Gallup’s insightful State of the Global Workforce reports have galvanized interest among executives about the value of employee engagement. Ever since Gallup began to measure employee engagement in 2000, however, the needle hasn’t moved much.

Starting with Gallup’s first report, actively engaged employee scores have ranged from 13% to 20% and disengaged employee scores have ranged from 26% to 30%.  So, why haven’t the numbers moved? Is the human genome such that only about 15% of your work force can be truly engaged and give you the discretionary effort, innovation and dedication you want?

I define employee engagement as the emotional commitment employees have toward their employer, its purpose, mission and goals as well as their relationships at work. When employers can harness this engagement, they are rewarded with more discretionary effort and employee loyalty, productivity and innovation. Research that goes back decades to Frederick Herzberg and others have confirmed this.

One industry in particular has figured out employee engagement, the high tech sector. High tech companies frequently lead the ratings of the Best Companies to Work on Glassdoor

[i]. While many high tech employers pay top wages, have contemporary office designs, and free perks, they have also learned that these items are flashy attractions and don’t attract top employees or lead to employee engagement.

Trust is key

Big names in Silicon Valley have fought over the best hires for years. They have learned that retaining top employees takes more than a bigger paycheck, free food and perks. They have learned that trust is key. “In short, they build trust,” says Chinwe Onyeagoro of Great Places to Work. “They stand on trust. They use trust as a competitive differentiator.”[ii] These companies are also fast-paced, have tough employee selection criteria, are driven, and have high standards for performance and excellence. They are often about creating disruptive innovation.

The high tech sector has cultivated environments of trust and that means having leaders who build relationships and take an interest in the success and careers of their employees. High tech companies create strong cultures of collaboration, where employees are free to ask questions and can count on others for help. These cultures are known for their lack of hierarchy and low tolerance for office politics. Employees are able to think through and act on their innovative ideas. No one, not even the technical experts, are allowed to hoard data or knowledge.

Cultures of innovation

Research shows that collaboration, trust and employee engagement are critical for building cultures of innovation.[iii]

Innovation needs employee engagement, and employee engagement needs a sense of higher purpose and innovation to break through the lowly average of only 15% of a workforce being engaged. Here is another way of thinking about this. You need a strong sense of company purpose and mission, tied to a higher life goal, a collaborative culture of innovation and employee engagement to get more of the two-thirds of your employees who are just “doing their jobs” to wake up, take notice, and be innovative! You need a culture where employees feel comfortable taking risks and communicating with individuals in different departments or positions of authority. Says Anil Saxena of Great Place to Work, “There’s a lot more collaboration, a lot more working toward the common goals of the organization.”[iv]

Has your company broken through the employee engagement ceiling? Join the discussion.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on talent management, leadership development and coaching, innovation, and other strategic initiatives. Please e-mail Victor at or For innovation visit www.InnovationOne.

[i] “Best Places to Work.” Glass Door’s Employees’ Choice Awards 2016. Found at,19.htm.

[ii] “Why Tech is Winning the War for Talent,” Fortune. January 26, 2016. Found at

[iii] Brooke C Dobni, PhD, and Dr. W. Thomas Nelson Jr. “Innovation Nation? Innovation Health Inside the Fortune 1000, A comprehensive Measure Reveals Strengths, Trouble Spots and a Prescription for Improvement.” Found at

[iv] “Why Tech is Winning the War for Talent,” Fortune. January 26, 2016. Found at