How to create and sustain engaged and energized workplaces

Before we can think about how to create and sustain engaged employees and energized workplaces, it’s important to consider the environmental conditions and their impact. Canada and the world face enormous challenges: climate change, environmental degradation, fragile economies, refugee crises and deteriorating infrastructures among others.  At the very time when we need them the most, our governments seem to have lost confidence in their ability to tackle these problems.  To add to this, there are many indications that public service employees are increasingly disengaged. Here are some statistics about the federal public service.  In the 2014 Public Service Employee Survey1, less than two-thirds of respondents (63%) recommended their department as a great place to work. An even lower percentage (57%) indicated that they would remain with their current department or agency if a comparable job was available elsewhere in the federal public service.  Results from the executive level were especially troubling, with 32% reporting being actively disengaged2.

We think it’s critical to reverse this trend if we are to address the daunting challenges before us. Doing so will definitely require a fully engaged public service.  The Clerk of the Privy Council, Janice Charrette, has expressed her belief in the importance of engaging employees: “Employee engagement needs to be considered more than just a “nice to have,” or something that’s done from time to time, as kind of a specific exercise. It needs to be accepted really as a critical organizational function3.

We firmly believe that all executives and managers can create the workplaces that encourage meaningful engagement and true dedication.  They don’t have to be born leaders or be exceptionally charismatic. They just need the will to do so.

My colleague, Kathleen Connelly, and I have decided to launch a series of blog posts on employee engagement, as a complement to our consulting practice. For the past 30 years, I have assisted and led public sector organizations in their transformation journeys and have made employee engagement a centerpiece of my approach. Kathleen has facilitated employee engagement across the federal public service, and in the non-profit sector for over 20 years.  From this vast experience and our own research, we will use this blog series to share tips and best practices.

We believe the first step is to start with the why.   Many popular books, including Simon Sinek’s international best-seller “Start With Why”4, have brought this idea to the forefront.  In Nietzsche’s words, ‘’he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. ‘’ I was once giving a speech to 200 employees on client service and I asked them why they came to work every day.  The first person shouted :  for the pay cheque,  duh!  The second person said she always looked forward to working with her colleagues, who had become friends.  And finally, a person from the back of the room said it was to make a difference for his clients.  All three are valid answers, but the last one was truly inspiring and created more energy in the room.

One of the key roles of executives and managers is to provide context and meaning. According to the recent APEX sponsored study on Maximizing Employee Engagement5 it is critical to:  link employee work to the ‘big picture’. Too often, employees have no sense of how the work they do contributes to the broader purpose of the organization. Without this line of sight, work can seem meaningless and employees disengage. In public sector organizations, where political pressures and constant changes in direction can lead to endless start-stop cycles and dead-ends, this risk is elevated.

Having said this, true employee engagement is possible in all types of environments. Every now and then, we see managers do it very successfully.

We are very interested in hearing your perspective as well. How can managers create engaged and energized workplaces in the public and non-profit sectors? Please share your comments.

Daniel Leclair, Senior Consultant, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing

Kathleen Connelly, Senior Consultant, Intersol Group | Associate, CEPSM

The rain forest in Malaysia.

1  2014 Public Service Employee Survey. Results released February 2015. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (www.tbs –

2  APEX 2012 Executive Work and Health Survey: Synopsis. Report provided by the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada.

3 National Webcast – Blueprint 2020 (Clerk of the Privy Council)

4 Start with the Why, Simon Sinek

5 Maximizing Employee Engagement, Craig Dowden, Ph. D., July 1015, APEX

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