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Greenville Business Magazine

What really drives employee engagement?

Nov 01, 2018 09:40AM ● By Kathleen Maris

By Tom Devane

Top leaders are often shocked when talented employees jump ship. We’ve seen this reaction before. Leaders scratch their heads and curiously think: but we paid them far above the industry average. Why on earth would they choose to leave?

The truth is, “Show me the money” isn’t where it’s at. 

If the place down the street offers a far better working environment for the same amount of pay — or heck, even 15 percent less — trust me when I tell you employee retention is at risk. We know this because our research has proven it time and time again.

We’re not saying money is unimportant. It is. What we’re saying is, money isn’t the most important thing.

A candidate generally knows pay and benefits in advance of accepting an offer. What they typically don’t know is the culture of the organization, which drives employee engagement. So what is most important to employees? In our surveys nationwide, we see three common factors.

Direction: At top performing companies, employees believe in the organization and the direction set by senior leadership. Employees who believe the company is headed in the right direction are also aligned around that direction. And there’s an additional biological and psychological benefit for people, too. When everyone is aligned behind the company’s direction, it connects them to the common ground of sharing their desire to achieve it.

Appreciation: This impacts people on a deep, emotional level. It increases motivation, job satisfaction, self-esteem — even overall employee health and well-being. It’s the glue that holds teams together. Not only does appreciation help people feel good, it also affects how teams operate and, ultimately, how companies perform. When organizations recognize what people contribute to the organization, employees will emulate that behavior in the future. Appreciation is a magnet that draws people toward better results.

The Leader: The person at the top of the org chart is the person with the biggest influence on the health of the company. Energy and commitment dwindle when a company’s leader doesn’t pay attention to the people part of the business. When employees don’t think the head of the organization is competent to lead, they begin to wonder about financial performance, the long-term staying power of the company, and job security.

Once you get past the basic human need for cash, intrinsic motivation gets the juices flowing. Engaged employees want to stick around, perform at their best, and they will recommend your organization to others.

Tom Devane is vice president of workplace consulting for Energage, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm that surveyed nearly 3 million employees at more than 7,000 organizations in 2018. Energage is the research partner for Top Workplaces. Nominate your company as a Top Workplace at

About The Top Workplaces Program:

The Top Workplaces program identifies organizations that excel at organizational health and employee engagement. Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly, and Charleston Business Magazine, in partnership with Energage, formerly WorkplaceDynamics, offers a free assessment through a simple, scientifically sound, and anonymous employee feedback survey.

The Top Workplaces program recruits organizations, walks them through the survey, and creates the list of top-ranking companies. Why participate? Consider the benefits:

Shout out, stand out: Encourage workplace pride. If you work at a great company, give colleagues a morale boost with something to celebrate. And give your employer well-served credit for creating something special.

Assess, reward, and improve: The results from the Top Workplaces survey can help assess the health of companies. They validate achievements, reveal problem areas, and set a foundation for new goals.

Boost recruiting: Attract and retain the best talent. Employees want to work at companies recognized as leaders that operate by a strong set of values.

Raise the business profile: The Top Workplaces logo on company materials and websites helps spread the word about successful work environments. Customers and business partners will take notice. That awareness can help create new business opportunities, too.

Earn public recognition: Achievements are recognized by Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly, and Charleston Business Magazine.

“Top Workplaces is more than just recognition,” said Doug Claffey, CEO of Energage. “Our research shows organizations that earn the award attract better talent, experience lower turnover, and are better equipped to deliver bottom-line results. Their leaders prioritize and carefully craft a healthy workplace culture that supports employee engagement.”

To participate, go to or call (864) 501-9699.

Energage, founded in 2006, is located in Exton, Pennsylvania. A leader in organizational health research and SaaS-based HR tools, Energage has reached more than 17 million employees from 50,000+ organizations through its employee engagement platform, Top Workplaces program, and workplace improvement solutions.

Contact: Bob Helbig, Media Partnerships Director Energage 414.207.1648