Right now, employees' job options are off the charts, meaning that unless you do something to keep them engaged, they won't think twice about jumping ship. That said, if you want to fix or prevent an engagement problem, you've got to figure out exactly what the biggest pain points are to eliminate.

The biggest areas to watch

Jim Barnett, CEO of success platform Glint, says three areas in particular can be tipping points to broader disengagement when leaders fail to meet employees' needs and expectations. These areas are

  • Growth and career opportunities,
  • The perceived brightness of the company's future, and
  • Organizational leadership.

On a basic level, workers need to see not only that they individually can improve and go somewhere, but that the business will, too. And they need people at the top who will hear them out, provide access, teach and work under a larger umbrella of integrity.

Getting people to emotionally connect to each other and their work

Barnett believes that clear, transparent communication that addresses expectations in an authentic way is the key to engaging employees. He adds that the most powerful change you can make in operations and practices is to make sure you get regular, valid employee feedback that can validate hunches and bust myths, stay well-connected through ongoing conversations and hold the culture accountable for taking visible action to address issues in real time. You can start by giving leaders and managers an ongoing understanding of engagement levels through the year.

"Simply having that information--as well as understanding trends and sentiment--can spark a conversation or intervention that would otherwise go unnoticed or unaddressed."

Barnett also offers five actionable tips for asking employees how they're doing:

  • "Install a frequent pulsing program in line with your normal operating rhythm so feedback from these pulses is incorporated into decisions that impact the overall business. For example, if you are reviewing business progress at a quarterly cadence, with something like a QBR, it makes sense to pulse at the same time.
  • Train and coach managers on the importance of continuous feedback and conversations with their teams. For managers, this can sometimes feel like it's hard to do on top of their day-to-day, but this is really a big part of a manager's role -- to enable an environment of transparency and feedback.
  • Set reasonable expectations for leaders with regard to how they should use more frequent feedback. Just like any other data leaders use (revenue, productivity, etc.) the expectation is that they review trends regularly and decide whether to keep going or change course. A new data point does not necessarily mean a new action plan is required.
  • Hold managers accountable for taking action on employee feedback at the same level of priority as other goals. And ensure that actions to improve are visible to employees.
  • Have a continuous improvement mindset; you will never be done."

Barnett says that you should consider employee feedback a critical metric, just the same as any other KPI. And you can make feedback part of leadership practices by providing resources, removing obstacles to improving engagement and celebrating examples of success.

"Creating engaged teams is a learnable skill," Barnett asserts, "but like playing a sport or other learnable skills, it takes time. Leaders need to make this a priority, and follow basic best practices, monitor progress, take action, and change where necessary. If you invest in your team to become happier and more engaged, you'll undoubtedly see better business results--both anecdotally, and in measurable ways."