Know These 5 Observable Signs of Employee Engagement

Consulting groups offer hundreds of tips and solutions to improve employee engagement. But I feel they miss the mark in trying to boilerplate a strategy when describing what an actively engaged employee looks like remains so elusive.  I might have a solution.

One of my favorite musical groups is Yanni (and his orchestra). One of Yanni’s obvious leadership skills is selecting amazing individual talent and orchestrating them into a unique sound.  But while I usually enjoy listening to his music, I enjoy watching him and his orchestra perform even more.

To observe employee engagement in action, look no further than YouTube.  Search for Yanni (or other groups that have lasted through the decades) and pull up a few of the videos – then watch the musicians.  Here’s one of my favorites.

By watching this particular clip over and over, I wondered what captured my attention.  I discovered it was more than just the music.  It was the people, which means that in this video is a recipe for building active employee engagement.  But like your grandmother’s recipes, the ingredients are not always easy to replicate. Here are my thoughts. I hope you’ll share yours too. 

  1. Engagement is observable.  You don’t need a survey to tell you if employees are actively engaged or not.  Just open your eyes. Real engagement that links to long term business results requires an emotional attachment, not just a mental one. Short or long term – you can see engagement. Unquestionably short-term engagement can get results too – it’s just not sustainable. Just watch the musicians in the Yanni video. Watch the expressions of each performer. Do your employees work with such passion and enthusiasm?  Do they get as much pleasure from other’s success as they do their own?
  2. Engagement is infectious.  Active engagement can be felt by others.  Just as negative people can be toxic to attitude and productivity, engaged workers turn productivity and performance up a notch or two.  Other people are attracted to actively engage employees like a magnet.  They inspire others to perform better than they can alone, just by their presence.  Their passion and enthusiasm motivates others to get involved and stretch their talent.
  3. Engaged workers have fun. That doesn’t necessarily mean engaged workers are party animals and great socializers.  Individuals display active engagement differently.  Take the violinist for example.  I suspect from her body language she’d be typed as a High C using the DISC behavioral model.  Anyone who plays the violin that way has be a “perfectionist” to some degree. But even though she’s actively engaged, her mannerisms and expressions are still reserved, restrained.  Just watch the intensity in her eyes. You can see and feel her engagement. Despite her controlled style, you still get the feeling she’s loving what she’s doing. Compare her behavior to the very animated, highly expressive High I saxophonist. Is he more engaged than she is? NO! He just shows his engagement differently. Regardless, these two artists just keep feeding off one another, raising the energy of everyone participating and watching. They are competing yet enjoying each other’s talent.
  4. Engaged employees take talent to a new level.  This point will likely receive the more denials than any other point I make.  Most hard-working employees who are also very skilled at what they do will likely describe themselves as engaged.  But real active engagement requires more than just intellectual commitment and consistently meeting expectations. It requires more than just doing your job well. I propose that you can be a top performer without being engaged but you aren’t really actively engaged without being a top performer.  For employers, top performers who are not actively engaged poses a serious risk when it comes to turnover and productivity.
  5. Co-workers respect actively engaged workers. This might be the most telling and compelling sign of active engagement.  Go back to the video. Watch how each of the background musicians watches the featured musician.  Their heads are nodding, feet are tapping, and their expressions tell the story. They value each person’s contributions to the “team” and appreciate the success and talent of the others as much as they do their own. While each individual brings exceptional and unique skill, the engaged worker recognizes that individually the sound and performance produced would never have the same appeal if he was performing solo.  These musicians get utter enjoyment from watching the success of others.

That is how you can tell if employee engagement is high in your organization- just look around the workplace. What do you see – workers going through the motions – or co-workers and managers valuing the talents and successes of others?

Despite the investment of lots of time, money, and resources on employee engagement surveys, they are likely unnecessary for companies wondering if their employees are actively engaged.  As someone once told me, “if you have to ask, you don’t have it.”

I’d be interested to hear what you see in the video. Can employee engagement be observed If so, what are the signs? Please share your thoughts.




Ira S Wolfe


  1. Tom Short May 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm -

    I like the way you have described engagement and or the lack of engagement. If you have to ask if someone is engaged, you are correct, they are probably not engaged.

    The idea of band that is inSync and creating exceptional music is a good one. I would add to your comments above that people are engaged if they hold themselves and everyone in their group to a perform at a high standard and that they are actively engaged if they contribute innovative ideas and inspire the people around them. Again you could see this in the performance.

    Last but not least is appreciation, which you can see when the musicians acknowledge one another and when the audience (the clients) show their appreciation with their applause. This metaphor does translate to a business environment and starts with a simple thank you for job well done.

    We designed a product called Kudos to allow all the players to give recognition where recognition is due to create a foundation for engagement and culture of appreciation. Simple, fun, effective and affordable. I invite you to take a look at Kudos ( let us know what you think.