We already know the importance of successful team and employee engagement within any business and for every leader. Unhappy members can cause disruption and dissatisfaction within the company. Even the most actively engaged team member can lose morale and direction if the sense within the wider team is that of disconnection.  In this article we are going to explore what employee engagement starts with.

Engagement levels are low

A quick Google search revealed Gallup figures stating that 87% of global employees are not engaged, and Hay Group confirming that £340 billion is lost by the UK alone through loss of productivity, creation and innovation, not to mention sick days and associated training and recruitment costs.

The studies and supporting figures are endless. The argument has been made, many times over. So there’s no requirement to labour the topic any further here. We need to understand exactly how and what employee engagement starts with.

Employee engagement starts with a different approach

Instead, I’m here to talk about a different approach, and one that actually makes natural sense when we stop long enough to smell the roses. I call it IN-gagement… I’ll explain what I mean.

Most of us have been taught from an early age to pay attention to what is going on around us, and to respond accordingly. At school we learn to fit in – with friends as well as the curriculum – to ensure that we’re doing the right thing. At work, we learn quickly how to behave in order to be accepted. Many of us have attended training courses that provide tools and techniques to become more flexible in the workplace, learning how to adapt to the various people and situations we encounter during our daily working life.

In my twenty-plus years of working as an executive coach, I hold my hand up to being one of those who enthusiastically encouraged leaders to do just that, to become more accommodating and co-operative. To bend and to flex according to what was being presented. I utterly bought in to the mantra of walking a mile in another person’s shoes in order to gain a better understanding. I regularly referred to Steven Covey’s advice “seek first to understand, then to be understood” from his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.

The missing link

Don’t get me wrong, I continue to believe that there is great wisdom and guidance in these opinions and so many others as well. Yes of course there is – and yet… the blindingly obvious link that I had missed for so many years was this: Understanding the world and people around us starts with understanding and nurturing the world within us first and foremost. Yes, first and foremost, every single time. No exceptions.

The fact is made crystal clear on flight safety instructions “If there is a loss of cabin pressure, the panels above your seat will open, and oxygen masks will drop down. If this happens, place the mask over your nose and mouth, and adjust it as necessary. Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others”

Boom. There it is. Simple, and blindingly obvious. We cannot help others without first looking after ourselves – or put more simply, you can’t pour tea from an empty pot.


This is where IN-gagement as the very primary focus becomes so important – crucial in fact. It’s all about first going within and noticing what’s happening for us in the moment. Keep the co-operation, kindness and flexibility focused within (rather than on others or what’s going on around) stay open and curious about what’s going on inside, in our own world first. Take note of whatever that may be – good or bad, positive or negative. Simply notice, and acknowledge. Armed with a deeper level of self-validation, we can then move and take action to support and encourage ourselves accordingly.

The result? By becoming more and more truly clear and connected with our own reality, our ability to engage with others and the world around us naturally increases at the same time.

How does it work in real life?

All well and good as a theory, you may say, so how does it work in real life?

Here’s a simple technique I learned a while ago (thank you Barbara Brann) that I now use for myself every day, and also share with my team and my clients. I’ve created the habit to check in with myself at any given moment (not just the ones where I feel low or stuck) and ask myself where I’m at in terms of a number from one to ten (one being rubbish, ten being fantastic) and a word to describe what’s happening for me. The key is this. It doesn’t matter whether I’m feeling “three and fed-up” or “nine and excited” – neither one is any better or worse than the other. There’s no judgement, no right or wrong. It’s just an is-ness, or an am-ness.

For me, at this stage, I normally find I automatically take a deep breath and find my shoulders relaxing a little more. Why? My best guess is it’s because I feel heard. Validated if you like.

From there, I can decide how to move forward. Is there something I’d like to shift about how I’m feeling? If so, what could I do?

That’s when I tap in to all the techniques I’ve learned over my life to help me feel better. Anything from simply taking a pause, deep breath, step back and then move forward again (easy to do when I’m working) to deciding to run a bath or take a walk (easy at weekends). There are of course many more techniques available to us – too many to share here in this post.

The bottom line

Bottom line is this. When I’m IN-gaging and noticing what’s happening for me in the moment, it makes it so much easier to EN-gage and be present with the world around me.

When the people I’m working with are also IN-gaged, and we’ve all shared where we are at the beginning of a meeting, before going on to business matters, the sense of connection and understanding is increased ten-fold. We remain engaged and interested, and we get stuff done much more efficiently – together.

Can you imagine the effect on the morale within teams, if the primary focus became what’s happening on the inside first, before leaping straight in to the habit of business as usual? I can. I like to refer to it as a reboot from the inside out. Employee engagement starts with looking within. The ultimate inside job, if you like. And it excites me to be able to share these techniques and see the results in action.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

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Leadership coach, author, speaker and Founder of DNA Light Up – the ultimate inside job. Together we are reconnecting individuals, groups and companies to who they really are, way before the B.O.L.L.O.C.K.S (TM) took over. Reigniting our world, one person at a time.
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