Take a look around your office. Really. Stop reading this right now and go take a walk around your office, make some mental notes about what you are seeing, and then come back.

For the vast majority of offices, employee engagement is at an all time low.

Gallup have been talking about the employee engagement crisis for more than a decade – and each and every year, their reporting shows the same, steady lack of progress. Just under one third (32%) of employees are involved, enthusiastic and committed to their work and workplace.

Author, Mark C Crowley interviewed Gallup’s Jim Harter to understand what is going wrong. After all, employee engagement has been flatlining for almost two decades, and does not appear to be shifting. In a nugget, Harter reveals the secret sauce for employee engagement:

Engagement largely comes down to whether people have a manager who cares about them, grows them and appreciates them.

And in case the message is not clear enough, Harter restates the challenge – “There’s simply no question that managers are one of the top root causes of low and flat-lined engagement”.

Now, I have written previously about the gulf between leadership and management – and it is a favorite topic in management and leadership books. But it strikes me that it is exactly this gulf where our employee engagement challenge lies.

You may well be asking, “Why is employee engagement important?”. You may have walked around your office and noticed people busily working. Or not. You may have noticed a buzz in the meeting rooms or been greeted with silent floors. Employee engagement looks and feels different in every single workplace. But the secret power of employee engagement is that it is an important predictor of company performance. Moreover, it is a predictor of performance even during tough economic conditions. And that’s why leaders should pay attention.

The question, of course, is “how?”

When I work with my direct reports and with aspiring leaders, I always encourage a future-forward mindset. And a future-forward mindset means that we must lead with our head, heart and hands:

  • Head: Think about what you know. As a leader, you will have been exposed to information, knowledge and training that has helped you succeed. Just as others have invested in you to help you acquire this knowledge and capability, so too must you invest in others. Spend time with people and help cultivate their talents and expertise, understand their ambitions and goals and challenge them intellectually to achieve them.
  • Heart: How are you building meaning in your own life and leadership and how does this flow into the professional lives of those around you? Think also of the people in your teams. What do they do? How do they manifest their passions in the personal and professional lives? Are they connected – and if not, why not?
  • Hands: Think about what you can do. As a leader there is much that you can – and much that you cannot act upon. But there will be opportunities and challenges, tasks and projects that you can direct towards your teams. They may be work related. They may be projects that allow your team members to develop aspects of their own leadership abilities. Find them. Make things happen for the next generation of leaders.

But employee engagement doesn’t just result in happier, better, more productive employees.

Fred Reichheld’s The Loyalty Effect also shows that employee engagement can dramatically improve customer loyalty – because the best way to obtain loyal customers is to have loyal employees.

And that is a future we can all aspire to.

Nina Nets It Out: Employee engagement is fundamental to high performance and business growth, and it can be substantially impacted by your performance as a leader. Take a future-forward mindset, and work to improve employee engagement using your head, heart and hands, and you’ll be surprised how quickly growth is impacted.