Employee engagement is about more than just a cool office space

Engage your grinders to improve employee engagement

October 22, 2018
5 minute read
Last updated October 30, 2018

Engage your grinders to improve employee engagement

By Erin Balsa October 22, 2018

Employee engagement is a buzzword for managers these days, and for good reason. Gallup’s recent State of the American Workplace showed that employee engagement increases productivity by 17 percent and boosts profitability by 21 percent. With these benefits in mind, you can see that engaged employees are the key to a productive and profitable workforce.

But when it comes to improving employee engagement, should you try and engage all of your employees equally—or focus on a select few? Read on to find out.

This is what engagement looks like.

Engagement goes beyond just enjoying one’s job. Engaged employees are motivated to put in discretionary effort. They go above and beyond the call of duty to move the company’s mission forward, whether that’s working late into the evening to get a project done or supporting a colleague.

Factors that lead to employee engagement are:

  • Job fit (your daily tasks are well-suited to your natural behavioral drives and interests)
  • Manager fit (your manager is self-aware and interested in your personal development)
  • Organizational fit (you believe in your company’s mission and trust your leadership team)
  • People fit (you trust your co-workers and hold each other accountable for success)

Of course, not all employees are engaged to the level where they want to put in discretionary effort. Many are doing the bare minimum. Gallup reported that only one-third of U.S. employees are engaged. What’s worse, 16 percent are actively disengaged: These are your toxic employees who tear down what others build.

Introducing the 2 x 2 matrix

In our September webinar on optimizing employee engagement, PI CEO Mike Zani introduced a 2 x 2 matrix to help leaders measure the efforts of their employees based on two key components: engagement and performance

Within this 2 x 2 framework, there are four types of employees:

1. Cultural champions

These are your high-performing, highly-engaged employees. These are the people you would clone if you could.

2. Grinders

Grinders are your high performers who are not engaged. This is where you should focus the majority of your employee engagement efforts.

3. Silent killers

These are your employees who are highly engaged but perform poorly.

4. Contaminators

Contaminators are your employees with low performance and low engagement. 

How to improve employee engagement in grinders

Grinders are often one phone call away from a new position. To retain these high-performing employees, you have to rekindle engagement. As Cy Wakeman said in her book “NO EGO,” engagement isn’t something leaders can do for their employees—engagement is a choice employees must make themselves. Just as you can choose to be happy, you can choose to be engaged.

One important note: Engagement must be tied to accountability.

“Without a strong foundation of accountability,” Cy said, “energy spent on creating engagement will backfire and will create entitlement.” In other words, boosting engagement isn’t about a fancy office or unlimited vacation days. It’s about growing your employees’ ability to choose to be accountable rather than to complain or play the victim.

Disengaged employee in office on laptop
Here are three steps you can take to grow accountability and boost engagement in your grinders:

1. Have a transparent, open conversation.

Get curious about what engages your grinders and what’s caused them to disengage. Are they stretching to perform in a role that they’re not naturally suited to? Are they not bought into your company’s mission? Are they unable to properly do their job because of a company policy or protocol?

As Cy noted in her book, “circumstances are often difficult.” Accountable employees remain in control of their feelings in the face of adversity. This tendency toward being pragmatic helps them overcome any obstacle. As you work to re-engage your high-performing grinders, educate them on what accountability means and encourage them to live it in their day-to-day.

2. Act on what you hear.

Remove obstacles that are interfering with your grinders’ ability to do their job. It might be investing in a new technology that automates tedious, repetitive tasks or letting them work from home twice a week. Or it might be something more. Sometimes what’s causing our grinders to feel disengaged is the very thing we’re avoiding doing, whether that’s restructuring our leadership team or letting go of an underperforming employee. Taking action on what you hear is crucial to establishing engagement.

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3. Learn their appreciation language.

It’s important to reward an employee when you see him or her being accountable. Everyone has a different way of feeling valued and appreciated. Take the time to learn about your grinders’ preferences. Do they like to be praised in a private setting? Do they prefer tangible rewards? Recognizing grinders in a meaningful way can turn them into cultural champions.

Finding and addressing the fundamental issues contributing to disengagement while growing accountability over time is the key to re-engaging your grinders. Have you successfully re-engaged a high-performing employee? We’d love to hear how you did it.


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