How to Overcome Low Employee Engagement Levels

July 26, 2018 by

Attracting, retaining, and engaging employees is becoming an increasing challenge for organizations, which in turn, impacts on project delivery. Employee engagement is used to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of an organization’s approach to human resource management.


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An “engaged employee” is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests. A disengaged worker is likely to be unenthusiastic about their job, finding little meaning or value in their role; they are also uninterested in improving the company’s reputation.

Collins (2001) declared that the top-performing companies prioritize getting the right people in the company before deciding vision, strategy, organization structure, and even business tactics. However, the challenge for organizations is to keep employees at a high level of engagement throughout their tenure.

This article outlines engagement challenges, four success factors, and the importance of employee feedback.


Employee Engagement Challenges

Gallup’s 142 country study on the State of the Global Workplace (2012) found that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. In other words, only one in eight workers, roughly 180 million employees in the countries studied are psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations.

63% were not engaged at work whilst 24% were actively disengaged, indicating significant levels of dissatisfaction and reduced productivity.

It is estimated that lost productivity costs American companies $450 billion to $550 billion each year. More recently, Gallup declared that ‘the world has an employee engagement crisis, with serious and potentially lasting repercussions for the global economy’.

Considering how much time we tend to spend at work, these findings are quite stark with significant consequences for individuals, organizations, and the global economy.


4 Key Factors for Employee Engagement

In recent years, employers are increasingly recognizing the importance of employee engagement. MacLeod & Clarke (2009) argued that employee engagement was absolutely fundamental for organizational success. They put forward four enablers of employee engagement, factors that were “commonly agreed to lie behind successful engagement approaches”.

1. Strategic narrative

The strategic narrative is the delivery of a compelling business story that explains the company’s background, vision for the future, and more importantly, how employees can contribute to this. It can be a powerful tool for improving the business’ performance. Connecting individuals to ‘why’ is a powerful motivator.


2. Engaging managers

High levels of employee engagement and performance are achievable by engaging managers who focus their staff and give them scope, treat them as individuals, and coach and develop them. Pink (2009) referred to this as a puzzle in motivation where employees are not driven by money, rather by “Autonomy, Motivation, and Purpose”.


3. Employee voice

Organizations see their people as central to the solution, to be involved, listened to, and invited to contribute their experience, expertise, and ideas. The employee voice is heard throughout the organization for reinforcing and challenging views.


4. Integrity

The values of the organization are reflected in day to day behaviors where there is no “say-do” gap and promises that are made are kept.


Employee Performance Evaluation

Annual performance reviews are another key component of employee engagement and are intended to be a fair and balanced assessment of an employee’s performance with the goal of employee development.

Hartle and Weiss (1997) defined performance management as a process for establishing “a shared understanding about what is to be achieved and an approach of managing and developing people that will increase the probability of success”.

Performance management is also important for reinforcing an organization’s vision and values and ensuring employees understand their contribution to the company’s vision.

Armstrong and Barron (1998) defined performance management as “a strategic and integrated approach to delivering sustained success to organizations by improving the performance of the people who work in them and developing the capabilities of teams and individual contributors“.

They defined ten golden rules for conducting performance review meetings that would ensure success both for the employee and manager.


10 Rules for Performance Review Meetings

1. Be prepared

Managers should be prepared with a list of agreed objectives and refer to notes on the employee’s performance throughout the year.


2. Create the right atmosphere

Have an informal environment with a full, frank, and friendly exchange of views.


3. Work on a clear structure

Plan the meeting to cover all points identified but always leave time for extra discussion.


4. Use positive feedback

This is a good opportunity for motivating employees by recognizing their accomplishments so where possible, acknowledge these achievements in a positive way.


5. Let the individuals do most of the talking

This will enable employees to get things off their chests and feel they are getting a fair hearing.


6. Invite self-appraisal

This is an opportunity to show how things look from the employee’s point of view as many people underestimate themselves.


7. Discuss performance, not personality

Use factual evidence and not opinion, referring to actual events and results compared to agreed performance measures.


8. Encourage analysis of performance

Analyze jointly and objectively why things went well or not so well.


9. Don’t deliver unexpected criticisms

There should be no surprises and the purpose of the formal review is to reflect on the performance for the overall period.


10. Agree on measurable objectives and a plan of action

The aim should be to end the review on a positive note.



Employee engagement is a major challenge for many organizations. Organizations need to acknowledge the problem and work towards improvements in company culture and processes. Focused individuals and teams are more driven and productive, helping the organization to meet its goals.



  • Collins, Jim (2001), Good to Great
  • MacLeod D & Clarke N. (2009), Engaging for Success: Enhancing Performance through Employee Engagement
  • Armstrong M & Baron A., (1998), Performance Management: The new realities


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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2017 and has updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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