As the economy continues to improve and more jobs become available, employee engagement will be an essential part of retaining your top talent. Engagement is defined as the emotional connection that an employee feels toward their organization, which influences them to exert greater effort to their work. How important is engagement to your organization? It is extremely important if you consider employee motivation, satisfaction, loyalty, productivity and performance essential to the success of your company.

How do you know if your workforce is engaged? A common response from many employers is ìWe have low turnover so we must have an engaged work force. This is not necessarily true; there are many levels of employee engagement, and retention is not engagement. Employees can have different levels of engagement ranging from highly engaged to highly disengaged. As employers, we need to ask ourselves a few questions: What do you know about your employeesí satisfaction, why are they working for our organization and what makes them stay? If you canít answers these questions, then you have some work to do. There are a number of factors that influence someoneís decision to stay with a company, and one of them may not be engagement.

There are a few things to consider when evaluating engagement. First, engagement is not constant. Think of how many changes your company has implemented in the last 12 months. Were they all positive? Was there a change in management? How did these changes affect the work force? Have you asked? The second factor to consider is that engagement is not portable; you cannot take it with you when you leave a job or department. Each department in your organization has an engagement level that is unique to it.

Different levels of engagement can be seen in every work force. Employees typically fall into one of three categories ñ engaged, not engaged and actively disengaged. Engaged employees are passionate about what they do and feel a strong connection to the company. Research shows that engaged employees are more productive, create stronger relationships with co-workers and customers, and they stay with their organization longer. Employees that are not engaged show up for work every day but have no passion about what they do or the company they work for. Actively disengaged employees are not happy and they do not contribute to the company in a positive way. In fact, it is likely that these employees are spreading their negative feelings to others. The question is, how do we keep the engaged employees engaged, change the not engaged employees to engaged employees, and how do we handle those employees who are actively disengaged?

Since engagement is a state of mind and since each person is different, there is no single driver of engagement. Some factors that may affect the engagement of your workforce include the relationship with their direct supervisor; employees want to communicate with their managers even if the news is not always positive. Well-crafted and targeted communication can be one of the most effective HR tools for improving or sustaining employee engagement. This will keep employees focused and productive. Employees need to know their job is important to the company and what is expected of them. They also want to know that there is a fair and equitable system for career advancement, and that if they perform they will be considered for advancement.

Who is responsible for creating a work environment that encourages engagement? Ownership of engagement should be from the top down; it is the responsibility of all leaders. By focusing on open communication, creating a culture where engagement is seen as a priority, and through endorsing employee surveys, you can begin to understand your current engagement levels. Low levels of engagement have a negative impact on productivity and performance. Your company may not be able to handle the increased demand that a recovering economy brings. Engagement is critical in being able to manage the increased demands without incurring unnecessary costs. Low levels of engagement can be infectious to new and existing employers, so it is important to figure out where you stand as soon as possible.

Measuring engagement can be done in a number of different ways. Formal methods such as surveys and informal networks can be useful, but you have to ask the right questions. Surveys can be an effective tool if used regularly. It is important that you track results from year to year, and to compare those results to see if your company is moving in the right direction. Communicate both positive and negative survey results, and commit to taking action in key areas that will likely increase the level of employee engagement. Later in the year, communicate what you have implemented as a result of feedback provided by the survey. Another method of measuring engagement is Informal networks, which can give you immediate feedback of your employeesí feelings and attitudes. You may notice that some of your managers are closely connected with their employees, working on projects and socializing outside of the office. Interacting with these individuals will give you some informal insight into how employees might react to potential programs or changes.

Companies that want to effectively manage their recovery will take action in a number of key areas that will drive the most improvement. Small changes in the right direction and area can mean big wins for your organization. By listening to your employees through formal surveys and acting on the areas of opportunity, you will see an increase year after year in the morale of your employees.

Another key area where you should invest time and money is your employees! If you can afford to adjust employeesí pay that had previously been cut, then do it! Employees need to feel their skills and the work they do is meaningful and makes and impact. Therefore, show your employees that there are clear links between your organizations goals, your teamsí performance and their individual performance. Rewards and recognition should be tied to these goals as well. Above all, communicate! Communication is key ñ it must be frequent, consistent, open and honest. Engaged employees are more productive and profitable, and you will need them as the economy recovers!