As a business leader, you know that unhappy employees cost your company money. But do you have any idea how high that cost really is?

The Business Case for Employee Engagement

We know from Gallup’s Employee Engagement Survey that only 32 percent of employees in the U.S. are actually engaged at work. The majority (50.8%) of employees were "not engaged," while another 17.2% were "actively disengaged." That means only one-third of employees are actively working to drive the business forward.

According to Gallup, “engaged employees are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work. Employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes essential to an organization's financial success, such as productivity, profitability and customer engagement. Engaged employees support the innovation, growth and revenue that their companies need."

The costs of low employee engagement aren't limited to turnover and recruitment. McLean & Company found that a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary. Disengaged employees cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year due to lost productivity.

Bottom line: employee engagement affects customer experience.

What to Do about Employee Engagement

You need to start by listening to your employees like you would listen to your customers. And it must be ongoing and in different ways. Of course, an employee engagement survey is a good place to start. It will give you a baseline and a way to continue to measure progress. But to truly understand your company’s employee engagement, you have to listen constantly and actively. And even with the best of intentions, efforts to really listen to employees fail. Oftentimes employers are sure they've created open channels of communication, but they don't recognize when employees are keeping silent or simply saying what they think someone wants to hear.

In order to be successful, companies must view employee engagement as an ongoing, disciplined method to achieve higher performance. High-growth companies have a clear purpose behind their strategy for engaging employees. Start by trying to really understand where the company is today, and where it wants to be in the future. Create realistic milestones and actions to help you get there!

Ways to REALLY Listen to Your Employees

To avoid your feedback efforts becoming a “complaint department," be sure to frame these opportunities with a focus on how to deliver a better customer experience. And remember… engaged employees deliver better customer experiences.

Indirectly (Confidentially)

• Department Feedback Exercise — Ask each department to share feedback around a specific topic on poster boards or typed in a shared document. Optional: share the posters/documents in a common location where everyone can view the feedback.

• Anonymous Surveys — Employee engagement surveys are a great way to start to understand your company’s level of employee engagement and to measure progress over time. Many companies focus on an annual or biannual survey. Take the opportunity to get feedback more frequently through smaller surveys or surveys on a particular topic.

• Feedback Jar — Place a jar, fishbowl, any container really, in a common place like a staff kitchen, lounge or break room. Provide pens and blank paper and encourage employees to share things they’d like to see changed, ideas they have, or compliments they would like to give.

Directly — Every face-to-face interaction is an opportunity to listen.

• Meetings — Whether it be a staff meeting, department meeting, or one-on-one. Take time to really listen to employees. When possible, look for nonverbal cues and ask for clarification. Take the time to verify what you’ve heard, rather than making assumptions, and watch your own body language.

• Town Hall Meetings — I recently had the chance to hear Wilson Jones from Oshkosh Corporation speak. With locations spread out across the globe, it can be a real challenge to engage with and listen to employees. This is where Wilson accepts the challenge. He shared how he goes about holding Global Town Hall meetings in which all locations participate. Employees from all offices get together and tune in, listen to Wilson’s address, and ask questions. Whether physical or virtual, town hall meetings are a great way to talk about the state of the organization, the culture, and goals, and to solicit feedback.

If you are looking to take listening to your employees to the next level, take a page from Hulu’s book. They were looking to uncover what it truly meant to serve their customers by helping employees deliver a more positive brand experience. Read more about how Hulu created and linked an employee feedback system to its customer feedback system to create powerful feedback loops that engaged employees and helped the company adapt to fast-changing consumer expectations.

Remember, listening is just that—listening. Without honest, ongoing communication and continuous strategies to align your culture and your brand, results will fall flat. We know it is clear—if you are looking to increase sales, productivity, and customer loyalty, it starts with employee engagement. Get it right, and brand loyalty will resound from the inside out!