The Key to Boosting Employee Engagement

It’s Not What You Think...

employee engagement

Employee engagement is a hot topic in business these days, and for good reason. To put the issue into stark perspective, here are two statistics for you: 70% of U.S. workers have been found to be either not engaged or actively disengaged at work (Source: Gallup “State of the American Workplace” 2014 report); and increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year (Source: Workplace Research Foundation). Corporate learning researcher and advisor, Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte, notes that “engagement has not gone up for the last 20 or 30 years.”

It Goes Much Deeper
What is the key to increased employee engagement? Higher compensation, company outings, and better food in the cafeteria help, but achieving sustainable success goes much deeper than this. For us, conflict advisors who work with individuals, leaders, and teams on-site in all kinds of organizations, what consistently rises to the top is this factor: an individual’s sense of being heard, appreciated, and contributing constructively to something important. Employees want to feel that their work means something and their ideas matter. They want to feel they are being respected by their peers, their superiors and the leadership of the company. They feel inspired by an environment in which teams are working together to achieve common goals. Richard Branson puts it this way: “A company is people … employees want to know… am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel? People really need to feel wanted.”

“The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel. And if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.” ~Sybil F. Stershic

To understand what an engaged, productive workplace looks like, let’s look at its opposite:  a place where individuals or teams do not feel encouraged to speak up and share ideas; where management is not transparent and mistrust prevails; where an undercurrent of disrespect, bullying or harassment festers. We see this in dysfunctional client situations and it’s called unmanaged conflict. The results are just what you would expect – disengaged employees, low productivity, high sick days and turnover, and stagnant growth.

Embracing Constructive Conflict
Conflict naturally occurs when two or more people get together, so the problem is not conflict per se. In fact, the key to lasting employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity? Constructive conflict!  When you make conflict a positive partner in your business, you not only head off the kind of conflict I just described, but you nurture a workplace that encourages creative ideas, active and inspired participation, and open and respectful communication. Create and encourage these cultural norms and you’ll be head and heels above most workplace environments.

The tools and skill sets used to mitigate situations of disputes and negative conflicts also can work to create the foundation of healthy interpersonal relationships, the underpinnings of an engaging, positive and productive work environment. ‘Harnessing the power of conflict’ is a proactive approach that boosts employee engagement in these important ways:

  • Encourages open communication and innovation by establishing the rules of respectful discourse
  • Optimizes team dynamics to move collaboratively toward achieving common goals
  • Ensures transparency and trust among peers, as well as up and down the organizational ladder
  • Deflects potential negative conflicts before they become larger issues that poison a healthy work culture
  • Supports management with research-based tools and training

“Constructive differing is productive—out and out conflict is not.”

Understanding the importance of making conflict a positive partner in your business is the first step toward boosting employee engagement. One very productive next step is to assess how your workplace team and employees are doing on the positivity/productivity scale. The Team DiagnosticTM is a convenient online diagnostic tool you can use to show how your team compares to a proven model of team effectiveness, through factors that optimize productivity and factors that optimize positivity.

Addressing and improving workplace engagement and culture issues is challenging work, but profound outcomes are possible when shared learning and mutual experiences are nurtured and appreciated.

How have you used Constructive Conflict and what were your outcomes? I welcome your comments below.


Adapted and reprinted with permission from

Like the content? Sign up for more…It’s FREE!

Our Privacy Guarantee: Your e-mail address will never be shared with anyone else. Education only, no selling of products or services.

Mark Batson Baril, MSMACS, Founder and Senior Practitioner at Resologics, is an organizational ombudsman, mediator, conflict coach, team coach, facilitator and conflict systems analyst.

It took Mark 30 years and three successful businesses to clarify his passion for conflict engagement and resolution. He had been on teams with companies including Lockheed Martin, 3M, GE Healthcare, Burton Snowboards, PALL Corporation and Medtronic, producing everything from flexible-circuits and medical devices to high-volume packaging and snowboards, before he realized that fostering productive relationships was his favorite type of project. After intuitively applying these practices for decades, Mark earned a Masters in Mediation and Conflict Studies from the Woodbury Institute. Complemented by decades of business experience and a BS in Business and Personnel Management, he has helped dozens of new and mature organizations avoid classic stumbling points and to work toward realizing their potential.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Patrick Trottier

    Hi Mark -great bring out some thoughts that challenges ‘status quo thinking’ especially about ‘conflict’. Conflict is a great source of learning on so many levels regarding self, group, organization, challenging situations, and the underlying dynamics involved. Most cultures in the western world will do anything to negate, ignore and dismiss conflict – it is seen as a bad thing and we learn to stay away, and deny. How many times have I seen a manager bring two people into a room and simply state for them to go away and work it out, or else…

    In relation to ’employee engagement’, it is no wonder about the percentages since most organizational structures and cultures are still based on the ‘parent – child syndrome’.

    In my experience there seem to be, but not limited to, four ‘streams and levels of engagement’:

    1. Engagement through ‘input’ in workshops, meetings, surveys, general
    assessments, social events, ‘change event’ interventions. (low level of
    engagement – common)

    2. Engagement through people’s day-to-day work functions aligned to a higher order of purpose. (rare )

    3. Engagement through ‘job design’, customized systems interface,
    scope of decision-making, and ‘degree of control on the job’. (rare)

    4. Engagement through involvement in creating the strategic and operational focus / alignment of the organization at every level. (rare)

    But, as long as hierarchies have that ‘parent-child’ mentality, things will probably stay the same…