Have you popped the question? No, no, not that question. The question I’m talking about is one to your employees, which requires them to look you in the eye and agree to make an equally important commitment.

Relationships, whether they are personal or professional, all require some level of commitment to be healthy, mutually beneficial, and productive. The same is true in the office. If you have committed employees, you have happy and productive employees. However, the statistics on workforce engagement are quite shocking. Research shows that only 29 percent of employees are actually motivated and energized in the workplace.

Why is this so, and most importantly, how do you get employees to say “yes?”

Most employees join an organization with a sparkle in their eye, sort of like that sparkle that comes with any new relationship filled with expectations and possibilities. Then, the employees settle into their job, and guess what? Their expectations and beliefs upon entering their new jobs might not be fulfilled, which could be a result of many reasons, such as the following:

  • Little or no feedback from superiors;
  • Lack of opportunity to discuss problems;
  • Lack of opportunity to provide ideas and input;
  • Lack of resources to solve problems or to do a job;
  • Little or no reward or recognition;
  • Little opportunity to develop one’s potential;
  • Pressure to perform and achieve more with less;
  • Lack of opportunity to interact socially;
  • Unresolved interpersonal conflicts;
  • Little joy or humor except for office gossip or cynicism; and/or
  • Lack of balance in work & home roles, energy depletion.

All of these missed expectations can extinguish motivation, happiness, and the drive to succeed at work. Therefore, it’s extremely important to speak openly to employees about their expectations, your expectations as their superior, and the organization/company’s expectations as a whole to sustainable employee engagement and productivity. In fact, companies that have high employee engagement experience lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance. However, if someone were to ask you today to measure the engagement level of your employees, would you know what to do?

First, let’s define some different types of engagement so you can begin to identify patterns with individuals in your company. Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward. Not-engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting in time—but not energy or passion—for their work. Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work, they’re acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine the accomplishments of their engaged coworkers.

Efforts to raise levels of engagement are worthwhile for those in the not-engaged range. Not engaged employees concentrate on tasks rather than the actual goal they are supposed to accomplish. They want to be told what to do just so they can do it and say they have finished. They focus on process, not results. Managers who only provide tasks to an employee reinforce “not engaged” behaviors and actually move farther away from engaging the heart, mind, and soul of that person.

Employees who are not engaged tend to feel their contributions are being overlooked, and their potential is not being tapped. They often feel this way because they don’t have productive relationships with their managers or with their coworkers. Therefore, the most effective way to get people to become a part of an organization is through strengthening relationships.

The best way to open this relationship is for managers to begin providing three things to every employee: expectations, clarification, and measurement. Encourage each employee to see how his or her work contributes to the organizational future. The objective is to refocus employees away from steps and tasks and toward results-driven outcomes. Next, managers can help employees clarify how they can achieve outcomes. This can lead to helping employees change their roles to better fit their talents. Lastly, measurement involves employees’ feelings of success, as long as the measurement focuses on outcomes, not the steps. Good measurement aligns with outcomes and matches the expectations for the role.

All of these things involve creating and maintaining a strong employee/manager relationship, which includes providing employees with:

  • Clear communications;
  • A defined path for concentrating on what they do best;
  • Strong relationships with their coworkers; and
  • A strong commitment with their coworkers so that they take risks and stretch for excellence.

For great managers, the path toward engaging employees begins with understanding and managing expectations, and communicating about what they want and what is important in order to be effective in their roles. So, start thinking about how to ask each employee to say “yes!” It’s a critical piece to every manger’s – and his or her company’s – overall success.

Ask yourself:

  1. Have you analyzed your employees’ engagement?
  2. What percentage of your workforce is engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged?
  3. What are you doing to provide expectations, clarification, and measurement for every employee to improve the employee/manager relationship?