Engagement metrics are not simply statistics for statistics’ sake. They have been shown to be directly linked to performance and profitability. For that reason, many leaders may be disturbed to know that engagement rates among employees have remained stagnant since Gallup’s 2013 wake-up call of a report on record low engagement.

Despite the fact that that report did serve as a wake up call to many, new policies were put in place, and more active steps were taken to create a “future of work” employees can get excited about, the numbers look grim. Mark C. Crowley recently sat down with Dr. Jim Harter, Gallup’s “engagement Jedi” to find out why. Here are a few things he learned:

Measurement isn’t enough. With companies on the exemplary end of the engagement spectrum clocking in at around 65% engagement, it’s clear that getting these numbers up from average is no easy feat. Creating a culture of high engagement must start from the top. It’s easy to measure something, or to change the way you ask the questions in order to get more desirable results. It’s very difficult to enact actual change that employees from the top down respond to.

Perks work, if they’re in the right spirit. That is, perks that have a positive effect on the worker’s day to day experience, such as flex time, can be great ways to up engagement, while some fancy item like a watch may have no positive effect at all. This is all about supporting the employee, and it is a crucial mindset for having engaged employees.

Managers hold the most power. Not to crack the whip, but to motivate and inspire. But instead of laying the blame for poor engagement at the feet of managers, let’s instead look to their preparation to become managers. Often, more coaching and training is needed for first-time managers to really be confident and measured in their actions and directives. While some people are natural born leaders, very few automatically possess the skill set required to do it well.

So if leaders want to increase their employee engagement numbers, they need to first forget about the assessments and instead look to themselves. Are they doing all they can to inspire their employees? Are they doing all they can to create an environment that is conducive to doing creative work in comfort?

Increasing engagement begins when leadership stops waiting for employees to “get it together,” and starts to change things themselves.

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