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Employee Engagement: Everything You Need to Know

Employee engagement continues to be a hot topic. But, we've found that fully understanding what it is, and even more importantly, what to do about it, can be tricky.

Whether we’re building workspaces that are designed to promote healthy work interactions, offering new benefits, new workplace flexibility, or new programs to engage and equip our employees, many business owners are thinking about engagement because they know how much it impacts their organizations.

But even if you’re not the business owner, employee engagement is important. You see, we do better collectively when our collective engagement is higher. We all win when we’re all in this together. It’s better for us individually, it’s better for us as teams, and it’s better for our organizations as a whole, which in turn makes it better for those who benefit from our products and services. We all win when our engagement is high.

Employee engagement is so top of mind we took a look at a couple of different perspectives on the matter. We started with a look at six dimensions of employee engagement and a simple acronym to help remember them. Then, we looked at what to do for your team members or employees if it looks like their engagement is low. And lastly, we offered suggestions on what to do for yourself if your own engagement is low or suffering.


family-resting-near-tent-little-girl-standing-holding-hands-upIf you’ve followed YCNS for a bit, you have probably heard us talk about this simple acronym before. When we talk about an engaged employee, we refer to them being a happy “CAMPER.” Yes, it’s a little bit corny but, the corniness is what makes it memorable.

There are six dimensions of engagement that get at the twelve questions in Gallup’s survey to measure employee engagement. We can easily remember the six dimensions by referring to with the acronym CAMPER. By talking about “happy CAMPERs” we are also reminded of some tactical, specific things we can do in response to the six dimensions.

C- Communication

Just as we’ve stressed in many of our classes and newsletters before, communication is vital to employee engagement. Without it, things quickly fall apart. Is the information in your organization flowing effectively, from the top down and from the bottom up? Does information flow freely? Do people get a chance to hear what they need to hear and say what they need to say?

A – Autonomy

As Dan Pink points out in Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, autonomy, that is the desire or the act of being self-directed, is important to establishing a sense of motivation in us. So, in your own team or within your span of control, are people able to be autonomous? Do they have the ability to direct their ‘how’, at least to a certain degree? They may not control their ‘what’, and sometimes there are some highly regulated things that limit the ‘how’, but offering them opportunities for autonomy can increase engagement.

M – Mastery

Mastery is having comprehensive knowledge or skills in a subject or accomplishment. So, what are we getting better at? As employees and as individuals we delight in seeing forward progress in our own skills. Look around your organization to make sure the employee base understands their opportunities to grow and develop themselves. Be sure they know leadership supports them through these learning opportunities. Be sure they take advantage of them, they delight in the success from those growth opportunities, and feel mastery as they do.

P – Purpose

The purpose within our organizations is helping make sure every single individual understands how their job or their role is aligned to the good of the organization, and, perhaps even more importantly, how the organization is serving a higher purpose, a transcendent purpose, or a purpose that would get us out of bed in the morning. This purpose is what motivates us to want to contribute. Take a look at your organizational purpose and explore how you can talk about hat more with your team.

E – Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm, even in the dark moments, the busy seasons, and the painfully lean times, is our ability to look each other in the eye and have a little bit of fun. Enthusiasm is smiling at coworkers in the hallway and engaging in genuine conversation with them. Enthusiasm is intentionally encouraging and connecting with those around us. Enthusiastic employees are engaged employees, so create enthusiasm today.

R – Relationships

Gallup talks about the importance of having friends at work and knowing that our leaders care about us. That personal connection, that idea of a relationship at work, is really important to us, even for those who say they “just” go to work to collect a paycheck. Our effectiveness, our happiness, and not surprisingly, our engagement all increases when we have a colleague or coworker we can connect with at work.


smiling-asian-young-woman-fist-bumping-male-colleague-workNow that we've settled on a common understanding of what employee engagement is and a tool for measuring it, lets move on to some things to do when it is low.

1. Ask.

The first thing to do is to ask. If you’re not sure how someone is doing or what their engagement level is, engage them in conversation. Ask questions like “Hey, how are you feeling about work these days?” or “How are things going at work?” Some of the questions we typically see in employee engagement studies can feel a bit intrusive when asked in casual conversation, so finding ways to approach topics in a conversational way can be a great way to see how someone is doing.

In our organization, all of our quarterly one-on-ones begin with a discussion of the “CAMPER” acronym we talked about last week. In each meeting we connect individually on, “How is your CAMPER? What is your level for each?” We do not anticipate that every employee has a mountain top experience every day. That’s not realistic or reasonable. We do expect that, as an organization, we are trending upward, and we are able to find balance by filling in each other’s gaps. Asking questions like “How are you feeling about your CAMPER?” allows you to see if someone is higher or lower in engagement than you expect or need them to be.

2. Do.

Next, we recommend doing something about it. We have an in-session survey in one of our classes that ranks people’s engagement on a scale from 12 to 60 (12 being the lowest and 60 the highest). In one of these sessions, one of the respondents in the room identified that they were at a 13, while the majority of the room was around 57 to 58. This tells me that there is not necessarily a problem in the organization, but rather there is a problem for that individual, and we’ve got to figure out how to help them succeed. The issue could be temporary, and the sooner we address it, the better. We need to help them increase their engagement, or we need to help them find a new way to engage with another team, department, or employer.

Here are some other things you can do to help improve someone’s engagement

  • If someone says they feel the pressure of busy season, then stop for a second and cheer them up. Celebrate their wins or offer an afternoon off.
  • If someone says that they’re not getting enough communication, then communicate with them. Share information, over-share even, until they say they hear you.
  • If someone feels like nobody cares whether they come to work – oh my goodness I hope that none of us would find ourselves in places like that – make eye contact and demonstrate compassion and care. Ask about their family. Ask about their day. Ask about something that matters to them so that they feel connected.

Once we’ve asked the question, we’ve got to do something about the answer.

3. Follow up.

The last thing to do is to follow up. It’d be super easy to say, “I’ve asked you the question, and I sent you that one email, or I hugged you that one day, or we had lunch together that one time, and wasn’t that enough?!”

The reality is, no. These are not once-and-done kind of things.

  • Follow up with someone after the busy season is over. Are they feeling less pressure now that we’re in the lighter days?
  • Follow up with someone after some time of increased communication with them. Are they getting your messages? Are they feeling more engaged?
  • Follow up with someone after working hard to connect with them in the office. Are they still feeling like their work doesn’t matter? Are they feeling a better connection with the rest of the team?

Following up means going back to the conversation, some period of time later, and saying really intentionally, “Hey I heard this about your engagement level; we took this specific action to improve it; now how’s it going?”


JournalingNow, we are going to talk, a little bit selfishly, about helping ourselves when our own engagement runs low. Specifically, we want to offer three steps for solving the problem of low engagement.

1. Reflect.

The first step is to really genuinely stop and think. Just shush for a minute. Stop talking, stop whining, stop complaining, stop bottling it up. Stop whatever you’re doing that’s not thinking and have some really intentional reflection time.

  • Over the last two weeks, what has impacted my engagement, my “CAMPER”?
  • Over the last six weeks, what has impacted my “CAMPER”?
  • Over the last three months, what has impacted my “CAMPER”?
  • How is my “CAMPER” status different today than when I started my job, when I started my current role, or when I started with this company?
  • Are there things going on outside of work that impact my engagement?

Really stop and think about these things. Ask yourself these questions and really reflect on the answers.

2. Regroup.

The second step is to regroup. Once you’ve identified that something is out of whack, and you’ve figured out the reason for it, then it’s time to switch things up.

  • What can you do differently?
  • What communication can you seek out?
  • What autonomy or empowerment can you take advantage of?
  • What have you learned that you can celebrate or teach to someone else?
  • What purpose do you need to connect to?
  • What enthusiasm do you need to add or ask for?
  • What relationships do you need to connect with?

Take these active steps to regroup and recharge your own CAMPER. We can’t always rely on others to increase our engagement. Sometimes we have to take the bull by its horns or pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and at least be empowered enough to seek out the help that we need.

3. Respond.

The last step is to respond. Once you’ve regrouped and thought about what you can do, it might be tempting to simply react. But after taking so many intentional, thoughtful steps, reacting wont quite do it justice. Instead, the third step is to respond. To respond is to DWYSYWD, if you will, to Do What You Said You Would Do.

  • In that same place where you reflected on your own engagement, keep a journal for a few weeks on what your engagement level is day-to-day or week-to-week.
  • Keep a journal on what things light you up and what things continue to tear you down.
  • Continue to do more of the things that drive your engagement up and fewer of the things that drive your engagement down.
  • Talk to your leader if you need to.
  • Talk to a career counselor or a coach if you realize that this current job or employer is not your home.

Life is too short for anyone to be miserable in what they are doing. If my engagement is down, not only am I making myself miserable, but I run the risk of bringing others down too, while also holding us back as an organization. So, it’s up to me to be the best me that I can be in the best environment for me.

We wrote this as a self-reflection in your own personal engagement, but for any leaders or influencers, part of our joy is helping those we influence to find the best way to be their very best selves.  If you know someone who is struggling with engagement right now, we encourage you to share this email with them and help them think through these words as well!

Sinikka headshot 2017

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day.


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