If you haven't heard, it's worth repeating: Gallup revealed that in 2015, only 32 percent of U.S. workers were considered "engaged" in their jobs, meaning they were involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work.

The majority (50.8 percent) were "not engaged," meaning they showed up and killed time, doing the minimum required with rare extra effort. These were the people thinking about lunch and waiting for the clock to hit 5 p.m.

The other 17.2 percent in Gallup's research were "actively disengaged." You don't want this bunch working for you: These employees were either checked-out or just going through the motions.

That's a lot of unhappy people!

Making the Business Case for Engaging Employees

In case "employee engagement" sounds like fluff to you, case study after case study (too many to list in one article) proves how it leads to happier employees and ultimately more profit.

Engagement Happens From Both Sides of the Fence

So how do you engage employees? The key is creating a work environment that releases discretionary effort in the whole organization.

Here are a few examples of how to do that from both sides of the fence: leaders and managers, and employees.

How leaders should engage their employees:

  1. Make your employees feel like business partners, as if they're invested in the company. Give them ownership! They're likelier to perform at a higher level.
  2. Be transparent and communicate well in your boss-employee relationships. Let your staff get familiar with what's going on in other departments, and give them a chance to have input and suggest ideas.
  3. Don't be afraid to expose them to new responsibilities that will expand their knowledge.
  4. Treat them with respect and dignity and build relationships. Get to know them on a personal level, outside of work. Show them that you don't just view them as worker bees but as human beings.
  5. Don't just put a program together and leave the scene. Constantly ask your employees for feedback, what's working and what's not. If you want to maintain a culture of happiness, you have to keep your finger on the pulse.

How employees should engage their company (and one another):

  1. Mentor a peer or colleague--you'll end up feeling better about yourself. This study showed that if you help someone for 10 to 30 minutes per day, it leaves you feeling as if you have more time, not less.
  2. Explore opportunities inside your company to learn something new: Join a cross-functional project, pick up another skill, lead or participate in a "lunch and learn."
  3. Set short- and long-term goals that you can get passionate about pursuing, and that give you purpose. These can be little pet projects you do on your own, or things that align with a strategy or vision. Work those goals into bite-size chunks to make them manageable, as I demonstrate in detail here.
  4. Reward your peers with digital recognition and praise. Use a social recognition tool like Globoforce to nominate a person for everyday contributions and going above and beyond. Then share the success story with the rest of the company. The effects of this practice are well documented by Shawn Achor's happiness studies.
  5. Make close connections at work; in other words, have a best friend there. Gallup found that workplace friendships yield more productive employees. One example: Co-worker commitment to quality shot up by 35 percent.