Engaging your Employees: Four Strategies for Success

How do you help employees feel accountable in their jobs? How do you create and cultivate a workplace filled with engaged employees? This potentially is the Holy Grail for many organizations, regardless of industry.

Graphic of a group of frontline workers including healthcare workers, policemen, construction workers, firemen, factory workers, etc

Deep and deliberate employee engagement can result in a more focused workforce where the right thing is done even when no one is looking. It’s not hard to imagine how this can translate into a quantifiable ROI for your organization. The key to achieving this level of engagement is motivation.

Motivation is necessary for survival in the most basic sense of the word. We need to be motivated to get out of bed, feed ourselves, shower, go to the doctor, clean the house, celebrate birthdays and all the other seemingly mundane tasks that create meaning in the context of private and public interactions and cultural contracts. This motivation becomes important in the workplace when health, safety, quality and environmental dependencies become manifest and closely tied to action (or lack of action, for that matter).

Why do health and safety professionals have to remind employees to wear hard hats, eye protection and proper footwear on site? Employees understand that the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is important; the average individual knows this regardless of whether they work in an industry that requires PPE. Yet for some reason, that lesson has not been internalized by some employees until something drastic occurs that shocks the group into compliance.

You don’t need to wait for something drastic to happen when there are methods you can implement to help your employees internalize the learning that will keep them safe on the job, keep your product up to snuff and ensure your workforce remains a careful steward of the environment.

In research on motivating adults to learn and helping them internalize that information, Wlodkowski and Ginsberg (2017) identify four motivational conditions:

  1. Establishing inclusion: Create an environment where employees and those instructing them feel respected by and connected to one another.
  2. Developing a positive attitude: Use examples that are personally relevant and highlight freedom of choice to create favourable learning conditions.
  3. Enhancing meaning: Challenge your employees and create thoughtful learning experiences that encompass their perspectives and values.
  4. Engendering competence: Emphasize that your employees can affect change simply by finding value in what they are learning because it is relevant to them.

All that sounds great, but how can you take that research and put it into practice? Scott Gaddis, vice president of Safety and Health at Intelex Technologies, has used these methods throughout his career in roles with companies such as Kimberly-Clark Corp., Bristol-Myers Squibb and Coveris High Performance Packaging. Here’s his advice on how to implement the four strategies above:

 1.How do you establish an inclusive environment?

“In EHS work, especially on the safety and health side, the best practitioners try to leverage worker participation deep within the organization. When I led EHS programs in manufacturing, everyone had an EHS project or an objective to reach. This was all done to build a partnership within the organization and to keep workers involved in the EHS process. In my thinking, few people came to work simply to make bath tissue or prescription medications, they came to be a business partner with me and own a bit of the business plan. As an organization, and with the thinking that we want to go from good to great, we embraced an inclusive environment with employees.”

2.What is the best way to create favorable learning conditions?

“The best-performing programs are good at telling stories that relate to the process you are promoting. In my role as a leader, if I could give examples of how decisions or rules or process step changes affected them, the better I was able to increase their positive behaviors. The role of a great leader is being able to tie that to what you are doing. Some of it is EHS training and skills development, but it’s always supported with knowledge transfer that is viewed as valuable. It’s like the speed limit being 35km/hour on a country road when no one is around. There are reasons for that – there is a school in the area, there may be a sharp curve up ahead – and you want people to do the right thing even when no one is watching.”

3.How do you create thoughtful learning experiences for health and safety?

“For safety and health, it is simple. There are plenty of examples when someone didn’t value learning and lost his life or was injured. In fact, many of our standards and rules are written reactively because historically, workers were killed or seriously injured on the job. Our roles as practitioners are to teach in the most effective way so that workers will value the essential lessons. The value proposition is simple: learn this information so you go home every day safe and healthy. Don’t wait for you or your colleague to be injured so that you’re shocked into adhering to preventative safety measures. For the EHS practitioner, it means becoming a student in the craft of teaching and transferring information.”

4.How do you empower your employees to feel competent in the learning you provide?

“There are two factors to this: first, there is an input of information I want you to know and some testing along the journey, so we are growing together. There is also an output that tells me you internalized the information and can give it back, which speaks to the employee’s capacity. That is a pillar in almost every world-class performance system. The better we are at building capability, knowledge and skill and allowing employees the opportunity to give it back to the organization and their colleagues, the better the EHS process grows in maturity and process robustness.”

employee action item

Want to read additional thought leadership from Scott Gaddis?

Communicating in Crisis: The Role of the EHS Practitioner. https://community.intelex.com/explore/posts/communicating-crisis-role-ehs-practitioner-0

Passing the Test: How Good Is your Safety Management System? https://community.intelex.com/explore/posts/passing-test-how-good-your-safety-management-system

Elements of Leadership and the EHS Professional https://community.intelex.com/explore/posts/elements-leadership-and-ehs-professional

The 5 Basic Principles of HOP (Human and Organizational Performance) https://community.intelex.com/explore/posts/5-basic-principles-hop-human-and-organizational-performance%C2%A0

You can find more of his articles by clicking HERE.


Wlodkowski, Raymond J. (2003) Fostering Motivation in Professional Development Programs.  http://raymondwlodkowski.com/Materials/Fostering%20Motivation%20in%20Professional%20Development%20Programs.pdf

Ginsberg, Margery B. and Wlodkowski, Raymond J. Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults to Learn. https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=j_YtDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA9&dq=deep+and+sustained+brain+engagement+learning&ots=RGXYDQREQt&sig=NOyu7DrlLO9Sb7iwkHuO1L061Rw#v=onepage&q&f=false

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *