A Study of Over 19,000 People Reveals The 2 Most Critical Factors of Highly Engaged Employees

ADP Research recently released the results of a massive global study on engagement that involved over 19,000 people across 19 countries and 13 industries. The study included full-time employees, part-time employees, gig workers, those with multiple jobs, and people with full-time jobs plus gig jobs on the side.

As my colleague Drea Zigarmi and I wrote in a March 2019 article for Workforce Magazine, employee engagement is a broad and complex problem that organizations spend $720 million a year trying to solve, according to a Bersin & Associates report. Yet when it comes to engagement there isn’t even a commonly accepted definition of the term. Descriptions vary widely, with elements that include commitment, goal alignment, enjoyment and performance, to name a few.

ADP Research and Marcus Buckingham define engagement as “a positive state of mind characterized by ‘vigor, dedication and absorption’” (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). Vigor describes the willingness to invest all of one’s self into work and refers to high levels of conscientiousness, persistence, energy, and mental toughness. Dedication refers to being strongly connected to one’s work while experiencing a sense of significance, pride, enthusiasm, and challenge. Absorption implies being deeply involved in one’s work, such that time passes quickly and disconnecting from work becomes difficult.

So, what did the results of their research find? The two factors that stood out above all others that characterized highly engaged employees were:

  1. Being on a team increases engagement
  2. Trust in the team leader is the foundation of engagement

Workers who are part of a team are 2.3 times more likely to be fully engaged than those who are not. These results were consistent across country, industry, virtual workers, or those co-located. Too many organizations discount the power and importance of teams. Our own research at The Ken Blanchard Companies has shown that organizations charge teams with solving their most persistent and difficult problems, but few organizations support their teams with proper training and tools to be successful working as a group. ADP’s research indicated 64% of respondents worked in more than one team, and 75% report that their teams are not represented in their employer’s organization chart. Teams exist all across the organization, but they live in shadows and carry out their work without much official organizational support.

A worker is 12x more likely to be Fully Engaged if he or she TRUSTS the team leader.

ADP’s research also revealed that by far, the best explanation for employees’ level of engagement was whether the team members trust their team leader. Of those who strongly agreed that they trusted their team leader, 45% were fully engaged. Of those who didn’t strongly agree, only 6% were fully engaged. Team members who trust their team leader are 12 times more likely to be fully engaged.

How can you lay the groundwork for teams to be successful and well supported in your organization? Here’s a few ways to get started:

  1. Officially endorse and charter teams—Most teams get started by a leader deciding to pull some people together to tackle a problem. Someone gets designated as the team leader and then the team gets to work. Instead, take the time to officially charter the team. Clearly identify its purpose, goals, norms, communication strategies, and decision-making processes. Provide the team with budget, manpower, and other organizational resources that will enable it to be successful.
  2. Establish a common language of trust—Trust doesn’t happen by accident and given the importance of team leaders having the trust of their team members, it’s critical that organizations take the time to train their employees on how to build trust. Trust is based on perceptions, and those perceptions are formed by the behaviors we use. Each one of us has a slightly different idea of what trust means to us, and unless the team shares a common definition of trust, trust will be harder to build. Team leaders will be perceived as trustworthy if they exemplify the ABCD’s of trust—Able, Believeable, Connected, and Dependable.
  3. Help teams navigate conflict—Teams inevitably experience rough patches and must deal with conflict. Not all conflict is the same, so it’s important for team leaders to understand the different types of conflict and how to deal with each of them. Some conflict is over positions, strategies, or opinions. If handled correctly, this can be healthy conflict that leads to better decisions and outcomes. Other conflict arises from power issues, personal agendas, or lack of trust. This kind of conflict can poison a team from the inside-out and must be dealt with quickly and effectively. Check out 4 Types of Team Conflict And How to Deal With Each Effectively for more information.

Trust is the foundation of any healthy and vibrant relationship, so it’s not a great surprise to find that ADP’s research identifies trust in team leaders as the foundation of engagement. The answer is obvious, so now the question becomes what are you going to do about it?