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Behaviors Of Engaged Employees: What To Look For

Employee engagement continues to be a primary concern for leaders and HR, despite differing understandings of what, exactly, constitutes engagement. As we noted in a previous article, employee engagement differs from employee satisfaction in that it includes a behavioral element: Engagement describes more than just the passive relationship described by employee satisfaction, which measures employee attitudes about what the organization does for them. Engagement goes beyond satisfaction to include what employees are willing to do for the organization in return.

Regardless of how one defines engagement, it is unmistakable when you see it. Think about the most energized, committed people you know: They are loyal, enthusiastic about their work and goals, and cheerfully commit all their energy to accomplishing what needs to be done. In fact, they often seem to be more energized by challenging work, rather than drained.

Analyzing survey responses is one good way to identify engaged employees, but in this article, our focus will be on the observable behaviors of engaged employees—as well as the signs of disengaged employees.

Behaviors Of Engaged Employees

Surveys can identify engaged employees through their responses to items measuring the four indicators of engagement:

  • Intent to stay
  • Pride in organization
  • Referral behavior
  • Intrinsic motivation

Two of the indicators are perceptual; the other two, referral behavior and intrinsic motivation, are behavioral. Typically, the behaviors of engaged employees will align with these indicators of engagement.

Referral behavior is exhibited in the observable employee behavior of recommending their employer to others. An employee who is willing to refer others to the company as employees or customers is an employee who feels invested in their connection to the organization, embraces its mission, and has a sense of ownership of their role in making the organization and their clients successful (think building a better community, providing outstanding healthcare, superior product manufacturing, etc.). The act of referral is a vote of confidence in the organization and the product or service it offers—and an expression of enthusiasm in being a part of something they care about.

The other behavioral indicator of engagement, intrinsic motivation, is entwined with the feelings and perceptions behind referral behavior. Employees who feel ownership over their roles and recognize how their work contributes to the organization’s success are employees who are energized and fulfilled by doing good work. Their contribution is important to them, so they don’t “phone it in” when presented with a challenge; instead of feeling put upon, they see it as an opportunity to shine. The limitations or restraints imposed by the challenge aren’t experienced in a painful way, but serve instead as a motivation for creativity.

The behaviors that signal intrinsic motivation are easy to spot. Employees who are excited about their work don’t raise superficial objections to challenges. They are focused on removing/overcoming obstacles that will prevent themselves and others from doing a good job. They share ideas freely. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and other employees often look to them for cues and guidance. These employees tend to be lighthouses in the employee experience landscape. They are “yes, and” people, open to doing more than is asked when it is the right thing to do and working with and developing others. They are a positive influence on the workplace culture and are ethically aligned with the organization. They see the organization and the work they are doing as what it could be, the potential and opportunities yet to be realized. These employees view helping others as part of their job if it will help the company succeed. Looking for these behaviors in employees’ daily work routines can serve as a real-time employee engagement check.

If you’re looking for engagement, you need a plan to improve the employee experience. Get tips for developing your plan from our free guide, The Employee Experience Playbook.

Signs Of Disengaged Employees

Just as highly engaged employees are easy to identify through their behaviors, actively disengaged employees are also easy to spot. If engaged employees are “yes, and” people, then disengaged employees are “no, but” people. When presented with a challenge or a new way of doing their work, they may complain, question the validity of the change, or otherwise express or act with pessimism.

The behaviors exhibited by disengaged employees include increased absenteeism and an unwillingness to go above and beyond. The disengaged employee can often be identified by poor performance or doing as little as is required to get by—going through the motions. They may be less willing to collaborate with others on work and more likely to express negative attitudes about the job, the workplace, or their coworkers, such as disparaging ideas as “dumb,” or asserting that a task outside of the daily routine is “not my job.”

Employees who are disengaged sabotage their own experience, but even worse, they may contaminate the experience of other employees as well. Just as enthusiasm can be contagious, so can negativity. The poor attitude of a disengaged employee can have a huge impact on team members, especially new team members, negatively shaping their perceptions of the job and organization. Recognizing the behaviors that characterize disengagement and identifying “bad apples” is important to stop the rot.

How To Re-engage Disaffected Employees

While the disengaged can be the source of wider workplace discontent, it is important to make distinctions among disengaged employees. In many cases, an employee who formerly displayed the behaviors of engagement may now show signs of disengagement. This is a clue that something has changed for the worse in their experience at work, and what used to connect them to the work and the organization is now gone or isn’t enough anymore. With these employees, it’s important to look for what has changed. Is it the work? Have new processes or technologies been introduced? Does the employee have a new manager or team? Continuously listening via survey feedback and observing day-to-day behavior is important in these cases to identify the cause of the change; if the cause can be identified, an intervention to address the problem may help the employee to re-engage, pulling them back in by giving them a new foothold.

It’s also important to recognize that not all disengaged employees are poor performers and there is no need to just cut them all off. There can be opportunities even in a group of disengaged employees. While some need to self-select out or be terminated, there will likely always be some contingent of productive, though disengaged, team members. A culture of engagement will protect against malcontents and increase the ratio of engaged employees to those who are disengaged, albeit more passively. Addressing opportunities revealed by surveys can create the backbone of engagement you need to protect against the problems disengaged employees might cause.

In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s also important to keep in mind that stress causes vulnerabilities and creates challenges for stabilizing engagement. Continuously monitoring employee engagement in real time by observing behavior and giving employees the opportunity to share their concerns via survey feedback will give you the insights you need for crafting interventions and sustainable adjustments to the “new normal” to “stop the slide” if employees begin to drift or disengage.

See the way forward to higher engagement.

The Perceptyx platform gives you the flexibility to develop a listening strategy that fits the needs of your organization and identify the barriers blocking engagement. Combined with support from our analytics experts, our platform can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your people’s perceptions, so you can provide the support they need to become fully engaged. Get in touch to see how we can help your organization increase engagement—and profitability.

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