• Shohreh R Aftahi, PhD

Employee Engagement, Productivity, & Retention



Organizations need to get the very best work from their employees. However, the challenge is twofold, the need to retain employees while keeping them productive. Productivity and employee retention is a global challenge. Regardless of the organization, employees are asked to do more with fewer resources. Companies must make sure the way work is done does not lead to burnout and voluntary departure from the organization. In other words, a primary focus for organizations is going to have to become experts at employee engagement.


There are many conflicting definitions of “engagement.” Such as “employee satisfaction,” “advocacy,” “commitment to stay with the organization,” “sense of pride” in the organization. These concepts must be measured to meet the challenge.


One method of measuring these concepts is using an engagement survey with tested, relevant, and reliable questions. And others consider more qualitative approaches such as “discretionary effort” or “purpose and passion” as measures to gauge employee engagement. It is evident there is a lack of consistency that has confused everyone involved in understanding, measuring, and addressing employee engagement.


The employee engagement definition we use in this article is: “the emotional state of mind that causes people to do their best work sustainably.”


Engagement is the set of emotions that individuals feel toward their work, their coworkers, and themselves. These emotions then are the cause for them to do their best work and find the work fulfilling. This definition is based on the notion that people’s feelings affect their behavior. Thus, the word “engagement” includes multiple concepts of “how does the person feel” and “how do these feelings affect the person’s ability to be the best version of themselves at work and do his or her best work consistently.” There is no doubt that organizations benefit from the increased engagement that allows them to create a high-performing company. When the employees bring their whole self to work, they are much more likely to give their best today and stay with the organization longer.


This notion leads to understanding the specific set of feelings that predict productivity today and retention in the future. To understand which emotions predict high-performance, leaders must experiment with different survey questions and then identify which specific questions correlate with performance and retention. The strongest and most consistent correlations identified will provide the most evident indications for the highly critical feelings to a person’s engagement.


It is noteworthy to clarify, regardless of how important a specific set of feelings is assumed to be, if it is not possible to prove that the presence of these feelings predicts performance or retention, then these feelings are not essential elements of engagement. The definition of engagement we have adopted— “the emotional state of mind that causes people to do their best work, sustainably” — not only provides us with a clear proposition about what engagement is, it also shows us how we can confirm or reject the core elements of engagement. When the core elements have been identified, we also can prove or challenge that increases in engagement lead to increased performance and reduce voluntary turnover.


Case Study


At ThriveVance, we recently helped a global manufacturing organization address employee productivity and retention. The circumstance in this organization was highly tense and volatile, leading to increased HR complaints, four lawsuits in recent years, and 69% turnover, which were voluntary exits at all levels of the organization.


To begin addressing these issues, we started gathering data by conducting an organizational 360 survey assessment. The questions on this survey were validated and tested for reliability to ensure we are collecting clean data. We also conducted in-person interviews with a cross-functional sample of the employees as well all senior leadership.


The data revealed five specific areas that were causing disfunction in this company; lack of trust, feeling valued, voices being heard, equity, and equal access to opportunities.


Further examination of the data highlighted that the bulk of the issue is caused by supervisory and middle management.


The solution we designed and implemented included several elements:

  • Leadership Engagement & ownership

  • Leadership Training and Coaching for Supervisors and middle managers

  • Productive Companywide Communication

  • Progressive Performance Development

  • Creating a Coaching Culture

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