If you haven't heard the PSA, connected, engaged employees typically are happier and outperform people who don't feel linked to others and excited about their work. But connection and engagement don't happen automatically, and as the boss, you have to be able to look out and determine whether your workforce is in good shape.

4 sure signs your employees feel awesome (and 5 signs they don't)

Olivia Curtis, Wellness Specialist, CPT, FNS at G&A Partners, adds a nuance to the standard definition of connection at work.

"In the context of workplace wellness [it] refers to a connection that motivates a team to work together toward a shared purpose, rather than a simple social connection."

With this tweak in mind, Curtis says that employees who truly feel connected and engaged

  • Go above and beyond and step up to help their coworkers ("I've got your back" mentality)
  • Have uplifting and positive in their conversations
  • Are dedicated to the company
  • Have higher effort and quality of work

By contrast, you should be concerned if you see that your employees

  • Are withdrawn
  • Don't open up to or work will with their team
  • Complain
  • Have a poor attitude
  • Do the minimum amount of work necessary just to get by

To summarize this as one big cue, you're not just looking to see how cordial everybody is or whether they're setting good personal goals. You're looking to see that their effort and sense of responsibility extends beyond themselves.

3 essential steps to build the connection and engagement your employees need

Curtis points out that we still have plenty of room to grow when it comes to worker connection and engagement.

"According to Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace poll, 70 percent of employees are not 'engaged' at work and 18 percent are 'actively disengaged'," she says. "This suggests that only about 30 percent of employees feel engaged, connected and enjoy their employment which, sadly, is one of the highest percentages that Gallup has found over the years. We hope to see this number increase going forward as companies continue their efforts to improve employee connection and belonging."

And the biggest things holding us back? According to Curtis, the main problems are that the workforce is so widespread, large and multi-generational. It can be extremely challenging to overcome not only logistics, but also differences in beliefs and behaviors. Nevertheless, we can overcome with a few main pillars in our battle framework.

First, if connection involves working together toward a shared purpose, guess how critical your company mission becomes. Very. And as Curtis points out, employees are going to have a hard time connecting to your mission--and thus, to each other--if they don't know what it is. If you truly want a community-like culture and a united workforce, you have to make your vision and values clearly visible and communicate them without ambiguity.

Secondly, connection doesn't happen without trust.

"Employees want to feel heard and understood by their peers and management," Curtis says, "so make sure that there are open lines of communication your staff can feel comfortable using to share their thoughts, ideas and feedback. Likewise, management should look for opportunities to ask for feedback from employees and be open about sharing company information, trends, changes, etc. [...]. Employees will pick up on these efforts to create a more collaborative culture and start to feel more invested in your company's business outcomes."

Lastly, do whatever you can to build positivity and fun into the culture. Organizing events or activities that foster camaraderie--for example, picnics, employee spotlights or company-wide challenges--are an easy way to let people get to know each other and learn about how everyone contributes to the company mission.

Will it take effort? Yes. But we are social creatures. We're not meant to operate in a vacuum, even if some of us happen to be more introverted than others. And together, we can achieve significantly more than if we left ourselves in isolation.