A firm scanned more than 10 million employee surveys to figure out what leads to highly engaged employees. Here’s what they found.

There isn’t a company or organization around that doesn’t want more a highly engaged workforce. You’re paying employees, perhaps giving them benefits, and in exchange, you’d love for them to feel passionately about their work. And that’s really what we mean when we talk about engaged employees—men and women who are connected to their work in a profound way, not just going through the motions and checking off boxes.

So, how can you help your employees become more engaged? A lot of people have theories, and you might as well. But an outfit called Energage took matters much, much further. They spent 11 years analyzing more than 10 million employees surveys from 47,000 organizations, with an eye toward figuring out what makes for great employee engagement. Over and over, they came upon three essential factors:

Employee engagement is high when organizational leaders put employees first

For decades, companies focused on making customers the center of their universe, but the most successful companies today realize that employees are at least as important. And it’s not an either/or proposition: One of the best ways to serve your customers is by having highly engaged employees interacting with them. It’s a win-win.

One of the most important tools being used to boost engagement among employees is the employee engagement survey. Simply put, if you don’t bother to ask employees how they are doing, you’re simply never going to know.


Employee engagement is high when leaders build trust with employees

Historically, employees have viewed leaders with distrust and caution. After all, the leader of yore held the employee’s fate in their hand, and so the power dynamic was inherently asymmetrical. What’s more, the news media and even entertainment were filled with stereotypical depictions of helpless employees being beaten down by “the man.”

No doubt, sometimes they were.

But times have changed, and that’s no way to build employee engagement. Employees must feel they can speak their mind without fear of reprisal. Your culture should ensure that such feedback can be given in writing, in person, or both. But go one step further by doing employee engagement surveys at regular intervals. This is an absolutely essential step to building a winning culture.


These same communication channels can be used to help employees recognize each other, another important part of an open and trust-filled work environment.


Employee engagement is high when leaders coach rather than manage

Thankfully, the days when managers handed down instructions on stone tablets are over. Today’s employees, especially millennials, want to be coached and taught. Think of yourself as their colleague and mentor, not their boss. Sure, there are definitely times when every supervisor needs to play the latter role. But if you coach rather than manage, those instances should be few and far between!