Low Employee Engagement is Costing You—And It’s Time to Fix That

Brent Williams  |  
Director of Education, Clique Studios
Brent Williams

Let’s first clarify the term “engagement”—employee engagement can be defined as the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and its goals. The exact terminology varies, but essentially, engaged employees are those who truly care about their work, rather than just their paycheck.


In any given year, less than one-third of Americans are engaged in the workplace. That might seem like a surprisingly low amount, but it has remained largely stagnant for over 15 years—and that only covers years formally measured. Here’s a snapshot:


US Employee Engagement


So, why does this matter?


Why is it so troubling that nearly 70% of all employed Americans are “checked out” from the work they’re doing or the company they’re doing it for?


Well, aside from the fact that we, as part of the American workforce, want to be engaged in our jobs, the monetary impact on businesses when employees are disengaged might perk your ears. On average, active disengagement costs U.S. companies $450 billion to $550 billion per year.


On the flip side of that, the benefits of engagement are plentiful:

  • More engaged employees = 51% higher productivity
  • More engaged business units = 21% increase in profitability

Employee missing


How do companies achieve higher employee engagement and thus reap these benefits?


There’s one common thread among companies with a more engaged workforce: effective communication.


It’s important to note that this doesn’t just fall on managers to implement, nor is it solely the responsibility of employees to improve their engagement. This is a two-way street; communication inherently involves participation from more than one entity to be successful. Engagement levels won’t be improved by taking a binary approach; rather, results come from looking at the whole picture, and addressing the relationships rather than the individuals.


Companies with effective employee communication have, on average, 47% higher shareholder returns over the last five years. These are significant, measurable differences, with tactful approaches to achieve such returns. According to Harvard Business Review, “…engagement is highest among employees who have some form (face-to-face, phone, or digital) of daily communication with their managers.”

Startup Collaborating

For a manager, the idea of having one-on-one communication with every employee on a daily basis might seem like an impossible feat, regardless of the benefits it could produce. Luckily, in today’s digital age, there are a plethora of tools to help manage that.


Communication is the key to any healthy relationship.


This isn’t a novel concept. But we’ve learned that consistent communication is the differentiator to be effective in the workplace. Frequent touch points not only build a relationship between employees and their managers, but also establish trust. Trust is the glue in a strong relationship, and also a pivotal ingredient in productivity. It’s a domino effect—more communication, stronger relationships, more trust, increase in responsibility, increase in productivity, and, as a result, higher engagement levels.


All of the aforementioned statistics on employee engagement ultimately result from job performance. When performance is up, the numbers are up. And that performance rests on employees’ productivity and investment in the work they are doing and the people they are doing it for.


What do we do about it?


Only one third of the American workforce is engaged in their jobs—not only is this troubling to us as human beings striving for career fulfillment, but it is also crippling to business success. What’s even more worrisome is the fact that this number has hovered on this line for nearly two decades.


There’s something we must improve: effective communication. We know from our lives outside of work that communication is the key to success in all of our relationships. That needs to translate to the workplace, and initiate a domino effect—better communication, stronger relationships, and so on until eventually: engaged employees, better bottom line.


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Harvard Business Review, 2015

Harvard Business Review, 2015

Gallup, 2016

Towers Watson, 2010

American Psychological Association, 2013

Fast Company, 2015