There is a certain zen-ness to all of this engagement stuff.  By that I mean that if you really want to achieve higher levels of employee engagement, you should stop focusing on employee engagement.  Instead, you should invest your time and energy into infusing higher levels of respect throughout your organization, where respect is properly understood to mean: giving due consideration to the other.

When I give talks or lead seminars on engagement, I’ll often pose this question:  “Under what circumstances is it ok to not respond to an email?” 

What’s most interesting to observe is the complexity of the scenarios that people will develop in order to justify (read: rationalize) a non-response.  Eventually, though, someone in the room will come up with the only correct answer: “Never.”

It’s never ok to not respond to an email.  What can vary, of course, is the nature of the response.  It can mean comprehensively satisfying all requirements limned in the original email, whether those requirements included the point-by-point answering of all questions posed or the completion of all action steps assigned.  Response can also mean a return email saying:  “Can’t get to this today.  Will respond by close of business on Thursday.  Let me know whether or not that is acceptable.”

Why is this such a big deal?  To answer that, put yourself in the shoes of—i.e., give due consideration to—the other person.  She sends you the email; you don’t respond.  She wonders why.  As time passes, her concern turns to anxiety, maybe even paranoia.  Time and energy spent fretting or venting to co-workers is not productive.  And it certainly isn’t the kind of extra energy invested in work that employee engagement is supposed to be.

Does this scenario exaggerate the psychological impact that such a non-response would have?  Perhaps.  But its likelihood of occurring is directly proportional to size of the hierarchical gap between sender and recipient.

And to put things in their simplest form, being non-responsive is rude.

So...if you want to take a major step toward increasing levels of employee engagement, don’t think about employee engagement.  Just make sure that all emails are responded to in timely fashion.  Don't be rude.