Having an engaged workforce has been shown to improve a company’s profitability by 21% (source). But companies often lose their best performers when they cease to engage them long-term. Only 27% of employees in Canada report being highly engaged in their job (source). Why are employees so disengaged today, and what can leaders do to improve this? TEC Canada speaker and performance architect Simone Brown provides insights on how to you can retain your best employees for the long-term.

TEC Canada: What are the main things that leaders need to do to engage their employees?  

Simone Brown: I believe the number one reason for disengagement is the effectiveness of managers/leaders, and the relationship this individual holds with their direct reports. Listening is essential. Many employees might feel like their voice is not heard. To engage your people, you need to listen. You need to ask your people: where are we failing you and how can we do better?

Workplace engagement has been stubbornly low over the past few years but companies who are putting time and effort into addressing employee engagement and workplace culture are seeing greater productivity and performance.

Based on my research and data, there are eight factors that increase employee engagement:

  1. Purpose: Feeling a sense of purpose.
  2. Contribution: Doing meaningful work.
  3. Growth: Opportunities to learn and advance a career.
  4. Flexibility: Having the ability to manage a healthy work-life balance.
  5. Feedback: Do you get regular feedback? Can you give feedback effectively?
  6. Appreciation: Recognizing and rewarding employees.
  7. Transparency: Having a clear rationale as to why things are done.
  8. Good people: Working for good people and with good people.

When one or more of these factors are missing, you risk disengagement.

TC: You speak a lot to engaging millennials. Is there a difference between engaging millennial employees compared to other generations?

SB: The bottom line is a disengaged and unhappy employee is likely to hurt a company’s performance regardless of how old they are, and how long they’ve been there. While studies show that other generations wanted the same things as millennials do today, they were too afraid to ask for it. They also didn’t have the same platforms (e.g. social media, online reviews, Glassdoor, etc.) that we have today. Our culture encourages us to speak up for what’s right and millennials are more comfortable doing this.

TC: How do you continue to engage your long-term employees?

SB: When it comes to long-term employees, it’s like a relationship – at the start, it’s exciting and it’s fresh. Don’t be complacent with those who have put their time in, are hard-working and love working for you. The same eight factors apply to them. Leverage them as a resource to mentor new hires on company culture and engage them in teaching company culture, showing why it’s an amazing place to work.

TC: What are the biggest mistakes companies make when trying to create a loyal, engaged culture? How can they mitigate that?

SB: First, companies need to shift from the term loyalty to commitment. It’s thinking: how committed are you versus how long are you going to be here. You need to ask: can you give us 80-100% every time you show up? Companies are trying to hire loyal employees, not committed employees. But loyal employees can still cost the company money if they just work 9-5 and that’s it.

Second, you can’t throw in perks and call it engagement. It’s very short-sighted. Employee engagement and company culture needs to be a long-term play, not an adrenaline shot.

And third, companies are not focusing on employee experience, they focus too much on customer experience. Companies have to get better at listening and asking questions, collecting feedback, and understanding what makes their employees tick. Every leader’s role is to understand the employee experience.

TC: How would you define “employee engagement” today?

SB: Employee engagement is about understanding how committed an employee is to a leader, the company and the company’s mission. It’s understanding a company’s brand promise to their employees and living out that brand promise. For leaders, informing people who you are, inspiring them and involving them. Ask yourself: what is our brand promise to our people from the top down? What does the company stand for?

TC: What are the signs that an employee is disengaged? How can companies change that?

SB: One is absenteeism, when an employee is missing work more often. But also, “presenteeism” – when an employee is present but they’re not really there. They’ve checked out and they’ve been doing the minimal amount of work and/or poor quality of work. There can be a shift in their attitude and mindset where they become more snappy, more solitary, very negative overall (expressing negativity without any solutions) and leave work early more often.

If people are leaving a company, ask the employee why, and don’t make this a function of HR. C-suite staff need to keep a pulse on why people have chosen to leave, and if they identify serious issues or recurring themes, this serves as an opportunity to solve a problem that some employees might not be willing to talk about.

The key is to understand why the employee is disengaged and where the company and/or their specific manager has failed them. You could be losing an employee with good potential. As the leader’s profitability relies on the people they hire, they need to understand why people are leaving but don’t wait until someone has left. Start listening now, and start paying closer attention to company culture as a strategy to outperform competitors. As Doug Campbell once said – “to win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.”


Simone Brown is a performance architect and certified emotional intelligence practitioner who helps companies create better leaders, teams and cultures through behavioural and brain-based strategies. She believes organizations that support the whole person – not just the version that shows up at work – will observe increased productivity. To learn more, visit www.simonebrown.ca