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dreamstime_570098It is common sense that people who get up in the morning feeling positive about their work are likely to do more and better work than people who reluctantly drag themselves to work and spend the day wishing they were elsewhere.  I think about the difference in what I produce and contribute on a day when I feel great about myself compared to a day when I am concerned about the acceptance or approval of others—or just feel “small.”  It is logical that people who feel valued are more likely to be engaged—and that people who feel engaged do better work. They are also more likely to stay, reducing the costs of turnover.

There are a number of studies that link the level of engagement within an organization to productivity, retention and profitability. The Gallup organization has linked engagement with business outcomes—retention, customer focus, profitability and productivity.  Gallup’s “Q-12” instrument measures engagement through a survey with 12 questions, including whether employees feel valued, heard, developed and cared for.   In its study, “The Effort Dividend: Driving Employee Performance and Retention through Engagement,” The Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board linked engagement to emotional commitment to the organization, effort and bottom line results.

What interests me is how engagement is affected when one is or feels “different.”  Consider employees who are different to some significant degree from the norms of the organization. Or think of times you have felt like an “outsider.” I know that when I have had to spend energy trying to figure out the “rules” and trying to conform (“fit in”), I have had less energy to apply to the task. As a result I worked less efficiently; the quality of what I did was lower, and I did not feel as positive about the organization.  When I have felt like an “insider,” i.e., comfortable, valued and included, I have not expended that energy.  I have felt more “engaged.”

Since good business results tend to follow when more people within an organization are engaged, a leader’s challenge is to expand the group that is engaged.  Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever.  Businesses and professions in a number of categories have still not done a great job of on attracting, engaging and retaining people from some racial groups. Women now make up 50% of the workforce.  And there are four generations working side by side.  Globalization has put us on teams with people whose primary languages and cultures are different from ours.

As a result, leaders are challenged more than ever to engage a broad base of his or her team or workforce.  What works to engage some people does not work for many others.  To engage more people requires a leader to appreciate difference.  Appreciation of difference is mandatory for leveraging difference—and understanding difference is the starting place for both.

How do you see the interface between diversity and engagement? How do leaders create broad engagement in a diverse workforce?