The Employee Engagement Strategy that Actually Works

Employee Engagement Strategy

Why do employees leave? Of course, the reasons vary, but there is a common theme that typically emerges as we dive deeper into what is happening in their day-to-day work life. It all boils down to trust — or, rather, a lack of trust. As remote and hybrid work continues to become increasingly common, what many companies fail to notice is the impact on team performance and employee engagement. In this post, we’ll focus on the most important employee engagement strategy: trust building. We’ll explore how you can accelerate building trust in a remote environment and why it’s critical for improving team performance.

Why Trust is Critical for Employee Engagement

Very few leaders would disagree that creating team trust and employee engagement is important for a successful business. According to the leadership training company Dale Carnegie:

  • Turnover in the U.S. costs $11 billion in lost productivity
  • 71% of employees surveyed are not fully engaged

We all know how important trust is for the right mindset – especially when someone betrays it. In some cases, a lack of trust is due to changes within the organization, such as a merger or acquisition or a change in leadership. Sometimes, it is a mistrust of co-workers. The most common type of trust problem is managers’ lack of trust in an employee’s ability to complete an assignment independently without being micromanaged. But trust can be elusive. 

Still, there’s plenty of evidence to support the need to experience it professionally. Many U.S. studies report high-trust organizations are 2.5X more likely to be high-performing revenue companies than their low-trust counterparts. In 2016, Bart de Jong and colleagues conducted 112 studies with nearly 8,000 teams, finding a positive relationship between intra-team trust and achieving shared goals.  

Further, the people analytics firm Great Place to Work®, partnering with Fortune, produces the 100 Best Companies to Work For. In 2021, Great Place to Work surveyed over half a million employees on issues around trust, caring, and how fair the company is in times of crises; employees’ physical, emotional, and financial health; and the company’s broader community impact. 

Analysis revealed strong links between positive employee opinions and how employees witnessed their senior leaders and direct managers during the crisis. Seventy-one percent of winning workplaces scored better than in pre-pandemic times, increasing employees’ experiences of workplace trust by an average of three percentage points. It’s not surprising that the trust between managers and employees is one of the primary defining characteristics of the very best workplaces — and that a better employee engagement strategy focused on trust can lead to improved team performance. 

The 3 Most Important Trust Contributors

Trust is not absolute.  It takes these three things:


There are three states in which we feel we can trust. Those include when we:

  1. Expect that a person will behave predictably. Expectations could be implicit or explicit.
  2. Can let go of the need/desire to control what another person will do — there is dependability
  3. Are willing to be vulnerable, like when we open ourselves up to someone in good faith – confident that we’re safe to share.

A willingness to be vulnerable depends on a few things too. Mayer, Davis and Schoorman, in their development of a Trust Model, discussed three elements that must be in place before we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, taking the risk to trust. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable when we believe someone:

  • Shows Ability – knowledge, skills, competencies that allow someone to have influence in a specific area. 
  • Has Integrity – is on same page with us about the principles we uphold—often implicitly assumed.  
  • Is Benevolent – the extent to which we believe that a person wants to do good for us.  It’s about caring about the other person, not having a vested interest, and not benefiting from the relationship. 

As you might guess, an employee engagement strategy centered on building trust typically takes time because it’s based on experiences. However, in today’s remote work reality where things happen quickly and there is less opportunity for organic interactions, managers need to expedite the process if you want employees to perform better and achieve results – both of which contribute to key business outcomes.

How to Accelerate Trust-Building for Your Teams

In some ways, technology has facilitated our ability to stay connected. At the same time, it has made it more challenging to build trust.  

With the sharp increase in working remotely over the last couple years, relying on Zoom, Teams, Lifesize,  and WebEx for our communication, means we lose so much – especially when you consider studies show that 70-90% of all communication is non-verbal. Those non-verbal cues are valuable for reading each other, and can often get lost through a small screen.

Plus, as we continue on this journey of renewal – new ways of thinking about who we are and what we’re about, some dubbing it the Great Resignation – it seems we’re paying closer attention to how we connect and behave.

Technology has made it possible to learn about one another more quickly and easily. There are so many tools on the market for better team performance, different in their presentation, similar in their derivation of types. Many are highly prescriptive, leaving little room for discussion, situational influence or self-discovery. 

But when it comes to building trust, self-discovery is crucial. That’s why an emotionally intelligent tool works best to accelerate trust-building. Think of this technology as the facilitator of your employee engagement strategy.

Invest in Trust-Building Technology

Companies will continue to rely on software solutions as part of their employee engagement strategy. The key is understanding your employees’ behaviors and motivators so you can leverage that data to improve self-awareness, enhance team collaboration, elevate emotional intelligence, and actively manage culture.

In practical application, an employee persona derives from this thinking and is the sum of one’s self-assessment. This sum is called a talent profile and details a team member’s behaviors, motivators or values, work energizers and life priorities — using three primary business archetypes or personas.

In this example, we generated employee Victoria’s talent profile, measuring her behaviors, motivators, work energizer, and life priorities against 28 different psychometric traits. The personas are labeled icons that identify her predominant motivational and behavioral preferences or tendencies.

They are intended to be memorable and useful for framing developmental discussions and in team-building applications. They sum up the “why and how” of what she does. In this example, she shows to be 58% Thinker, 26% Maverick, and 16% Scholar — those percentages reflecting the intensity of each of the three personas relative to each other.

The Benefits of Using Psychometrics to Improve Trust & Employee Engagement


Once reserved for the executive level and requiring extensive consultation, deep insight into how you prefer to think, engage, and apply oneself is available for all employees. It’s that kind of self-awareness — when people better understand their success factors — that helps them leverage their strengths and more easily identify the kinds of opportunities that align with their professional goals.

With a talent profile that goes deep into behaviors, motivators, work energizers, and life priorities, employees can see their tendencies in real-life action. Getting employees excited about this kind of self-knowledge plays a key role in your employee engagement strategy.


Improved Collaboration & Emotional Intelligence

So you’ve helped your team members become more aware of their tendencies. Great! 

Now, it’s time to kick your employee engagement strategy into high gear by leveraging these behavioral themes for your team to achieve better communication and collaboration. That starts with elevating emotional intelligence across your team. 

Imagine being able to take emotional intelligence insights from your team members’ profiles and put them right where employees communicate most often — think meetings, chat, and email. You’re probably already using communication technology like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Gmail, and more! But you’re probably not optimizing your use of those tools by integrating emotional intelligence for your team.

With a simple integrated plug-in, you can give your staff the kind of information needed to better communicate and collaborate with one another — based on their talent profiles & personas — taking all of the guesswork out of it and allowing them to spend time on the work that matters. This leads to a better understanding of each other, increased trust in one another and their managers, deeper engagement, and finally, better performance. 

And it can be as easy as simply clicking meeting participants or email recipients and seeing tips and recommendations pop up for how best to communicate and work with one another.

Imagine knowing who best from your team to tap on for pre- or post-meeting action items, for helping lead certain initiatives while identifying those better suited to document or support, and who might benefit from a heads up on particular messages. This is EQ in action, using your team members’ behaviors, motivators, and work styles.

Culture Management

Now, take this data for each of your team members and roll it up. When you’re able to aggregate this data, you’ll find yourself with actionable insights into team dynamics for comparative analysis. 

You can gain insights into the makeup of your team in order to better understand your culture. You’ll see your team’s similarities and complements on a continuum with team strengths highlighted and potential gaps identified. This kind of information can help you finally manage culture in a way to drives team effectiveness:

  • Map current vs. target cultures for teams or the entire organization 
  • Pinpoint strengths and gaps to identify necessary shifts — what do we need more of or less of
  • Understand what work motivators contribute most to your team’s culture

In addition to leveraging technology to better and more quickly understand employees so you can build trust with your team, here are some other tried and true strategies to keep in mind.

Lead with Empathy to Improve Employee Engagement

As a leader of remote employees or distributed teams, you set the example. In any team, remote or not, it is crucial to be mindful and considerate of your colleagues as whole people. While this may sound simple, we’re often not great at considering things outside our immediate range of experience — and this tactic should be a part of your trust-building employee engagement strategy.

Opportunities for improving your empathy muscles:

Create regular virtual opportunities for your team to meet, both formally and informally, and encourage them to share more about themselves, their families and personal interests. As a team, create and nurture an environment where it is encouraged to express a more personal side of yourself. More social communication of this kind is related to higher levels of trust in remote teams.

  • Ask questions. Demonstrate that you have listened and that you care by asking questions because you want to learn more. In addition to asking the other person questions, ask yourself questions like, “How would I feel or what would I do in this situation?
  • Assume positive intent. Remote work and the endless flood of information and online communication can easily lead to misunderstandings, turning what was supposed to be fast and easy communication into a source of frustration. Assuming negative intentions where there are none will soon crush a team’s dynamic. Developing your empathy skills will help you escape these negative emotions and work towards better collaboration.
  • Listen more. Encourage open communication between yourself and your remote team and its members, and focus on listening to what your employees are saying — not just waiting to speak. To be empathetic, you have to key in on what the other person is saying, both nonverbally and verbally. Emotions can be seen and heard. You can pick up on feelings based on what the other person says and how they say it, including their tone. 
  • Identify and challenge your biases. We are all biased. People tend to approach situations with preconceived notions. It helps people feel prepared for situations. It helps people to feel in control and more comfortable. But preconceived notions, assumptions. or biases make it difficult to listen fully. Work on identifying them and challenging these biases to improve empathy and become more inclusive of different perspectives.
  • Develop a safe space. The highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety — the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the types of behavior that lead to breakthroughs or innovations. 

Empathy and EQ in the workplace allows employees to better understand each other. When employees understand each other, they can better trust one another, and teams get more engaged and become more effective. The result of a trust-centered employee engagement strategy in your organization is better employee retention, improved team performance, and a more positive culture.

To learn more about how Humantelligence can help you build and strengthen trust more quickly in order to improve team performance, contact us

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