Employee engagement shouldn’t be an annual “check-the-box” activity; it needs to become an ingrained part of your company’s culture.

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Just as workplaces are changing — more people working remotely, more digital communication taking place, companies moving to more open floor plans without assigned spaces — the way we look at employee engagement needs to change.

Employee engagement shouldn’t be an annual survey with managers left on their own to figure out how they can earn higher scores the next year. Employee engagement needs to start at the executive levels and move from being an abstract annual survey to becoming an ingrained part of your company’s culture and part of the daily work of each people manager throughout your organization.

According to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report, only 33 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work versus 70 percent of employees at the world’s best organizations. Looked at the other way, it means 67 percent of the American workforce is either “not engaged” at work (51 percent) or, worse, is “actively disengaged” (16 percent).

What does employee disengagement mean to companies? Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. Disengaged employees are also more likely to steal from their company, negatively influence their co-workers, miss workdays and drive customers away.

On the other side of the spectrum, engaged employees are more likely to stay at their company, reducing overall turnover and associated costs. Engaged workers feel a stronger connection to their organization’s mission and purpose, which makes them more effective brand ambassadors. These are also the employees who build stronger relationships with customers, which helps their company increase sales and profitability.

What do the companies with employee engagement scores of 70 percent do differently? Here’s what Gallup says sets these companies apart:

  • They know creating a culture of engagement starts at the top.
  • Their leaders are aligned in prioritizing engagement as a competitive, strategic point of differentiation.
  • They communicate openly and consistently.
  • They place the utmost importance on using the right metrics and on hiring and developing great managers.
  • They ensure managers are engaging employees from the first minute of their first day at work.
  • They hold managers accountable for their team’s measured engagement level and for how it relates to their team’s overall performance.
  • They have well-defined and comprehensive development programs for leaders, managers, individuals and teams.
  • They make employee engagement a key aspect of their people strategy, not an annual “check-the-box” activity.

Want to make a positive impact on employee engagement scores in your organization? Put it front and center as a key cultural pillar for your company with the executive team as the drivers throughout the organization. Gallup emphasizes learning how to move from being a company with a culture of “paycheck” to a culture of “purpose” and from a culture of “employee satisfaction” to a “coaching culture.”

Why? Because the workplace is changing and so are employee attitudes. Employees want to feel that they’re a part of helping their company be successful. As Gallup notes in the report, “Most workers, many of whom are millennials, approach a role and a company with a highly-defined set of expectations. They want their work to have meaning and purpose.”

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.