What is Employee Engagement? Strategies & Ideas to Improve

As a leader at your company, employee engagement is one of the best ways to see your business grow. Invest in your employees and see a measurable difference.

Whether you manage a small team or oversee an established company, keeping your employees engaged in their work should be near the top of your daily to-do list. This concept isn’t the same as employee satisfaction, productivity, or retention, but a high level of employee engagement can certainly increase these other workplace measurements. 

Research shows that employees who are engaged are more productive, profitable, safer, healthier, and less likely to leave their employer, but only 30% of employees around the world are engaged in their work. There are worthwhile benefits of employee engagement, from both the business side and the employee side. Let’s get into the what, why, and hows of employee engagement and why it’s important for you.

What is employee engagement?

A quick Google search on employee engagement will give you dozens of definitions, so let’s first break the phrase down using a handy-dandy dictionary.

According to Merriam-Webster, an employee is “one employed by another usually for wages or salary and in a position below the executive level.” Engagement (or being engaged in work) would refer to someone who is “greatly interested” or synonymously “committed.” We put these words together for the overarching term of “employee engagement,” but there’s more than meets the eye when putting this into play.

Gallup, a renowned global analytics and advice firm, defines employee engagement as “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.” Since employees are people who experience emotions and have opinions, positive employee engagement involves positive cognitive experiences about work. 

In a 1990 article in the Academy of Management Journal (one of the first published studies on employee engagement), professor William Kahn wrote about three foundational pieces to engagement—meaningfulness, safety, and availability. Michael Bradley Shuck and Karen Wollard later summarized these definitions as:

  • Meaningfulness—“the positive ‘sense of return on investments of self in role performance’”
  • Safety—“the ability to show one’s self ‘without fear or negative consequences to self-image, status or career’”
  • Availability—“the ‘sense of possessing the physical, emotional, and psychological resources necessary for the completion of work”

These three foundational elements have withstood the tests of time and industry. An employee who is engaged views their time at work differently than someone who isn’t engaged. When their workplace succeeds, they succeed. When a teammate achieves a goal, they’ve also accomplished something. They have a level of buy-in that has a positive impact on their input, their teammates, and your business.

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”—Simon Sinek, Start with Why

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Why is employee engagement important?

The benefits of employee engagement don’t stop with a positive workplace or employees who are invested in your company. These are important—workplace culture is important, and employees can set a positive and productive tone when they are engaged at work. But employee engagement is important for you as a manager and leader if you want to see growth and success in your business. 

As Timothy R. Clark, author of The Employee Engagement Mindset, said in an article for TLNT, “Organizational conditions that create extrinsic motivation are important, but never enough. The employee’s role is primary. The organization’s role is secondary.”

Officevibe lists seven reasons employee engagement is important for both you and those you manage:

1. Better team performance

Engaged employees help motivate the rest of their team and can be a morale booster in the office.

2. Increased employee productivity

When employees feel an emotional attachment at work, they’re more likely to complete projects, look for more productive ways to work, and will be less distracted.

3. Higher employee retention and lower turnover rates

No one wants to leave a job that they love. High employee engagement means your workforce numbers can remain the same or grow, giving your teammates chances to grow in their talents that can benefit the organization as a whole.

4. Achieving team objectives

Emotional investment leads employees to see projects through, be proud of their accomplishments, and encourage their coworkers to work together.

5. Lower absenteeism

Engaged employees want to be at work because they feel what they do is fulfilling (see Kahn’s definition of “meaningfulness” in the previous section).

6. Less destructive workplace stress

While employees are bound to face some kinds of workplace stress, if they’re engaged in work, stress is less likely to cause major issues. In fact, Officevibe says stress could turn around to be a motivating factor for engaged employees.

7. Lower risk of burnout

An employee who begins experiencing burnout can digress as a team player, a productive worker, an attentive producer, and more. They hit their cap and can’t give anymore to your organization. But high employee engagement can keep teammates working at a sustainable and healthy pace to help them avoid burnout.

    happy employees in office

      Employees can make work happen, whether they’re emotionally invested or not. The thing is, employees who are engaged have an emotional investment in your company that they want to protect. Engagement boosts morale and productivity, allowing for measurable results for your company. (Keep scrolling through this list to find out how you can measure employee engagement as well!)

      Case Study: Campbell’s Soup

      Circa 2001, Campbell’s Soup was losing sales, experiencing a sharp decline in market value, and overturning their management team. Doug Conant took the reins as the new CEO and under his leadership, by 2009, sales had gone up every year, and their stock value increased by 30% while other stocks were losing value.

      What did Conant focus on? Employee engagement. In an interview with Inc., he stated, “You can’t have an organization that consistently delivers innovation unless you have a high level of engagement and a high level of trust.” 

      Conant placed a high value on employee engagement, even when it seemed like other things should have been on the forefront of his mind as CEO. But by focusing on building trust with his employees and turning around the culture of the workplace, Campbell’s Soup ultimately experienced growth as a business.

      coworkers laughing at desk

      What are key elements of employee engagement?

      Let’s look at some elements of employee engagement. Think of these as building blocks. If you’re new to incorporating employee engagement in your workplace, you can focus on a handful at a time and add in others throughout the year or each quarter. 

      Achievers presents eight easy-to-understand elements of employee engagement. We’ve added some rhetorical questions for you to think through as you read and apply this list:

      1. Leadership

      Do your employees have good working relationships with their superiors?

      2. Communication

      Do you listen and talk to your employees honestly and openly? 

      3. Culture

      Do you have positive and reinforced culture standards in your workplace?

      4. Rewards and recognition

      How often are your employees thanked or recognized for the work they do? 

      5. Professional and personal growth

      Do you provide opportunities for your employees to grow in talents, e.g., through webinars, conferences, certification programs, etc.?

      6. Accountability and performance

      Do you give constructive feedback to your employees even when they don’t ask for it?

      7. Vision and values

      Do your employees feel like they are part of something that’s bigger than they are? Are your vision and values clear and positive?

      8. Corporate social responsibility

      Does your organization show commitment to society and encourage employees to do the same?

      As a manager or supervisor, the ball is in your court to put each of these elements in play. Make sure your employee engagement strategies fit your work environment as well. In order to apply these building blocks in an everyday workflow, you may need to answer questions such as:

      • Are my employees remote?
      • What generations are represented on my team?
      • How many people are on my team? 
      • How do my employees best individually receive feedback?

      How can I increase employee engagement?

      Now that some building blocks of employee engagement have been laid, let’s look at what it looks like to increase employee engagement.

      Before you launch a new, big campaign for workplace engagement, examine what kinds of things are already happening in your office that can boost employee engagement. Is there anything that is part of your current work culture that reflects Kahn’s foundational pieces of meaningfulness, safety, and availability? For example, if your management team already makes it a point to express gratitude to your employees, do you also publicly recognize your team for the work they do?

      Don’t forget—increasing employee engagement starts from the top. Hold on to the why of investing in your employees and help them buy into the vision and values of your organization. 

      SRHM shares seven simple ways to increase employee engagement:

      1. Supply the right tools

      2. Give individual attention

      3. Provide training and coaching

      4. Listen to employees

      5. Get social

      6. Serve others

      7. Recognize proudly and loudly

      They write, “Leaders must act deliberately and thoughtfully. It won’t work to simply grab ideas from other companies without first making sure the practices fit into your own organization’s culture.”

      Your company’s culture is unique, and when you have employees who see a reason to become emotionally invested in what your organization is doing, they reinforce that culture. Show them that they as employees are worth investing in, and they’ll stay engaged and aligned with the company.

      Take note of what fuels your employees on a daily basis. Don’t only listen to the same handful of voices or the voices that are the loudest. Make a point to hear opinions that may be quieter or newer. Those employees carry the same weight in boosting employee engagement as your more seasoned workers. 

      Each of these strategies gives employees opportunities to become more invested in their work, as well as show them that their employer cares about them. Knowing that they are cared for opens the door for them to reciprocate that care to your company.

      What are some examples of employee engagement?

      Now that we’ve got the “what” and “why” behind employee engagement, you’ll want to get the ball rolling with the “how”. These examples of employee engagement are broad enough that any workplace or industry can use them, but make sure you keep your specific team in mind when deciding just what method you want to use.

      Again, employee engagement is not just about employee satisfaction or having fun at work. It’s about your employees feeling emotionally connected to the work, feeling like they are growing, and being an essential part of the overall mission of the company.

      Some examples of employee engagement activities include:

      1. Team building (off-site and on-site)

      This is an easy way to break up the routine of work while growing your teams’ engagement, productivity, morale, and connection. From activities that you can bring to the office or on Zoom to going somewhere in your city, there are dozens of opportunities for team building. Look no further than Team Building Hub if you’re looking for team building ideas! 

      2. Online games

      These are great options if your team or a portion of your team works from home. All you need to get going is a stable internet connection and a willingness to hop online. Play these games during office hours so your employees know that this connects to work. Start by looking at these virtual team building activities!

      3. Regularly scheduled pulse meetings

      We’ll get more into pulse and one-on-one meetings in the section below, but these can increase employees’ engagement simply by letting their voices be heard. These meetings can vary in length or questions asked, but keep a consistent rhythm so employees can know what to expect. Reassure them that they’re welcome to speak openly, bring their needs to you and that they are being heard.

      4. Creating mentorship or growth opportunities

      This is especially vital for younger or newer employees. Mentor Scout says that workplace mentorship can “help employees do the right thing by exposing them to senior employees that know how to do the right thing.” In fact, Guider found that ​​87% of employees engaged in mentorship (including those acting as mentors) feel empowered and have better confidence at work. 

      5. Conducting enjoyable meetings

      Have you ever heard the phrase “death by meeting”? Generally, it’s not something you want to hear about your own meetings. For weekly or daily meetings that tend to run long or give lots of information, find ways to keep employees’ attention. This can look like providing food at the meeting, making room for a team member or department to give a personal or work-related update, or even hosting the meeting off-site.

      6. Celebrating your employees.

      Boost your employee’s morale by recognizing when they’ve achieved something (is someone on your team completing a certification program?), when they have a birthday, when they join the team, or when your team has completed a large project. Don’t just celebrate the fact that something has been accomplished, but make your employees feel celebrated for the sheer fact of being part of the team.

       

      Let these be a headstart for coming up with employee engagement activities on your own! It’s worth sitting down with other managers or supervisors to brainstorm activities or hear what’s worked for them. Although your team may be unique, your organization’s culture plays a role in how you can implement these examples and more.

      How do I measure employee engagement?

      So you’ve done the work to increase employee engagement. How do you know if it’s working? Isn’t it difficult to accurately measure someone’s emotions, especially their emotions about work, especially if they’re speaking with a superior about how they feel about said work?

      While these measurements may feel more subjective, measuring employee engagement really is part of employee engagement. Here are some ways to accomplish this.

      1. Qualitative Data

      Certain qualitative data can paint a statistical picture of employee engagement. Obviously, this data will have to be measured after a period of time, whether you choose to look at the numbers after six months, one year, eighteen months, or longer. That qualitative data can include:

      Employee Retention

      – How long does the average employee choose to remain employed at your business?

      – What’s the “turnover” rate of your workforce?

      Productivity

        – Are projects or tasks taking more, less, or the same amount of time as they have in the past? 

        – How often do employees tend to wander from their workspaces or fall to distraction?

        Sales Reports

        – Are sales or your client base growing at a consistent rate? 

        – In other words, is work being done, and is your team getting better at what they do?

          New Hire Growth

          – Are you continuing to hire new employees at a healthy rate? Do these new hire numbers correlate well to employee retention numbers?

          – Are members of your team recommending their friends to apply at your place of business?

          Work Punctuality 

          – Do employees come to work on time? Do they leave early or take longer-than-normal lunch breaks? 

          Be sure to check out industry standards, but don’t let other companies’ numbers discourage you. If you measure this data and find signs that employee engagement is increasing, give yourself a high five and keep working to improve.

          2. Engagement Surveys

          Besides looking at qualitative data, one of the best ways to measure employee engagement is to hear directly from your team. Employee engagement surveys are a great way to do this, whether you go through a third-party company or you decide to create your own survey. (Services such as Survey Monkey, Type Form, or even a detailed Google Form can be great options for customizing a survey!)

          Some third-party options to consider include:

          If you decide to create your own survey, make sure you include qualitative questions, think of Kahn’s foundational elements of employee engagement, and reassure employees that the survey is either anonymous or they won’t be penalized for speaking their minds. For a head start, check out this article from Achievers on questions to ask and why. They have four types of questions that you can base your homemade survey on: 

          • Satisfaction questions
          • Alignment questions
          • Future orientation questions 
          • Open-ended questions

          3. One-on-One Meetings

          Finally, you need to connect personally with your employees. If you manage people at work, building a professional relationship with your employees includes getting to know how they function in the workplace. 

          Set aside time more than once a year—whether it be quarterly, monthly, biannually, or based on a certain employee’s hire date—to have a dialogue about what’s keeping an employee engaged or what’s making them feel disconnected.

          Once again, you have the option of building questions with third-party organizations (Officevibe and Lattice provide pulse surveys you can discuss with employees) or creating your own set of questions for these meetings. Don’t settle simply for “yes” or “no” questions—allow them to explain how they feel, and before prescribing solutions, lend a listening ear.

          After doing all this measuring, don’t forget to actually do something about what you learn! In the data and in the meetings, you may hear things such as, “The break room always smells bad,” “I don’t think my coworkers have the talent to complete projects,” or, “I really appreciated the flowers you sent when my family had to put the dog down.” Your response—and even lack of response—to feedback can also have an impact on employee engagement. If you show your employees that you care about their opinions and what they deal with on a day-to-day basis, you can naturally increase employee engagement. Watch your numbers go up as you measure engagement and act on your findings! 

          Other things to consider when thinking about employee engagement:

          As we stated at the beginning of this article, employee engagement isn’t the same as employee satisfaction, productivity, or retention, but it does play a part in these workplace needs. To read further about how engagement is linked to these ideas and more, be sure to visit each of our pages dedicated to correlations.

          • Employee retention
          • Work-life balance
          • Employee wellness
          • Team onboarding
          • Employee training
          • Effective meetings and events

          Remember, employees who are engaged create a successful work environment that leads to engaged clients, happy customers, and a growing business. If you want to invest in your company, invest in your employees and keep them invested in you.