, I’m thrilled with where you’re taking marketing. It’s like we’re the new Justice League.” I went home that day, told my family all about it, and felt ready to conquer my job as the Batman of marketing. It still affects the way I think about my job and influences the way I manage my team.

Recognize employees by building personal relationships

Employees aren’t looking for a manager who is their best friend, but they do want a manager who cares, so make time to build a working relationship with them. As you meet one-on-one or pass employees in the hall, bring up common interests like favorite sports teams, TV shows, or hobbies. Ask about their families and their weekend plans.

As you build relationships, your most significant responsibility is coaching. Your employees want you to help them find purpose and meaning in their work. They want you to recognize their accomplishments and show them how to improve. Those responsibilities fall into the realm of a coach, not a top-down supervisor.

Relate to your staff as both a manager and a mentor. When issues arise, step in and handle that problem as a manager, but spend the majority of your time coaching and building relationships.

Recognize employees by listening

Effective communication involves listening and making people feel heard. Make sure your team feels that they are free to express themselves openly.

When employees bring problems to you, take them seriously. Big problems, such as a slacking teammate, and minor problems, like a broken coffee maker, mean a lot to the person sharing. As a manager, you can either listen and give them what they asked for or listen and explain honestly why you can’t grant their request.

Recognize employees by celebrating wins

When someone on your team has a great idea, goes above and beyond, or gets a glowing review from a customer—make it known. Send a private note or announce the news in a staff meeting. Employees are engaged when they see their work has a positive impact and that others notice.

Celebrate employees as often as possible. Quarterly MVP awards aren’t enough. Although they leave one or two people feeling great, the majority feel unappreciated. Great leaders empower frontline managers to recognize employees frequently and establish a long-lasting culture of gratitude and connected employees. When the team celebrates wins, it creates a happier culture that makes employees feel invested and motivated.

Employees need more than ping pong and impersonal paychecks to be engaged with their work. The key to engagement is to recognize your employees with personal conversations and practical mentoring.

Logan Mallory
Logan Mallory is the Vice President of Marketing at the leading employee engagement and recognition software, Motivosity. Mallory is a public speaker, professor, and thought leader on culture and leadership in the workplace to achieve employee retention. Motivosity helps companies promote gratitude and connection in today's digital era of work.