Employee Engagement Changes the Role of Leadership

Management must include itself in an employee engagement initiative to see real value

At SAS, It’s Far More Than Just Generous Perks

It’s long been debated whether "happy" workers are indeed more engaged and productive than their discontented comrades, and whether organizations that invest in generous employee perks get rewarded with greater profitability. Looking at one example, SAS's performance over the past 37 years, provides proof that investing in employees yields results. SAS, well known in North Carolina as a generous employer, has had 37 consecutive years of record earnings—over $3 billion in 2014.

But dig well below the surface of generous perks and benefits that characterize SAS (and most other perennial "Best Companies To Work For"), and you’ll discover its management team operates with uncommon philosophies, methods, and intentions.

They’ve discovered that feelings and emotions are the true drivers of employee loyalty, innovation, and productivity, and purposely have made workforce happiness one of their primary missions.” — Fast Company.

A True Culture Change

A successful employee engagement initiative must include a change in the role of leadership. It is not something that is limited to employees. Leaders must pivot away from being autocratic demanding bosses, toward becoming colleagues who understand the demands and challenges employees face and work hard to support their teams. This isn’t always easy, but when it executed, it has the power to transform an organization for the better.

Employees are quick to spot a lack of sincerity, and even quicker to label an initiative as the “program of the month.” The whole point of an employee engagement initiative is to create a trusting environment where ideas continue to develop and flourish. If leadership does not truly value the input and contributions of their employees, the culture will never be engaged. Employees need to see their leaders genuinely care about their ideas and opinions.

Why does this culture change work? Certainly, part of the answer is that emotions really are drivers of employee loyalty, innovation, and productivity. When employees feel valued, they are more likely to care about the company. But, it's also that employee engagement results in better ideas and better decisions. Employees closest to the particular issues typically have the best ideas about them. Also, bias is eliminated when multiple perspectives are considered.

Simply put, you will get better ideas, and set your company apart from its competition, when you make this change. (Hint - you will also set your career apart from the competition).

Ideas To Help Leaders Pivot Toward Engagement


  • Include your employees in the hiring process. Besides gaining buy-in for the final candidate, this really sends the message that you value their input.
  • Encourage employees to speak up. This requires them to believe they can do so without fear of criticism and judgement. Make sure you, and a leader, is modeling the right behavior.
  • Let employees ask hard hitting questions at staff meetings, and commit to not ending the meeting until they are answered.
  • Foster collaboration - even with introverts. Recognize that some people just prefer working alone, and are truly uncomfortable contributing publicly. Look for ways for these folks to contribute anonymously.

Show the Love

  • Personally circulate a smoothie cart around the office, making smoothies for employees, each month.
  • Be flexible. Good leaders hold their employees accountable for their performance, but you have to give them the flexibility that we all want.
  • Find ways to break the monotony. Showing up to an office every day can be difficult for some, especially if each day is pretty much the same. Find ways to spice things up once and a while. Decorate with art, or encourage parents to bring in their children’s art to hang on the wall.
  • Remember the importance of fun. It can’t be all work - it never is. It isn’t for you, so why expect that it will be for your staff?


  • Allow staff to dictate their own schedules. This may not always be possible, but when it is, it really helps.
  • Let your staff work in other departments now and again. This will help them learn what their colleagues are facing, and will give them a little break.


  • Spend time personally acknowledging staff who contribute to the Employee Suggestion Program.
  • Give employees visibility. This tells them they matter. Put their name in an employee newsletter, or feature them on your corporate website.
  • Celebrate your staff. Things like birthdays and accomplishments matter, and celebrating them lets employees know you care.


  • Help your employees get to know each other better. Plan a happy hour at the end of the week, and throw down a few hundred bucks. Or, just allow staff to interact during the day - without criticizing them for not being productive. No one is 100% productive.
  • Serve as a mentor when employees begin to experience problems with engagement. Drop what you are doing, and step in quickly when an employee is struggling.
  • Encourage and model positive health and wellness. Have lunch with those who report to you - and model healthful eating. But most importantly, keep it social.
  • Be supportive of employees’ desire to move forward in their career and education. This might mean paying for some education. It might mean helping a good employee get a promotion (even out of your department). Put your employees’ goals ahead of your own.
  • Encourage networking. The more your employees can connect - with each other and outside of the organization, the more grounded they will feel.