What is the secret to team member engagement? That is a question every organization is asking. Just search Google for engagement, and you’ll see from the 35 million results displayed that it’s a topic companies continue to wrestle with. From free coffee in the morning to nap pods in the afternoon, companies everywhere struggle to find the right answers. But despite these efforts to engage team members, imaginative fads only last so long. Perks, much like a child’s new toy, lose their thrill after only a short time.

Engagement Does Not Equal Happiness

There is an assumption that happy team members are engaged team members, but that is not always the case. Those team members we tend to perceive as happy are often ambivalent team members with neither positive or negative views about the companies for whom they work. These ambivalent team members are damaging to morale, stifle productivity, and decrease innovation. When 51% of the U.S. workforce is not engaged, there is cause for concern.

If engagement is not measured by happiness, then how is it measured? Engagement results in better business outcomes, and those are easily measured by:

  • Retention rates
  • Customer outcomes
  • Profit

Does Your Culture Promote Engagement?

In his 2017 research report, Josh Bersin reveals that 86 % of business leaders rate culture as one of the more urgent talent issues, yet only 14 % understand what the “right” culture really is. What we do know is that it is essential to move beyond just talking about culture. For organizations to effectively compete for talent, they must be authentic, align culture and brand, and stop talking about culture without following through. You must have the elements of a successful corporate culture, in which:

People Matter. Your people must feel respected. Make sure they know how much value they offer your company. Honor them as people, not just assets. Belittling staff, creating an atmosphere of animosity, and increasing workplace stress have an enormous financial impact on businesses. According to HBR, incivility results in unhappy workers; so, be kind.

Talent Is Celebrated and People Are Empowered. Leaders who value the contributions of their teams, give credit to them for their successes, and are dedicated to developing their talent literally create more talent and innovation within their organizations.

Gratitude Is Evident. Show appreciation for a job well done. Simply saying thank you can make a big difference. Recent research has revealed that team members want respect and recognition more than they want more money. They want gratitude for their dedicated efforts. They want acknowledgement for a job well done. According to HR Zone, providing team member recognition leads to increased productivity, greater team member satisfaction, improved morale, and better teamwork.

Building High Engagement with a Culture of Trust

High engagement, defined as a strong connection with one’s work and colleagues, is only found in team members who derive meaning from daily activities. Those who find meaning in their work each day are those working for high-trust companies – and the cornerstone of a high-trust company is its workplace culture. Company culture is the root of team member engagement.

It is your workplace culture that inspires team member engagement, and trust is one element of workplace culture that can make the difference. Organizations across the world address workplace culture differently, but the same values of engaged team members are seen across the board, and trust is a top priority. There are obvious links between trust and performance, and even neuroscience has backed these claims:

“Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.”

In fact, building trust in the brain is a chemical reaction that can be fueled, but it also requires that leaders be held accountable. Culture holds everything together, and building a culture of engagement starts at the top. But why is trust so important? Without trust, the shortcomings of an organizational culture are obvious. Excellent leaders understand the benefits of incorporating trust into the workplace culture and how it can promote team member engagement. The following are known to be successful strategies:

  • Discretion – Are your team members able to make decisions in the moment? Give team members the freedom to do their jobs, and trust that they will do them well. Autonomy in their positions leads to valuable innovation.
  • Job Crafting – What are your team members passionate about? Let team members choose projects that are relevant to their interests. You’ll get better results, as well as team members who find value in daily activities.
  • Relationship Building – Engaged team members care about their colleagues. They are invested in their companies as well as the lives of those they work with, creating a committed workforce.
  • Information Sharing – Open lines of communication are one of the best tools an organization can use. There are well-defined standards and a clear path of which they are a part.
  • Vulnerability – Trust must move in every direction. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign that you value the input of your team members and recognize when you aren’t the expert.

To build a high-trust culture that leads to high engagement, leaders must consider the following:

  • Are you setting the right example? If you want your leaders to live and breathe your organizational culture, you need to set the example and be the leader you want them to be. Treat people well, encourage their participation and engagement, and regularly share the company story.
  • Are you providing constructive feedback regularly? Do you give positive and corrective feedback? Do you know what your team members want and provide development opportunities that help them get there?
  • Are your values more than a billboard? You can’t just put up motivational artwork on the walls and call it good. You need to live your values and encourage everyone in the company to do the same. Are people practicing your company values in everything that they do? Your culture should resonate in the way you hold meetings, treat each other, treat customers, and hire people.

People want an authentic corporate culture. A culture of engagement starts at the top, by establishing connections between personal and organization values. Without the right workplace culture, no perk can effectively engage your workforce. High engagement, then, is not a secret. It’s established through the hard work that comes from addressing workplace culture as an urgent issue that deserves attention. This is central to keeping a competitive edge.

When your team members can trust that you value them and the work they do, you promote a clear sense of purpose. At East Tenth Group, one of the aspects of leadership we work to improve with our clients is practicing an authentic, open, and kind approach to the people they lead. We encourage leaders to see the whole person. When you demonstrate to your people that they are valued, team members won’t want to be anywhere else.


As the CEO & Founder of East Tenth Group, Michelle leverages 25 years of business and experience as a strategic advisor and executive coach to help drive actionable people solutions and provide practical insights on business strategy to senior leaders. she and her team and are fiercely committed to the development and growth of people and companies because we believe that when people thrive, business thrives.

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