Press Release / News
DNA of Engagement
02 March, 2017

Empowered to be Engaged: New Report Unpacks the Role of Rank-and-File

Workers in Bolstering Employee Engagement 

A growing body of research has shown the crucial role employee engagement plays in the success of work units, departments, companies, and entire economies. In the U.S. alone, disengaged employees cost organizations an estimated $450–550 billion each year.  Worldwide, study after study has found no more than a third of employees are truly engaged at work, with the rest either neutral or, worse, actively disengaged. Behind this impasse lies a critical piece of the engagement puzzle that organizations often overlook: the role and responsibility of individual workers.    

The latest report from The Engagement Institute™—a joint venture of The Conference Board, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Sirota-Mercer, ROI Institute, and The Culture Works—steps into the breach. Released today, DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Can Foster Employee Ownership of Engagement reveals how motivations, incentives, expectations, and personalities drive employees at every level to fully engage with their jobs—or not. It offers organizations actionable insights drawn from two surveys—one of human capital executives and another of managers and employees—alongside 24 focus groups and case studies of five exemplar companies.

“Earlier in our DNA of Engagement series, we identified the critical practices that leaders and organizations must take to drive engagement,” said Rebecca Ray, Ph.D., executive director of The Engagement Institute and a co-author of the report. “Yet all those efforts amount to naught if employees themselves do not take personal responsibility for creating, sustaining, and displaying positive attitudes, mindsets, behaviors, and motivation at work. Disengaged workers are a drain on productivity and represent a huge missed opportunity. Today’s report provides a robust, ground-level view of the problem, and a comprehensive roadmap for creating the conditions that support employee ownership of engagement.”

Keys to Cracking the Engagement Puzzle

Over the past year, The Engagement Instituteset out to uncover how human capital leaders, managers, and rank-and-file employees think about employee engagement and envision the role that all can play in shaping an empowering workspace that drives productivity and innovation.  Leveraging data from over 1,500 survey respondents, two dozen focus groups, and in-depth interviews, DNA of Engagement reveals how organizations and leadership can help employees manage their own engagement and, most importantly, what employees need to understand about their role in engagement.     

DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Can Foster Employee Ownership of Engagement report lays out this path through several key findings:

  • The widespread assumption remains that engagement comes from above. A majority of employees put the onus for building and sustaining engagement on those above them in the corporate hierarchy—including senior leaders, immediate managers, and HR executives. Previous research from The Engagement InstituteTM certainly confirms the indispensability of top leadership and organizational culture. But this finding suggests that encouraging personal agency and ownership is an underutilized engagement lever.
  • Most employees are committed to taking responsibility for their own engagement. Workers intuitively understand the benefits of engagement on themselves, their teams, and the organization, and over 95 percent of those surveyed are aware when they begin feeling disengaged. Still, much smaller majorities regularly seek ways to stay engaged or take steps to re-engage—a clear opportunity for companies that gives workers new and novel tools for monitoring and maintaining their personal engagement.
  • Both personal and organizational factors impact the extent to which employees take responsibility for their own engagement. While certain personality traits and learning orientations predispose some workers to take ownership of engagement in any environment, those that lack them aren’t consigned to passivity. High-trust relationships, well-designed jobs,and a compelling mission can all make employees more active stewards of their own engagement.             
  • Specific, proven steps are available for employees seeking to re-engage at work. Many workers both appreciate the personal and organizational benefits of maximum engagement and recognize when their own engagement is waning, but lack effective ways to close the gap and recharge their energy and motivation. Drawn from the experience of focus group participants, DNA of Engagement details six such strategies, ranging from modelling a positive attitude and reflecting on impact and value to communicating career needs and challenges to leadership.
  • Likewise, there are specific steps leaders can take to help employees take ownership of engagement. Most managers recognize the central role they play in empowering their employees to take charge of engagement. Among other actions, leaders can bolster employees’ personal responsibility by regularly connecting their work to the mission of the organization, recognizing their contributions, and promoting a collaborative team environment.          
  • Frontline managers diverge substantially from human capital executives in their understanding of what—and who—drives engagement. Overall, HC leaders charged with organization-wide engagement policies still subscribe to a heavily top-down model in which managers play the prime role in motivating their subordinates to remain (or become) actively engaged. By contrast, managers themselves more often foreground the significance of individual initiative—and the vast diversity of employee personalities and working styles. This gap in perceptions is a critical concern; closing it will require a more holistic, systemic approach that identifies individual levers of engagement beyond the manager−employee relationship.      


Visit the DNA of Engagement 2017 portal for complete details.  

Report:         DNA of Engagement: How Organizations Can Foster Employee Ownership of Engagement

By Rebecca L. Ray, Ricardo Aparicio, Patrick Hyland, David Dye, Jodi Simco, and Anthony Caputo


The conversation continues on Twitter. Follow @Conferenceboard and #tcbEngagement.

About The Conference Board
The Conference Board is a global, independent business membershipand research association working in the public interest. Our mission is unique: To provide the world’s leading organizationswith the practical knowledge they need to improve their performance and better serve society. The Conference Board is a non-advocacy, not-for-profit entity holding 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status in the United States.


For further information contact:

Rebecca L. Ray, Ph.D.
+1 212 339 0481

Ricardo Aparicio, Ph.D.

Patrick Hyland, Ph.D.

David A. Dye, Ph.D.

Jodi Simco

Anthony Caputo


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