The prognosis on the American workplace today is not good.

According to the recent Gallup report titled The State of the American Workplace:

  • -Between $450 billion to $550 billion each year is lost to unproductive workers.

  • -Disengaged employees are more likely to steal, negatively influence co-workers, miss work, and drive away customers.

So, it’s possible all the hard work everybody’s putting in to move the company forward each day is merely breaking you even with the slide backward you get from disengagement.



Engaged workers are the cornerstone of the organization. They are the employees with high productivity. They’re profitable. They get stellar reviews from your customers. They’ve been with the company a long time. They’re always driving things forward.

Engaged people are super important because they are the ones who innovate, bring in new customers, and get new dollars in the door. How can you grow without them?

You probably have a few faces in mind when you think about employees that embody these qualities and behaviors.

Is it possible to turn the detached ones around, into employees like those? Employees who drive new product or service development? Who come up with ideas for new customers? Who give those new customers a call and get them in your door?



What makes for an engaged employee?

According to Gallup, engaged employees aren’t just well paid with PTO, able to take care of their doctors’ bills and enjoy flextime. Even with all those perks, employees can still “check out” and sleepwalk through their workdays, uninterested in whether the organization succeeds or not.

Engagement is not driven by the material rewards people receive. It’s emotional.

At the heart of it all, people need to know 1 thing: that they matter.



Here’s how Gallup measures whether or not employees get up every day and really care about making it happen for their companies. If the answers to these statements are yes, chances are, the employee is coming to the table with 150% of what they’ve got every day, driving things in good directions.

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Right now we’re at about 70% employee engagement, and we’re always working toward better. It’s not perfect but it’s leaps and bounds beyond the average rate. Our human-centered lean manufacturing principles have enabled us to achieve that. So we tackle a lot of what’s on this list just by being a Lean company. Full engagement of one’s talents and capabilities, and emotional respect is required to work at Xylem.


Here are a few things we work to do pretty regularly that you can start doing today to get on the road to better engagement. Who knows? Soon you might finding your employees saying yes to every statement on that list.

1. Give praise.

This one takes proactive practice. It’s easy to assume that unless you hear otherwise from someone, things are going well between you. But co-workers, managers or employees may be suffering in silence, in need of being seen and authentically appreciated for the things they’re doing right. A little “Megan, that report looks amazing, it’s so easy to see where we need to go on this project now” goes a long way.

If you don’t make it a point to give praise for all the good things people do, they start thinking, “all I do is give give give and nobody notices. Nobody cares.” Who’s going to come to the table to help you grow the company then?

Here’s an example of our CEO Greg giving me some great feedback on some cold call-type market research phone calls I’d made. I really appreciated what he said because he was right, what I’d done that day wasn’t easy. It felt really good to be acknowledged for the emotional challenges I’d overcome to get the job done.

2. Give opportunities.

As a Kaizen manufacturing company we don’t operate hierarchically. So, there’s always a seat at the table for employees who have new ideas or who want to try new things. It’s been working pretty well for us.

Let’s say you want to grow your company and there’s a person working in accounts payable who you know is really interested in business strategy. Invite her to the meetings. Tell her you value her intelligence and feel she’s got a great contribution to make. Let her tackle a few follow-up tasks. See where it goes.

3. Keep up with people’s lives. Know the details.

Ask about people’s lives and talk about them later to show you were listening and it mattered to you. Try to keep some of your focus on the other person and their lives next time you’re interacting with them. Tell yourself “it’s not just about my needs for fixing our website right now. It’s an opportunity to communicate to this person what I like about him.”

For example, if Nate went to college in Florida ask him about what it was like. If he got into alligator wrestling, mention how much easier it probably was than learning spreadsheet formulas next time you’re talking with him.

It’s not easy, but actively demonstrating that people matter to you will improve your relationships at work and garner lots of goodwill that can be channeled into dollars.