How to Improve Employee Engagement in Just 2 Steps

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Great Game of Business" by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are your employees slacking at work? How can you improve employee engagement?

Good engagement is when your employees are active and interested at work. Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham’s book The Great Game of Business discusses how to foster engagement to create a healthier workplace environment.

Learn how to improve employee engagement below.

The Benefit of Engagement

Before getting into how to improve employee engagement, we need to understand why it’s important. Stack and Burlingham explain that engagement helps companies succeed by unlocking employees’ true intelligence, creativity, and dedication. Engaged employees care about their jobs and the company they work for, so they’re more likely to use all their available faculties at work. This helps the company succeed because employees who use their full intelligence make better business decisions, while those who use their full creativity find innovative solutions to problems. Those with a strong sense of dedication work harder for the good of the company.

(Shortform note: It’s possible that engaged employees work harder and fully use all of their skills because of a psychological phenomenon called reciprocity. As discussed previously, early humans relied on group membership and cooperation to survive. To promote this cooperation, humans evolved to dislike being in debt to others. When someone feels indebted to another, they’ll try to repay that debt. Since engaged employees are more likely to feel fulfilled and happy at work, they might feel indebted to the company that provided them with these positive feelings, which encourages them to work harder to help the company succeed and repay that debt.)

On the other hand, unengaged employees are at higher risk of losing motivation and becoming lethargic at work, Stack and Burlingham warn. They’re more likely to focus on completing their specific tasks and collecting their paycheck, rather than on the company’s success as a whole. As a result, they’re more likely to use the minimum intelligence, creativity, and dedication required to complete their tasks, leaving a wealth of potential untapped.

(Shortform note: How can you avoid the negative effects of having unengaged employees and keep your workforce motivated? The key may be managing your employees effectively. According to First, Break All the Rules, the biggest risk to employee engagement is inefficient and hostile relationships between employees and management. These negative relationships are often caused by mismanagement, such as micromanaging or putting employees in a role that doesn’t fit them. Training or hiring managers who can understand employees’ weaknesses, talents, and personalities can make employees happier and more engaged, give them the autonomy to take ownership, and make the company more successful.)

How to Improve Employee Engagement

So, how can you cultivate employee engagement? According to the authors, one important factor is promoting accessibility: Businesses that are accessible are usually also more engaging because employees are constantly learning new, interesting information that helps them take an active role in the company.

(Shortform note: Accessibility is engaging because learning something new or mastering a skill releases a burst of dopamine, according to Raph Koster in A Theory of Fun For Game Design. This burst of dopamine generates pleasure and motivation, making employees more likely to learn more about the company and become more active in its operations in the hopes of earning another burst of dopamine.)

However, Stack and Burlingham maintain that accessibility is just the first step in generating engagement. We’ve synthesized his further suggestions for learning how to improve employee engagement into two main categories: setting goals and offering rewards.

Step #1: Set Company-Wide Goals

To create engagement, you need employees who are active and interested at work, Stack and Burlingham say. Setting specific company-wide goals achieves this by giving employees something concrete to work toward. For example, employees who are told that everyone has to make 100 sales this week will be more willing and able to take action and make those sales than employees who were abstractly told to increase sales.

In addition, setting goals increases employees’ interest in the work by showing them how they can influence the company’s success or failure, Stack and Burlingham explain. Seeing how their actions move the company toward reaching its goals shows employees that their jobs are meaningful and therefore more interesting.

Step #2: Offer Rewards

Offering rewards is also important for promoting engagement. People love getting rewards, Stack and Burlingham imply, and the existence of a reward interests them and encourages them to be active so that they can earn it.

(Shortform note: Rewards encourage engagement by associating active participation at work with positive feelings. Receiving a reward activates the pleasure centers of the brain, providing a burst of dopamine that makes people feel happy. Thus, employees will be more engaged because they want to earn more dopamine.)

Stack and Burlingham recommend two methods of offering rewards:

  1. Institute a bonus program
  2. Offer equity
How to Improve Employee Engagement in Just 2 Steps

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham's "The Great Game of Business" at Shortform.

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  • The best and most efficient way to create a successful business
  • Why employees should see the company as theirs rather than just somewhere they work
  • The principles of fostering employee ownership

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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