If you own a business, run a corporation, or manage people, I am sure you are struggling with, among other things, getting employees motivated, focused, and engaged. It seems to be the challenge of the day with business owners and leaders. A poll recently released by Gallup estimates that the disengaged employee rate is at an all time high and is costing U.S. companies more than $450 billion per year; costs that reveal themselves in ways such as increased rates of absenteeism, turnover, quality control, and just good ole fashioned whining and complaining. All of these “little things” combine to create $450 billion worth of “soft costs” that are in addition to the already “heavy costs” of running your company. These so called “soft costs” sure feel hard when they squeeze margins and negatively impact your bottom line.

So Houston, we have a problem – and I would say a big one. And U.S. companies are trying hard to do something about it. In fact, a study put out by Bersin & Associates discovered that U.S. companies are spending nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars per year trying to solve the problem. The study went on to further explain that figure – high as it is — only represents about half of the $1.53 billion that Bersin & Associates projects companies will eventually spend on this challenge we call employee engagement.

And just to add insult to injury, not only are companies spending upwards of $700 million trying to improve employee engagement, but the research is proving that no matter the amount companies are dedicating and committing to the problem the problem is doing nothing but continuing to grow. It is not improving, in fact, it is getting worse; employee engagement is actually on the decline.

Now that is interesting, troubling and downright scary! We recognize we have a problem, we dedicate resources to it, we commit to solving it, and still the problem continues to grow. Makes you wonder: What are we doing, how are we doing it, and what about it obviously needs to change? If we want to solve this problem we call employee engagement, we are going to have to take a look at how we deal with employee engagement and then turn that process on its head. The one thing we know about what we are currently doing to solve the employee engagement problem is that it is not working!

We have to look at employee engagement and ask ourselves, “Whose job is it any way?” I mean can we really engage an employee? Companies are spending all this time, money, and resources on building employee engagement programs. They recruit senior-level leadership, hire high-end employee engagement consultants, and invest in the best training programs, all in an effort to engage employees.

And while all of the above are important and all are necessary steps in the employee engagement process, they all leave out one very critical step, the one thing you really need if you want to make employee engagement work, the missing link so to speak: the employee. If you want to engage your employees, if you want them to get more focused, more efficient, and more effective, then take a look at what is missing in your employee-engagement process – the employee. Oh, we think we “involve” the employee because we put them on committees, ask their opinion, and hold “town meetings” to ensure our employees participate in open communication forums. However, there is a very thin, I mean a very thin, line between telling people to get engaged and actively involving them in engagement. And it is that very thin line that holds the key, the secrets, and the missing link that increases profitability, morale, and customer satisfaction. People support what they help create, and to engage, employees must have skin in the game. Engagement is not something we can do for other people; it is a personal choice they need to make.

Now, that does not mean leaders get off scot-free. Your job is to create an authentic culture, and let me stress authentic, where employee engagement is encouraged, supported, and rewarded. But understand this is a two-pronged approach, with personal responsibility following to both members of the team – leaders and employees. You build the culture, a true employee-engagement culture, and they WILL come!

So I have you hooked right? Now, you want to know how to build the authentic culture, discover the missing link, and make sure you identify that very thin line that will increase profitability, morale, and customer satisfaction. Well stay tuned, because in this next series of blog posts we are going to “engage” you in exactly how to solve and actually master the employee-engagement problem!