Monday morning. You are getting ready for the week. An avalanche of emails, deadlines and meetings awaits, but you are ready to face the battle. Then, a quiet knock on the door. Your best employee sheepishly steps in and hands you her two week notice. You are shocked and wonder, “What went wrong?”

A 2013 Gallup report shows that only 13 percent of workers around the world are actively engaged at work. While the UK ranked better in comparison, with 17 percent actively engaged workers, it meant that an overwhelming number of workers are disengaged. Disengaged workers are far more likely to jump ship or commit absenteeism, both of which hurt an organization’s bottom line. Disengaged workers can also damage a company’s reputation and its ability to attract high-quality workers. Today, job candidates make snap decisions about their future employer by browsing reviews from sites such as Glassdoor or CareerBliss to find out how current or former employees really feel about a company. On the positive side, engaged employees are 12 percent more productive, according to a recent study by University of Warwick.

In 2013, TINYpulse, a lightweight SaaS tool that keeps a “pulse” on employee engagement, conducted a survey based on 40,000 responses from employees around the world and found four key areas that impact employee engagement. By focusing on these four areas, companies can begin to foster a more engaged and positive work culture.

Focus on transparency

Based on the TINYpulse study, transparency trumped all other factors in determining employee engagement. While many managers promote an open door policy, the act of transparency should be more proactive, rather than waiting until problems fester and employees are left with little choice but to seek managerial counsel. To be truly transparent, leadership also needs to be able to engage in regular dialogues with employees, particularly around difficult subjects.

Managers often hold information that their employees don’t have access to. By being transparent with information such as budget, customer feedback, and strategic plan, employees can better understand their role as part of a bigger picture and thus, feel more connected to the company and team. Recently, Whole Foods made a bold move to disclose all salaries, including the CEO’s, to employees. The rationale is that transparency will ultimately create unity amongst employees.

Empower Employees

Empowerment may seem like a scary concept where managers imagine employees angrily picketing around the office shouting their concerns, but it should be embraced rather than feared. When employees feel empowered to speak without fear of being reprimanded, they feel more connected to the company.

An anonymous suggestion box in the breakroom or outside the HR office is a common but outdated practice. Current technology allows HR to facilitate frequent and anonymous dialogues with employees. Over 25 percent of weekly responses received by TINYpulse include suggestions from employees. Protecting employees’ anonymity gives them a safe harbour to be more honest and open with their suggestions. Weekly or bi-weekly polls also give HR the opportunity to tackle employee suggestions in a more timely and manageable manner, instead of sorting through hundreds if not thousands of employee suggestions once a month or during quarterly meetings. Conversion Rate Experts, a company based in the U.K. discovered, through its weekly engagement surveys, that employees felt their HR process wasn’t well-documented. In response, the company sought to recruit new staff who was solely responsible for creating and documented processes that addressed personelle issues.

Encouraging employees to provide feedback can also become an exercise in problem solving. For example, Killer Infographics, a U.S. visual production company, surveys employees on a weekly basis and asks that each time an employee raises a concern, they are required to suggest a solution to address the concern.

Increase recognition 

Gratitude is a powerful thing. Research has shown that expressing gratitude can improve one’s health, relationships and overall well-being. While expressing gratitude has been touted as an important activity in one’s personal live, displaying gratitude at work hasn’t been an emphasis for the majority of companies. Yet, investing in the simple, and inexpensive, act of frequent expressions of gratitude can bring a company enormous returns in the form of happier and more productive employees. Recent research from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and George Mason University shows that compassion in the workplace led to less worker absenteeism and increased employee satisfaction.

Rather than waiting for management to demonstrate gratitude, employees can be encouraged to express gratitude toward peers. Wpromote, an online marketing firm, created a brightly colored wall visually displaying all the peer recognitions received by their employees.

Reinforce vision, mission, and cultural values

A recent Gallup survey and the TINYpulse report both concluded that only 40 percent of employees know their organization’s vision, mission, and value. The Gallup survey also indicated a high correlation between employees’ understanding of a company’s mission to the bottom line. In addition, employees will feel more connected to the company, and even feel more passionate about their work, if they understand the company’s vision, mission and values. If a company doesn’t already have these cultural pillars established, company leaders can partner with staff to come up with a defined version of each.

Inspired by Zappos, Conversion Rate Experts sent an email to all of its employees and asked them to contribute to a culture book that became part of new employees’ orientation materials. The short exercise not only reinforced the companies’ positive cultural values such as dedication to excellence and innovation, but also gave employees an opportunity to make suggestions to improve work culture.

HR professionals who are planning on introducing internal or external solutions to increase engagement and retention should make evaluations based on their company’s culture of transparency, empowerment, recognition, and vision. As more research and data confirm correlation between employee happiness and bottom line, employee engagement is no longer a discretionary activity, but a mandatory investment.

By David Niu, Founder and CEO of TINYhr, a SaaS company that helps organizations keep a constant pulse on how happy, frustrated, and burnt out their employees are.