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More companies finding employee engagement leads to business success

FARGO — Kristen Burbank worked in the financial industry for nine years. The 32-year-old lived in Minneapolis with a corporate job that paid well.

But she gave it up to spend more time with her daughter and teach yoga.

“The company was good, and I really believed in their mission,” she said. “It’s just, the environment got a litte different around the recession. I don’t know that everyone was as happy and it felt really draining.”

Several of her co-workers were laid off five years ago, and it took a toll on those left behind.

“When layoffs happen, it’s hard, even for companies that handle it very well. It’s hard for employees to get out of that scared mentality,” she said. “When you’re not happy, that energy flows into the workplace.”

To top it off, between work and commuting to work, she only got to spend about an hour a day with her infant daughter.

“I couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.

Burbank and her family moved to Fargo in May, and in November she opened the yoga studio, Mojo Fit Studios.

As a business owner, she still has busy, stressful days, but she’s doing what she loves and has a more flexible schedule.

Engaged employees happier, more productive

Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, a research-based, global performance-management consulting company, says that “to win customers — and a bigger share of the marketplace — companies must first win the hearts and minds of their employees.”

But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Most American workers — 70 percent, according to a Gallup study — aren’t engaged or are actively disengaged in their jobs. Yet engagement has a greater impact on employees’ well-being than perks like vacation time and flexible hours, according to the report, “The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders.”

Employee engagement is also strongly connected to a business’ productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction.

Engaged employees, according to Gallup, are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work, and contribute to their organization in positive ways.

The generations at the beginning and approaching the end of their careers tend to be more engaged than those in the middle of their careers. Women tend to be slightly more engaged than men, according to Gallup’s research.

Minnesota has the lowest number of engaged workers in the nation, at 26 percent, the report states. In North Dakota, 33 percent of workers are engaged in their jobs.

Tonya Stende, president of Dale Carnegie Business Group of North Dakota, says more companies are noticing the importance of workplace happiness and the business results they will see if they focus on it.

“We have seen a big increase in our clients asking for this work on how we can help them improve their employee engagement and happiness,” she said. “The greatest competitive advantage a business can have today is a positive and engaged workforce.”

Recent Dale Carnegie research shows that companies with engaged and happy employees outperform other organizations by as much as 202 percent, she said.

“When companies focus on improving culture and employee engagement, they will see a bottom line return on investment to their organizations,” Stende said. “Happy and engaged employees are more innovative, more collaborative and more productive. However an engaged employee is not just about being happy, it is about being happy and productive.”

Engagement increases, Gallup states, when businesses focus on employee’s strengths. Using strengths can also improve their health and decrease stress.

Engagement is most closely related to workplace happiness, according to the international consultancy, iOpener, which helps organizations maximize employees’ performance, productivity and happiness.

The happiest employees spend twice as much time on-task, have 65 percent more energy, and plan to stay in their jobs four times longer than the unhappiest employees, iOpener research shows.

In fact, some governments have started compiling happiness indices, iOpener states, in recognition of the correlation between workplace happiness and productivity.

“If people are happy at work, our data shows that they are on-task 80 percent of the time,” iOpener Institute CEO Jessica Pryce-Jones said in an interview by CNBC.

On-task means they’re doing the job they’re paid to do, she said.

“If you’re not happy at work, you’re focusing on task only 40 percent of the time,” she said.

But Pryce-Jones adds it’s not only up to management to foster happiness in a workplace. It needs to be something that comes from the top down and bottom up.

“Not many organizations understand that when you enable people to use their strengths more they want to work more,” Pryce-Jones said during the interview. “Work doesn’t feel like work when you’re good at what you’re doing. You invest more in it anyway because it’s enjoyable.”

Vishen Lakhiani is co-founder of, a Malasian company that publishes personal development products.

After a change in mindset, focusing on his and his employees being happy in the present and having a grand vision for the future, Lakhiani says his business exploded by 400 percent, work became fun, and he started getting clients from all over the world, his choice of top job applicants.

“Large chunks of humanity right now are trapped in jobs or careers that they absolutely hate,” he said during the speech. “They wake up every morning dreading going to work.”

MindValley created software to allow people to appreciate and praise their co-workers by sending symbolic gifts to their peers.

Some companies are doing things like using video game techniques in the workplace. The concept, called gamification, “is having a tremendous effect” in the workforce, said author, speaker, and entrepreneur Gabe Zichermann, during a TEDx talk, which is posted on

The concept, he says, is being used for training, instant feedback, and increasing productivity.

“Feedback, friends and fun, this is what people love,” he said. “Feedback, friends and fun, the three Fs create engagement with people, they generate engagement, they drive attention. They make people engage with the problem or process.”

Fun at work is also something Stende says Dale Carnegie encourages.

“One of Dale Carnegie principles is, ‘People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing’,” she said.

Burbank, the yoga studio owner, says that for the most part, she enjoyed the work she did before, but now she gets paid to work out and she meets new people every day, usually at the happiest time of their day.

While walking away from a weekly paycheck was hard, she says “the sense of relief off of my shoulders was well worth it” and she and her husband had been “extreme savers” in order to make it happen.