So you know employee engagement is good, but do you know what you can do today to begin improving employee engagement?

Okay. I have good news and I have bad news.

First the good: employee engagement in the U. S. is at 32% (a three-year high), according to Gallup. The bad news? That still leaves 68% of U. S. employees who are “not engaged,” with 16.% of those employees being “actively disengaged.”

According to Gallup, “Employee engagement is a leading indicator of future business success. . . As the percentage of their employees who are engaged at work increases, companies find themselves better positioned to grow.”

Disengaged employees have the opposite effect, costing U. S. businesses valuable time, energy, and customers, not to mention up to $550 billion per year. They’re essentially workplace zombies.

But wait, there’s more! More good news, I mean.

You aren’t helpless against the “working dead.” Keep that three-year high going strong by increasing employee engagement in your own workplace. Here are 3 things you can implement today to engage your employees. 

1. Don’t Measure Employee Engagement With a Survey

A traditional method for measuring employee engagement asks employees to complete an annual engagement survey.

While it never hurts to know what your employees think, relying on one information source could cause your data to suffer.

Even assuming that all surveyed employees give honest answers, results might be skewed by recent events and attitudes, and the data itself stops being useful pretty quickly, simply because it becomes dated.

Instead, try an approach that’s less likely to be subjective. Ryan Fuller, CEO of VoloMetrix, suggests observing how much time employees spend working outside of their regular work schedules, or looking at the number of friendships being formed across departments or company regions.

While not perfect, observing behavior can help you see how invested employees are in their work.

In addition to more traditional methods, Virgin Group gauges their success using referrals. As Virgin’s founder, Richard Branson, says, “There is no stronger endorsement than when an employee tells a friend or relative that a company is a great place to work.”

Don’t forget about life outside of work, either! While the workplace can certainly affect engagement levels, it’s not the only factor at play.

2. Focus on Why

What drives you?

It’s pretty simple, but finding meaning in your work increases motivation, job satisfaction, individual performance, and you guessed it, engagement.

Employees who deeply relate to the ideas at the heart of their company feel more connected to their work. For them, work becomes less about a paycheck and more about a shared purpose, so problems that crop up are tackled in light of the end goal—and not just because payday is around the corner.

Start some discussion about your mission statement. Ask employees to rewrite it or come up with their own, and then talk about how team members help make that mission a reality each day.

Warning: I know it sounds simple, but this approach isn’t something you can just tack on to your business plan. If ideas like “teamwork” and “innovation” are just buzzwords, your employees will see right through them, and frankly, jargon isn’t very motivating.

Instead, put the focus on your company’s reason for being. This is what every person in your organization shares in common—it should be obvious through your words and actions just how important it is.

After all, if you aren’t engaged, why should your employees be?

3. Stay on Target

With so many factors inside and outside of work affecting engagement levels, it’s easy to lose sight of the “employee” part of employee engagement.

Let’s not do that, okay?

Sometimes distractions are put forward as solutions or quick fixes. And while some of these distractions aren’t necessarily bad ideas in and of themselves, if they’re taking your focus off of your employees, then they aren’t fixing your engagement problem—they’re getting you off-target.

Don’t let that happen to you. Here are a couple of “solutions” to watch out for:

  • Having more fun. Some companies have committees dedicated to making the workplace a more enjoyable place to be. While there’s nothing wrong with that, employee engagement isn’t about fun; it’s about connecting over a shared purpose. So unless your company’s central mission is to promote Taco Tuesdays, don’t expect that organic guacamole to boost engagement, even if it is pretty delicious.
  • Increasing compensation. Obviously you need to pay your employees a competitive wage; I don’t think anyone’s questioning that. However, while too small of a paycheck can lead employees to leave a company, a higher paycheck doesn’t usually mean they’re more engaged. Like I said in the previous section, engaged employees are ultimately there for a purpose, not a paycheck. If their sole motivation is money, there’s not much to stop them from leaving if they’re offered better pay elsewhere.
  • Recognition. Just hear me out on this one. Saying thank-you is wonderful, but it’s important that it doesn’t feel like you’re just saying it, or it’s going to seem superficial. If you want acknowledging hard work to help and not hurt, then take it beyond the occasional pat-on-the-back, and work on making more personal language a part of your company culture.

So What Now?

Although over two-thirds of employees still need to be reached, don’t let that fact overwhelm you. Just remember, it takes time to cultivate, and it has to begin somewhere.

If you follow these tips, you’re already off to a good start!

Question on the day: I’d love to hear about your own experiences, too. What tips and strategies have you found helpful for encouraging employee engagement?