Engage And Sustain Workforce in Diverse, Digital Environment

This article evaluates the prerequisites in leadership qualities that different organizations and companies need in diverse, digital working environments when they wish to sustain and engage their workforce.

The article was originally made as an essay for MBA studies in Lapland UAS but is now published also here. The article is based on the findings of Christopher Mulligan and Graig Taylor, and which have been presented in Talent Keepers: How Top Leaders Engage and Retain Their Best Performers (2019). Alongside the findings in their book I have used a case example of a freelancer working for a digital marketing company.

Why was the case chosen? Because there were so many examples of how leadership in a digital environment was not executed in a way that would have sustained or engaged talented and valuable workforce. The diversity or the digital working conditions were not addressed in the best possible way.

Engagement of Workforce

Engaged workforce needs credible leadership and high performing organization. Job and career satisfaction are important, as are supportive co-workers.  When the workforce is engaged, companies get committed employees. The organization becomes productive and profitable, and the customers are satisfied and loyal. (Mulligan & Taylor 2019, 35.)

Digital working environment

Key Drivers of Employee Engagement

There are four main drivers of employee engagement: organizational factors, job/career satisfaction, co-worker relationships and credible leadership. Of these, the most controllable one is the quality of leadership. (Mulligan & Taylor 2019, 30)


High engagement and retention can increase through effective strategies. There are no simple solutions that would fit all organizations (Mulligan & Taylor 2021, 9) Engaging talent is not something that only the HR department can do. Instead, the focus should be in the leaders and how they own strategies and outcomes. (Mulligan & Taylor 2019, 13)

Great leaders are those that hold themselves accountable. When they do that and energize the company’s most talented employees, all aspects of the company start improving. (Mulligan & Taylor 2019, 15)

Digital work environment

Career Growth

Leaders should set performance expectations, provide feedback and five appropriate coaching. (Mulligan & Taylor 2019,101) Here open communication is vital. The responsibilities and roles need to be clarified so that there would not be room for misunderstandings. There needs to be opportunities for employees to grow their skills and roles. (Mulligan & Taylor 2019, 103.)

A small digital marketing company and a freelancer working as a content writer and a Junior SEO Executive had been working together for 3 years. The owner, based on the recommendations of one of his managers, wanted the freelancer to start working in a more demanding position, remotely as the freelancer had been working so far.

However, the owner was not interested in what the freelancer already knew or what she had been doing with her own projects. Instead, he saw the freelancer as someone he needs to train starting from the very basics for the new position. He did not listen to the freelancer when she tried to explain to him that there were only a couple of tools used that she needed guidance in.

The issue seemed to be that the freelancer was a woman with a higher education and couldn’t possibly have knowledge or expertise in a very manly industry. This was seen in meetings where the only opinions and views that were accepted were coming from men, even when they did not have the same background with the subject as the freelancer did.

Soon the owner started using the freelancer just for the same things that he had used before, and nothing changed in the job itself. The only thing that changed were the conditions of working. The owner suddenly decided that the working time of the freelancer had to be monitored. So he set up a monitoring plugin for Slack, which the freelancer took as an insult. She was well-known for her dedication and commitment to the companies she had been working with, and all of a sudden she was clearly doubted.

The potential and knowledge of the freelancer was ignored but her availability was suddenly always required, even late in the evenings. The freelancer was treated as a secretary and not an SEO professional. The freelancer felt disappointed, not trusted, not heard, and harassed by the owner with late-night messages and calls. The most disappointing thing was that the promised career growth was not happening.

After leaving this company the freelancer received an identical job from another company. This company instantly gave her freedom and responsibilities, valuing her opinions and experience with her own projects. In less than 6 months the work she did had significant impacts on how the project succeeded in Google Search and more importantly, in the revenue streams.

Communication Skills

Good leaders need to communicate their expectations clearly in diverse organizations. By great communication skills leaders can be trusted. When they listen to suggestions, provide feedback, and recognize individual efforts, they are more trusted as leaders and gain a more engaged workforce. (Mulligan & Taylor 2019, 41).

In the case study the mistake that the company owner made with communication was that he did not talk about the freelancer’s background, experience, and knowledge before appointing her to the new position.The owner failed also when communicating about the working conditions that would change from total freedom to being controlled and always monitored. He also non verbally communicated the lack of respect for her as she was a woman when ignoring her views and listening to only the men, which happened constantly.

The company owner also did not want to communicate with video calls but instead wanted to use Slack for writing only. Since he had poor English skills and no understanding of normal etiquette, his communication seemed rude.

For a millennial, having worked in a digital environment for many years at this point, the company owner’s need to monitor her constantly was a slap in the face. She felt like she wasn’t believed, which affected her motivation to continue.

Working Conditions

When a highly engaged workforce is excelling in their roles and then there’s a change in working conditions, a new commitment to the new role or leader is needed. If the new leader is not providing the same tools and working styles than the previous one, and the new style is experienced as worse, the engagement starts to go lower. (Mulligan & Taylor 2019, 71).

Before accepting the new position, the freelancer had been working with another manager, not with the owner. Earlier things were organized and straightforward. There was no monitoring of working hours or certain times during a day when the freelancer was supposed to be available. The working conditions changed drastically when the new position started.

The owner expected his employees and freelancers to work 8 hours minimum a day. The only way to receive bonuses in his company was to work 12–14 hours every day. The quality of work and what the freelancer was actually getting done, were not important. Monitoring if the freelancer was online and in front of the computer was constant. Every part of the work was micromanaged by the owner.

This changed the level of commitment and motivation for the freelancer. The engagement that had been built with the manager earlier, was gone in just a couple of weeks.

Different Backgrounds, Personalities and Types

Subgroups with identifiable attributes should not be ignored, but neither should individuals and their personalities or backgrounds. Subgroups can have different work styles, motivations, and career aspirations. Also, high performers should be separated from others. When leaders pay attention to subgroups, it helps them in identifying better strategies. (Mulligan & Taylor 2019, 62)

The owner of the company did not care to take into consideration the prior experience or education of the freelancer or the fact that she indeed was the high performer of the entire team.

When it comes to education, she was more educated than the owner or other employees and freelancers working for him. He wasn’t interested to know anything about the freelancer, even though this would have made communication between the two easier on many levels. The personalities and the working styles between the freelancer and the owner were too much apart and the owner lacked the skills to identify the strengths of the freelancer.

Instead, he made assumptions based on her gender and her being a single parent. He also did not think about the fact that the freelancer had been working in a digital environment for many years without ever being monitored. The possibility to work remotely usually comes with a certain freedom and now all of that was taken from the freelancer.


Based on the findings on Talent Keepers How Top Leaders Engage and Retain Their Best Performers (2019), and the case presented in this report, to get the workforce engaged and sustain it in diverse organizations, a leader needs to be sensitive to different people: to take into consideration their personal traits and qualities, prior knowledge, and their aspirations for the future.

Not all leadership styles are suitable for everyone, and a good leader takes this into consideration also in communication. Leaders of diverse organizations need to give more thought on their communication skills and different types of people with different backgrounds and needs. In a diverse organization a leader should be there to excite, motivate, support, guide and create possibilities.

Good leaders give freedom instead of micromanaging and trust their employees. They don’t make assumptions based on employees’ gender, race, age or personal life. They seek to see the bigger picture and find out how to make the working conditions such that lead to a better working environment and through that to engagement and better results.


Mulligan, C. Taylor, G., Talent Keepers. How Top Leaders Engage and Retain
Their Best Performers. April 2019. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. [Ebook].
Accessed 22nd October 2021. https://ebookcentral-proquestcom.ez.lapinamk.fi/lib/ulapland-ebooks/reader.action?docID=5748881