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The Two Types of Employee Engagement

If you were to sit in during one of the many leadership meetings held throughout the year in almost any organization, one key topic that you would undoubtedly hear time again is “employee engagement.” Plenty has been written about the topic, and we have all heard just how great it is and how costly disengagement can be. Organizations are aware that, at best, only one-third of their current employees are engaged and that they could be doing more.

Employee engagement makes sense. It is one of the few things in business that no one is arguing against. But the term “engagement” has become so commonplace that it is on the verge of becoming meaningless industry jargon, a splashy buzzword that sounds nice but just is not producing results.

Setting the Record Straight on Employee Engagement

NY Times bestselling author of the book Employee Engagement 2.0 Kevin Kruse defines engagement as follows: “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”

Engagement is a verb, not a noun; this means it is an actionable word. When I hear this, two separate yet interrelated meanings come to mind. I define both as being two types of employee engagement.

The Two Types of Employee Engagement

Type One: “We want to engage our employees”

For me, these words—when translated into plain language—say, “We want to captivate our employees, get their attention and keep it. We want to have an open two-way dialogue which includes speaking and listening.” This type involves organizational change at all levels.

Type Two: “We want our employees to be engaged with their work”

The plain language definition of this phrase is, “We want employees to care about their work and fully apply themselves.” This type is about having employees bring everything they can to the job, being as effective and productive as possible.

The second type of engagement is often the desirable outcome of an organization that has successfully mastered the first type of engagement. Thus, type two engagement rarely occurs without the first kind: the conversation. Why? I think it all comes down to trust.

“Because… Trust is life.” (Shout-out to Vinny from Good Will Hunting)

Think about your own personal life for a moment: who do you feel is most trustworthy? Do you feel that you can more likely trust those who actively listen to you? Or would you rather place your trust in someone who rarely (if ever) lends you an ear? There is a good possibility that those closest to you are those who bother to listen, ask questions, and understand you.

The same is true for our professional lives. Organizations and companies that listen and take the time to understand employees are more trustworthy. The more the employee feels they can trust you, the more likely they are going to apply themselves to the fullest each and every day they come to work.

How Do I Get Employees to Trust Our Company

In order to gain employees’ trust, you should communicate to the point of over communication, while always using plain language and being direct. Be as transparent as you can be. As long as your employees feel that they are involved in the happenings within an organization and that their voices are being heard, they will begin to trust you and the organization.

Showing that you are listening goes beyond a generic “Thank you for your suggestion” email. When someone is speaking, repeat or summarize what has been said. This shows that you were listening and that you understand. An even more powerful way to show that you listen to your employees is to take their feedback and create positive change because of it.

Increasing Engagement Means Increasing Trust

A strong foundation for engagement involves laying down the brickwork of trust, and it typically begins with the type one engagement as discussed earlier and then leads to type two. Master these steps, and you will be able to make an impact on organization-wide engagement within your company.


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