Secret to Employee Engagement


We know it. It is rather intuitive. Even the scientists agree on it. Employee engagement works!

The studies show clearly that engaged employees are more likely to exhibit higher levels of discretionary effort which in turn leads to higher performance. They also have higher levels of intent to stay, thus, avoiding turnover seeking behaviours.

Makes sense. If I like the people that I work with, understand my job requirements clearly, internalize high performance expectations and believe that staying with my firm is good for my career goals, I would put a lot of effort in to make this a success. It makes perfect sense.

Data supports it, too. In 2009, Harter et Al. concluded that productivity drops 18% between top and bottom performers in employee engagement whereas quality dropped a staggering 60%. Gonrig 2008, found that there was a serious, 1,000% disparity in errors between the disengaged and engaged employees in Fortune 100 companies. On top of that, engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave. This is huge.


On the other hand, our performance in engaging employees can be described as dismal at best. According to Gallup, a devastating 70% of the workforce is not engaged at work. This is also huge; in a very disappointing sense. Actually, looking at Gallup’s site on employee engagement is truly a heart breaking experience for most HR professionals.

It is not that we are not trying. 72% of corporate leaders affirm that employee engagement is one of their top business priorities. We survey our people, establish committees, deploy KPI’s, hire consultants, develop schemes, organize social events etc. Unfortunately, the numbers are not budging, just yet. Especially young talent is finding it quite hard to engage with their companies.


When you start digging deeper than the usual generational differences explanation you are faced with a serious problem with early loss of individual motivation. According to HBR, 85% of employees' motivation sharply declines after their first six months—and continues to deteriorate for years after.

This is bad. 6-months is such a short period of time to lose motivation. But what is worse is that low levels of motivation kick in a special mechanism in the brain that prevents employee engagement, as well; a balancing mechanism that is automatic, subconscious and very powerful. In most cases irreversible, too. Once motivation at a job is low, forget about engagement with the company.


Yes, the culprit is cognitive dissonance. Simply put; there is a constant inclination to align our values, opinions and attitudes with our behaviour. When they contradict, we experience stress and discomfort. Thus, seek ways to eliminate that stress either by changing the behaviour or adopting new attitudes that are consistent with the new reality. Our mind wants consistency. A mere 46% of our daily behaviour can be explained by this powerful mechanism.

In the case of the demotivated young talent at her 6th month, we are faced with exactly this type of tension; the tension between her original positive attitudes and opinions at the start of the new job and the ever diminishing levels of productive behaviour after 6 months. As demotivation sets in, so does cognitive dissonance.

Motivation level at work (behaviour) and level of engagement (attitudes) crave to always be in harmony. If your motivation at work is low, you either do something about it, or change your opinion about work. And we know which one is easier.

So, in most cases, early loss of motivation = quick disengagement with the company.

Consistency rules!


It is not that younger generations do not want to engage. They do. It is that we are losing the motivation too early, too fast, much faster than engagement could flourish and take root.

Good news is, the opposite of this is true as well. If you design a motivation focused talent recruitment, onboarding and early career planning process, then cognitive dissonance will start to work for you. If I am motivated at work, I give extra effort and energy into what I do, then I have to like where I work. Again, consistency supreme.

So, drop whatever you are doing right now and analyse your talent acquisition and onboarding processes. The golden question is “how motivated are my 0-6 month employees?”