employees have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line.

“What exactly is engagement?” a panicked manager or CEO might ask. “Can it be quantified?”

For enterprises undergoing organizational change, that’s the million-dollar question.

Senior leaders need to increase employee engagement in the workplace. One way to immediately relieve this pressure, they might think, would be to throw money at the problem. Higher salaries must surely equate to higher employee satisfaction?

Not quite, unfortunately. According to a recent Kronos report, when employees were asked to rate 11 reasons why they would leave their job, remuneration came near the bottom of the list. At the top of the list? Employees say they resign when they lack focus and direction in their role, no longer feel valued or understood, and can no longer see their future at the company.

Simply throwing money at employees to boost their engagement or cajole them to stay isn’t a winning strategy. Rather, employees can be much better incentivized when leaders harness their desire for autonomy, purpose, and mastery in their work. To get there, leaders need to engage them in cross-organizational collaboration and conversation.

Conversation and collaboration are at the heart of today’s most successful companies. Giants such as Pixar, Apple, and Facebook are known to actively encourage this kind of interactivity between all levels of management, even going so far as to champion anyone who has the guts to challenge a decision from a higher-up. In a recent HBR article, Francesca Gino points out the distinct advantages of ‘letting your workers rebel,’ illustrating that when authentic conversation increases across the organization, engagement, productivity, and innovation soar.

One company that does this extraordinarily well is Southwest Airlines. The company encourages their employees to infuse their personality in everything that they do, and giving them a freedom in their day-to-day tasks they might not have at another airline company.

From consulting departments to design their own uniforms to letting flight attendants rap the safety instructions, Southwest encourages employee conversation, collaboration, and engagement at every level of the organization.

This philosophy, Gino writes, is the reason that the company has become a leader in their industry across the board. That’s whether you measure results in passenger volume, profitability, customer satisfaction, or turnover.

“They can buy all the physical things,” Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher has said of his competitors trying to engage their employees. “The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty – the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.”

What happens when you stifle conversation? What are the consequences when the status-quo of an organization becomes entrenched and oppressive, and employees aren’t consulted as valuable contributors?

“[S]ticking with the status quo can lead to boredom,” says Gino, “which in turn can fuel complacency and stagnation. Borders, BlackBerry, Polaroid, and Myspace are but a few of the many companies that once had winning formulas but didn’t update their strategies until it was too late.”

When conversation dies, so does innovation, and the company along with it. The culture of a company strains when people feel devalued and directionless, and the truly exceptional will quickly jump ship.

To really invest in your employees, then, you need to think beyond cash. A brilliant employee certainly deserves recognition. Take the time to listen to them, engage with their ideas and give them a stake in the direction of the company. That is an investment that will last way beyond when their salaries have paid out. It all starts with a conversation!

At Priority Solutions, we see an engaged employee as “going above and beyond” what is required for their role.  When you recognize such behavior, the company should reciprocate – not just financially but, more specifically, in that individual’s growth and well-being.

“When people are financially invested, they want a return, Start With Why Author Simon Sinek explains. “When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”

BONUS. Check out our Critical Skills Infographic & Worksheet

Want to boost collaboration and engagement at your company? Contact Priority Solutions