In order for a company to be profitable and competitive, it's crucial for its workers to be engaged. Engaged employees take an interest in their work, care about their career and want to see their projects succeed, all of which leads to the success of a company as a whole.

According to the latest research from Gallup, about one-third of American employees are engaged at work. The remaining two-thirds of American workers are “disengaged,” which means they only put in the minimum amount of effort to get the job done. They're not interested in their work, but are simply going through the motions, or counting down the minutes to lunch or their next break.

Those who are the least engaged bring a negative attitude to work that drains the energy from others, making everyone less productive overall. They are more likely to experience issues with their mental and physical health, leading to more sick days and healthcare costs. They're also likely to quit the first chance they get, costing the company thousands of dollars to hire and train new employees.

The key to improving employee engagement is hiring, training and retaining high-quality managers and leaders.

According to several studies, managers have the most influence on employee engagement. Gallup estimates that managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement, while a Dale Carnegie Training study reported that if an employee is dissatisfied with their immediate supervisor, there is an 80% chance that they are disengaged.

Great managers are innovators. They think strategically, solve problems and get results. They give praise, recognition and feedback. But most importantly, great managers inspire and motivate others. They listen to their employees, they get to know them, and they make the most of their strengths.

As Marcus Buckingham writes for the Harvard Business Review, “Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess. The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack.”

Take the time to talk with your employees, observe them at work, make notes of what they do well and what they need to improve on. Hold weekly one-on-one meetings with them. Ask questions and learn what makes them tick. Once you know what their key strengths are, you can give them tasks that align with those strengths and bring out their best work.

In addition to hiring great managers, it's important to offer the right incentives to your employees. Not everyone is motivated by the same thing. For some, it may be a flexible schedule or a fun work environment. Others may be driven by creative projects, professional development opportunities or being included in important decisions.

Just as it's necessary to get to know your employees to uncover their strengths, it's also helpful to discover what will motivate them.

Company perks like childcare and catered lunches are great, but they may not be enough to inspire everyone. The only way to give your employees what they want is if you know what they want.

Ryan Amaya, HR Manager of WebLinc, says his company reacts quickly to the suggestions that their employees make about what perks they desire. “We like to keep our employees involved as decision-makers in company-wide efforts,” he says. In addition to a regular benefits package, WebLinc also offers “regularly held yoga sessions (major hit), meditation training and sessions that center on alleviating stress, an extremely flexible 'work from home' policy, multiple company-supplemented rec league sports teams, 100% compensation for books/online courses/meetups/seminars, and last but not least, discounts and freebies to our two Philly restaurants owned separately by our co-founders.”

While your company may not be able to afford such an extensive list of perks, there are many incentives that don't cost any money at all. Let your employees work on side projects that they care about, allow them to telecommute occasionally, introduce them to a mentor or let them bring their dogs to work. The important thing is that you ask for suggestions from your employees, listen to what they want and do your best to accommodate them.

When you consider the amount of money that disengaged employees cost companies, you may find that it's worth it to attract top-notch managers and offer a wide range of perks. Not only will your employees be more productive, they'll also be happier. And who knows? Maybe you'll realize that “Woof Wednesdays” was just the thing you needed to take your own engagement to the next level.

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