Measuring employee engagement is a critical part of any organization’s employee retention strategy. When employees leave your company for a competitor, they take with them the training, expertise and experience they developed while working for you. Engaged employees are ones who are committed to your company, and who are most likely to stick with you.

To retain the best employees, organizations need to understand what makes their engaged employees tick, so they can apply those lessons throughout the company. Doing otherwise could mean that you’re training your competitor’s employees instead of your own.

Who’s Who on the Engagement Scale

Employees generally fall into three categories of engagement:

  • Engaged employees, who tend to be more productive, more successful and happier;
  • Unengaged employees, who are not yet engaged but could be; and
  • Disengaged employees, who can actually hurt a business.

According to this report by the Gallup Organization, engaged employees are builders who use their talents to develop productive relationships, and who consistently perform at a high level. Unengaged employees aren’t necessarily positive or negative, but don’t commit themselves. Actively disengaged employees are unhappy, and thrive on being part of the problem.

“You want to do everything you can to better understand the first group — the engaged employees — because they are the people who keep your customers coming back,” says Don Smith, Vice President of Operations at ClearPicture.

Engaging Employees Out of the Grey Zone

The middle group is most challenging, but it’s also where you have the greatest opportunity for improvement. This group generally has something blocking their engagement.

“Employees in the second group are people who want to feel that they’re important and that they make a difference,” says Smith. “If you can make them feel that way, you can move them from the grey area into the fully engaged category.”

If not addressed, however, unengaged employees are at the highest risk of leaving, not necessarily because they’re actively searching for a new job, but because they’ll be drawn to attractive offers that include new challenges and responsibility—things they might feel are missing in their current role.

When The Engagement Bells Ring

All companies face some degree of staff turnover, but if yours is especially high, consider assessing the level of engagement in your workplace. If you have a large number of unengaged employees, it is worth investing energy to learn what makes your engaged employees feel committed to your business, and nurturing that culture to bring out the best in all of your staff.

On the other hand, if you have disengaged employees, you might be better served to help them move on to a new organization, because they’re likely doing more harm than good.