How many people do you know that jump out of bed with excitement each morning at the very idea of sitting in traffic to go to work?

The words 'employee engagement' may sound like business-speak, but this phrase is actually a real and critical factor in any company's ability to define and achieve strategic success.

Sometimes difficult to tell if your employees are actually disengaged or if they're simply frustrated and overwhelmed. Minding their own business, flying under the radar, and not being talkative can all be signs that something is missing for them at work.

Are they curious about the journey? Or are they just doing what needs to be done to get by?

Are you challenging them? Do they see an opportunity to grow their skills and responsibilities? Are they owning the outcome, or just the steps of the task they've been assigned?

If you see you're not getting much discretionary effort from an employee, they may be suffering from disengagement fever. They may be hating on their job... and you need them to be loving it!

While engagement, excitement, commitment, and innovation are far from the desired norm in half of American companies, the other half is succeeding. So what are they doing?

How does a leader diagnose the disconnects that might be happening across the business and then prioritize where to focus first? Here are six ways you can foster an environment where your people can be their best:

  1. Be authentic and approachable - let your people know they can come to you, and when they do, give them the truth.
  2. Be consistent on good and bad days - people need to know what to expect when interacting with you no matter what's going on. No one wants to work for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  3. Be vulnerable - make it clear you don't have all the answers, it makes you human and will help employees open up.
  4. Go first - take the first plunge, be willing to be a beginner again, to make a fool of yourself, or even fail if you are embracing the discomfort of change.
  5. Identify guidelines or priorities for risk-taking - communicate what level of risk is acceptable and then foster the process of developing new ideas and celebrate learning developed from success or embracing the failures that lead us forward
  6. Make it safe for people to have difficult conversations - employees can't be afraid of the backlash that might come from bringing up a tough issue. Separate the issues from the individual and acknowledge those who candidly identify your most important realities.

Engagement is hard to create. It takes time and persistence and effort.

Taking these first critical steps can really make a difference in ensuring that at minimum, your employees feel like they have a great relationship with their managers or leaders. That they aren't hating - but they're loving!