Workforce Disruption Management

Beyond engagement: why alignment is the secret to a thriving workforce

5 min read

As an employer, you know the importance of a motivated workforce. That’s why “employee engagement” has become a watchword for many businesses.

However, a narrow focus on engagement risks leaving out an even more fundamental pillar of workforce success: alignment.

Your organization and your employees need to align on vision and mutual expectations. Otherwise, your efforts to grow engagement will be on shaky ground. And so will your relationships with your people.

So, why should your workforce management strategy prioritize alignment over engagement? Let’s unpack these ideas to help you build an unbreakable workforce.

The limits of employee engagement

Engagement is the emotional and psychological investment people make in their work. All else being equal, high engagement improves employees’ happiness, motivation, productivity, loyalty, and performance.

Strategies to boost engagement can involve everything from office parties and team lunches to professional development and recognition programs. Surveys are typically used to track progress.

Nonetheless, these efforts often have an inconsistent impact. Why?

  • Engagement is unpredictable and tricky to decipher. What motivates one person may fall flat for another. Likewise, people’s emotional attachment to their jobs can fluctuate for reasons beyond an employer’s control.
  • Engagement alone doesn’t reliably advance your goals. Your employees may enjoy their work but lack clarity on the organization’s objectives and needs. Engagement doesn’t matter unless you’re all rowing in the same direction.
  • Engagement data are hard to translate into tangible change. Positive survey responses don’t prevent employees from walking out the door. By focusing on surface-level measures of engagement, you can lose sight of the fundamentals that keep relationships strong.

In sum, engagement is only one aspect of a successful employer-employee relationship. And not necessarily the most important one.

When the core of a relationship is rock-solid, it can weather ups and downs in enthusiasm. On the other hand, no amount of perks or team-building activities can save relationships built on a weak foundation.

What’s employee alignment, and why does it matter?

While engagement is about building emotional ties, alignment focuses on mutual understanding and expectations.

In simple terms, alignment means each side in a relationship clearly understands the other’s goals and expectations. Both sides must know and meet these requirements for true alignment to exist.

Discussions of “employee alignment” often focus on ensuring employees understand the company’s mission, strategy, and expectations for job performance. That’s a crucial ingredient. But alignment is a two-way street.

Every employee brings a specific set of expectations to the job. Each has beliefs about what makes for a supportive environment and fair work conditions, revolving around specific areas such as:

  • Workloads
  • Communication
  • Relationships
  • Schedules
  • Appreciation
  • Support
  • Personal challenges

Unless employers understand and address employees’ expectations, the relationship is headed for trouble. If misalignment becomes a widespread problem, your entire workforce can face higher turnover, burnout, and lost productivity.

At its core, alignment acts like an unwritten contract, with both employer and employee responsible for living up to their end of the bargain. The closer this alignment, the stronger the relationship will be.

Alignment is the foundation of employer-employee relationships

Alignment is even more fundamental than engagement. By creating a shared understanding of goals, expectations, and needs, you head off many problems before they can start.

So, why prioritize alignment first?

  • Alignment brings clarity and stability to relationships. When employers and employees are aligned, they know what’s needed to meet their end of the bargain. The relationship may go through twists and turns. But both sides can overcome many obstacles if they meet each other’s core expectations.
  • Alignment ensures you and your team are on the same page. On one hand, you can provide a day-to-day work environment that employees need to thrive. On the other hand, your employees better understand their roles and what they need to do when they come to work every day.
  • Alignment provides actionable goals for your organization. You’re not aiming to boost general happiness, togetherness, or enthusiasm. Instead, you’re working to improve specific conditions that affect your employees’ experiences and your bottom line.
  • Engagement is easier to build when you already have strong alignment. It’s hard for people to remain emotionally committed when their expectations are frustrated. Or when they feel out of sync with their employers’ goals.

For example, meet your staff member, Christine. She fills a valuable role on your team, enjoys what she does, and is motivated to get things done.

The problem: neither side established clear expectations about workload and schedules when she took the job. As a result, she feels she has too many responsibilities and inflexible hours that don’t meet her needs. No matter how much she likes her job, these challenges are taking a toll on her morale and availability to work.

In short, the issue for Christine isn’t disengagement. It’s a lack of alignment.

If your organization misdiagnoses the problem, you’re unlikely to arrive at the right solution. Christine doesn’t need free food, training, or office happy hours. Instead, you both need a mutual understanding about conditions that affect her life and work.

On the other hand, the correct diagnosis opens up options for managers and upper-level decision-makers.

On investigation, you could discover that alignment is out of reach. If the gap between perspectives is impossible to bridge, Christine may need to move on. But you could just as easily find an arrangement that satisfies both sides’ expectations and makes the relationship stronger.

That’s a win-win for both sides.

Harness the power of alignment

Alignment lays the groundwork for a stable, cooperative relationship between employer and employees. Without a shared understanding of goals and expectations, employee engagement will be shallow at best.

What happens when you and your people are aligned?

  • Key personnel are more likely to stay in their jobs.
  • A deep commitment to their work comes more naturally.
  • Everyone in your organization works toward the same goals.
  • Your workforce becomes more resilient and productive.

With all these benefits, leaving alignment to chance is a risky move. But there are other options for employers today.

Work Climate, from PrevailHQ, helps employers stay attuned to team members’ expectations and keep everyone on the same page. By putting alignment first, you can build a workforce with the power to overcome any obstacle.

Want to learn more about ensuring employee alignment? Get in touch at