The Leader's Guide: The Key to Boosting Employee Engagement in Your Workplace - It’s Not What You Think

What Research Says About Embracing Constructive Conflict


Employee engagement is a hot topic in business these days, and for good reason. To put the issue into stark perspective, here are two statistics for you: 70% of U.S. workers have been found to be either not engaged or actively disengaged at work (Source: Gallup “State of the American Workplace” 2014 report); and increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year (Source: Workplace Research Foundation). 

What is the key to increased employee engagement? Higher compensation, company outings and better food in the cafeteria help, but achieving sustainable success goes much deeper than this. For us, conflict advisors who work with individuals, leaders and teams on-site in all kinds of organizations, what consistently rises to the top is this factor: an individual’s sense of being heard, appreciated, and contributing constructively to something important. Employees want to feel that their work means something and their ideas matter. They want to feel they are being respected by their peers, their superiors and the leadership of the company. They feel inspired by an environment in which teams are working together to achieve common goals. Link  Richard Branson puts it this way: “A company is people … employees want to know… am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel? People really need to feel wanted.”

To understand what an engaged, productive workplace looks like, let’s look at its opposite:  a place where individuals or teams do not feel encouraged to speak up and share ideas; where management is not transparent and mistrust prevails; where an undercurrent of disrespect, bullying or harassment festers. We see this in dysfunctional client situations and it’s called unmanaged conflict. The results are just what you would expect – disengaged employees, low productivity, high sick days and turnover, and stagnant growth.

Conflict naturally occurs when two or more people get together, so the problem is not conflict per se. In fact, the key to lasting employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity? Constructive conflict!  When you make conflict a positive partner in your business, you not only head off the kind of conflict I just described, but you nurture a workplace that encourages creative ideas, active and inspired participation, and open and respectful communication.

The tools and skill sets used to mitigate situations of disputes and negative conflicts also can work to create the foundation of healthy interpersonal relationships, the underpinnings of an engaging, positive and productive work environment.  ‘Harnessing the power of conflict’ is a proactive approach that boosts employee engagement in these important ways:

     Encourages open communication and innovation by establishing the rules of respectful discourse

     Optimizes team dynamics to move collaboratively toward achieving common goals

     Ensures transparency and trust among peers, as well as up and down the organizational ladder

     Deflects potential negative conflicts before they become larger issues that poison a healthy work culture

     Supports management with research-based tools and training

  • Understanding the importance of making conflict a positive partner in your business is the first step toward boosting employee engagement.  One very productive next step is to assess how your workplace team and employees are doing on the positivity/productivity scale.  The Team Diagnostic TM is a convenient online diagnostic you can access here that can show how your team compares to a proven model of team effectiveness, through factors that optimize productivity and factors that optimize positivity.  Please consider this next step and once you have engagedlet others know how it went by sharing your comments below.