BY Beth Sunshine

SVP Talent & Up Your Culture
The Center for Sales Strategy

February 2024


Employee engagement is a hot topic these days. We often hear great leaders talking about the importance of engagement, saying things like, “I could never grow my business if my people weren’t engaged.”

We all know employee engagement is important, but unfortunately, that’s not enough. Making it happen is the hard part!

Recent Gallup research shows that only 32% of employees are engaged in their work today. That leaves a lot of disengaged employees who will each cost their companies a minimum of $2,246 yearly. Even worse, 65% of them plan to remain in their roles and continue to drag down their organizations in the coming year.

If we all know how important it is that our employees are engaged, why is disengagement at an all-time high?

In short, we are focusing on the wrong things.

Company leaders who want to increase employee engagement often confuse engagement with fun. With good intentions, they choose the wrong path and sink their time, money, and energy into failing efforts like picnics, puppies, and ping pong. While those things may be fun to the team, they don’t elevate engagement or make employees feel fulfilled. And they leave business leaders frustrated with their lack of results.

So, if “fun” won’t cut it, what is employee engagement, and how can an organization create it?


At Up Your Culture, we define employee engagement as an emotional commitment and willingness to give your best at work. When employees are engaged, they give discretionary effort and go the extra mile, which drives business results.

According to Forbes, highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability, 41% reduction in absenteeism, and 59% less turnover.


We have found four distinct ways to lift employee engagement, and we call them the four engagement elevators: shared mission, people development, valued voice, and earned trust. Companies committed to increasing engagement can use the actionable strategies associated with the engagement elevators to achieve measurable results.


The foundation of a strong culture is its shared mission. Organizations with highly engaged employees have a clear sense of who they are, where they are going as a company, and why they are working so hard to get there.

Their employees understand the mission because company leaders have communicated it well, so every employee feels they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Employees know where they’ve been as a team, where they are today, and where they’re headed in the future, and as a result, they feel as though they are on the journey together.

Companies with a strong shared mission also attract higher quality job candidates with the passion and energy to join the quest and help carry the load. This creates the momentum needed to take the company to the next level.


  • Define your vision. Look into your crystal ball and ask yourself what you see for your team or organization this time next year. How about in 3 years? Or 5? Describe that vision for all your employees so they can see it, too.
  • Define your purpose or reason for being. Work together with your leadership team to create a succinct statement that explains why your people show up and work so hard day after day. My company’s reason for being is to increase productivity by elevating engagement. That gets all of us out of bed every day regardless of the role we play in the organization.
  • Define your core values. How should employees treat customers and each other? What behaviors will be celebrated on this mission?


Spend some time observing companies with thriving cultures, and you’ll find managers who are great at hiring the right people, setting them up for success, and developing them to reach their full potential.

Here’s how these people development champions pave the way for strong employee engagement:

  • They know that every employee has different workstyles, communication preferences, and motivators – and they manage them accordingly.
  • They make sure to understand the unique strengths and weaknesses of each direct report so they can develop and leverage their talents.
  • They consistently communicate their expectations, so every employee knows exactly what success looks like.
  • They provide consistent and meaningful feedback on what their people are doing well so they can repeat those successful behaviors.
  • They consistently recognize good work.

Pro-Tip: Select one item from the list above and commit to using it consistently. Once you have built that habit, select your next item and keep that rolling until you see your people growing in their jobs and feeling more engaged at work.


Companies with great cultures value their people and respect their opinions. Their employees report that their leaders actively share information with them and often seek to understand their perspectives. It seems their managers strike a healthy balance between listening and leading, making it clear that while every employee will not always have a vote, they will always have a voice.

This is important because when people are valued in this way, they feel like they are on the inside, part of the solution, and even a partner in the success. They have more ownership in their work and are more likely to share information, ideas, and concerns they may not have revealed otherwise. This level of “psychological safety” generates a steady flow of innovative ideas and improvements and also gives company leaders valuable insight into potential obstacles ahead so they can avoid them.

Pro Tips:

  • Consider communication as cyclical, consistently sharing out so that they will share in.
  • Demonstrate that you value your employees by seeking their opinions regularly, asking good questions, and actively listening.
  • Eliminate judgment.
  • Consider how you can use skip-level meetings this year. These are one-on-one conversations between employee and a senior manager who is not their direct supervisor. The purpose is to gain insight into what’s happening in the organization from the employee’s perspective and provide the employee with the opportunity to ask questions and gain useful insights.


Trust is fundamental to high performance in any organization and essential to employee engagement. Leaders with the strongest cultures demonstrate integrity and promote transparency, which gives their employees confidence in their decisions.

In a recent Gallup poll, only 17% of people said their company leaders had “high” or “very high” levels of honesty and integrity. That lack of trust in leaders becomes a lack of employee engagement, which limits the organization’s success.

Pro Tip: Commit to:

  • Doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
  • Communicating your commitment to your people through both words and actions.
  • Putting the needs of your people ahead of your own.
  • Establishing a “speak up” culture, encouraging candor, and showing appreciation for honest, accurate input.
  • Demonstrating character by holding yourself and others accountable for the company values.
  • Refusing to tolerate behaviors that don’t align with those values.

These four engagement elevators will lift your engagement, but it’s not as easy as pressing a button and stepping on for a smooth ride. This takes consistent focus and effort, but trust me, it’s worth your time and energy. Not only will your employees show up each Monday ready to tackle the week, but you will earn a strong ROI in everything you put into this.

When engagement is strong, employees have a powerful sense of purpose, and they feel as though they have a stake in the game. As a result, they go above and beyond what others are doing, willing to give everything they’ve got to achieve success. This leads to measurable success, increasing revenue, retention, and profitability.

So, what strategies can use to elevate your employee engagement this year?





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