Employee Buy-In to Promote Workplace Engagement

Employee buy-in is much easier to gain when employees are engaged and involved in decisions.
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When paid work was largely done in factories and most employees worked on an assembly line, you just needed them to show up and do the physical labor necessary to keep the line running. Employee buy-in consisted of employees showing up to work. You measured workplace engagement by whether the assembly line kept running.

If you wanted to change a process, you simply changed it and told employees that from now on, instead of standing “here” and doing “this” they would stand “there” and do “that.”

You don’t live in that society anymore. Very few people work in manufacturing and even if you do, employees won’t be happy with a very hard top-down management style. Employee buy-in and workplace engagement have become very important to the success of your business.

What is Employee Buy-In?

You need employees to agree with your decisions. When they do agree, and they think the decision is heading the business in the right direction, they will “buy-into” the changes, policies, procedures or whatever it is you’re adding or changing.

It’s impossible to have everyone in a business of any size agree 100 percent with every change, but that’s not necessary for employee buy-in. You don’t need employees that eagerly rubber stamp whatever comes out of the corner office. You need them to support it.

What’s the difference between agreeing and supporting? Well, you will receive employee support even when your employees don’t agree perfectly if they understand and believe in how the senior team made the decision. When they believe that the leadership team has not only the best interest of the shareholders but the best interest of the staff in mind, then they are likely to support the changes.

Whether your employees buy into a decision depends on two important issues: the character of the leadership team and how the leadership team arrived at the decision.

Character Counts in Employee Buy-In

If you have a CEO who routinely treats people poorly, denies vacation, screams, insults, and steals credit, even if she’s truly come up with something that is even better than sliced bread, you won’t get employee buy-in. You probably didn’t have good engagement before the change either, and making a change certainly won’t change those attitudes.

On the other hand, if your CEO treats people fairly, listens, praises, and gives credit where credit is due when she makes a decision, people are likely to trust it. They figure that she must know something they don’t.

This is true at every level of the business. If people don’t admire, trust, and even like their supervisor or their department head, you’ll find pushback on the smallest of changes. Employees won’t buy in because they’ve been burned before.

How You Made the Decision Elicits Employee Buy-In

If your senior leadership team asks for feedback and truly considers it, and employees see that their feedback was heeded, they will feel engaged in the process. If you make a change that affects certain employees and yet consulted none of them, they will rightly become concerned and worried.

You’ve seen disasters happening in this area. For instance, United Airlines launched a program that replaced employee bonuses with a “lottery” in which instead of all employees receiving a small bonus, a few people received huge bonuses. Employee and public backlash were severe and United Airlines dropped the program. They could have avoided this epic failure if the senior team had included the affected employees in the decision-making process.

Sometimes, you need to make decisions at the top, but again, if you have a good track record in decision making and you seek input when possible, people will likely buy-in to the change you want to see.

How Employee Buy-In Affects Engagement

Employee engagement is simply having people who are actively focused on their work and interested in what they do. This doesn’t require purely fascinating work; sometimes work is just work. But, people have to feel as if their presence and contribution make a difference.

If they buy-in to the changes and direction in which the company is going, you will also have employees who are engaged in their jobs. Engaged employees work harder. They treat customers better. They know that their management supports them and cares about them and their opinions.

Employees who see the value in programs and policies will embrace them. If your employees and your management team work together, you’ll have better productivity.

You can’t just assume that, because you’re the boss, your employees will do whatever you say. Of course, you can discipline up to and including termination if they don’t, but they’ll do a much better job if they are engaged and have buy-in.

If you notice an employee rolling her eyes, or complaining about how things are going, do take her aside and listen. You may learn something you didn’t know. You may learn you need to make a change. How you handle one objector also impacts the others on your team. They need to know they can speak up if needed. It may not change the outcome, but listening solves a lot of problems.

Employee engagement is important in leadership. Getting employee buy-in helps you get that engagement.


Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer and former human resources professional with over 10 years of experience.