Struggling with employee engagement? This guide can help

June 17, 2022 - 27 min read

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What is employee engagement?

Why is employee engagement so important?

Employee engagement vs. employee satisfaction

3 tactics to help measure employee engagement

4 key drivers of employee engagement

4 ways to boost employee engagement

How does leadership impact employee engagement?

8 steps to implement your employee engagement strategy

Employee engagement is the secret sauce to an organization’s success. 

When employees feel a deep connection to the organization, their work, and their team, the business benefits. More importantly, employees are happy, feel a deep sense of belonging, and are more equipped to reach their full potential. 

But creating that connection — and maintaining it — isn’t as easy as it seems. 

We’ll talk about what defines employee engagement, why it’s important, and how your organization can start building a strategy that works.

What is employee engagement?

Before we talk about how to engage your employees, let's take a minute to define employee engagement.

According to Gallup, 36% of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and workplace. But globally, just 20% of employees are engaged. But even when we look at highly engaged employees, 1 in 5 is at risk of burnout

But employee connection can be an ambiguous way to define employee engagement. There are a few components to what makes up employee engagement. Some elements include mental fitness, a sense of belonging, and professional development.

Why is employee engagement so important?

Cracking the employee engagement nut requires a deep understanding of what role it plays in your organization. Drilling into the data is a good place to start. We’ve outlined 7 reasons why employee engagement is a necessity for any organization. 

  1. Employee retention
  2. Strengthened mental fitness and resilience
  3. Increased productivity
  4. An inclusive, thriving culture
  5. Business performance
  6. Safer, healthier workplaces
  7. Higher customer satisfaction

1. Employee retention 

It shouldn’t be a surprise that disengaged employees are more likely to leave your organization. Employee turnover is one of the biggest battles companies are facing today. Not only is it expensive and disruptive, it negatively impacts team morale. 

Gallup also found in the data cited above new insights into disengaged workers. Of disengaged employees in 2021, 71% are looking for new jobs or watching for new opportunities.

With only 36% of the workforce engaged, that’s a massive number of workers on the cusp of leaving their organization. 

Engaged employees are more likely to stay with your organization. Great employee retention rates feed business performance, productivity, innovation, and creativity.

2. Strengthened mental fitness 

In a time when resiliency is challenged by uncertainty, mental fitness is of strategic importance. First, it’s important to acknowledge where we’re starting from. Our data shows that 55% of employees are languishing, which is the absence of mental health. 

But a workforce with strong mental fitness is possible. It takes an engaged, thriving workforce. And its benefits are unbeatable. We’ve found that employees who are thriving: 

  • Lead teams that are 31% more productive
  • Have direct reports who are 78% less likely to leave voluntarily
  • Recover from setbacks 1.2x stronger
  • Are less likely to experience mental illness, saving $4,477 USD per person per year
  • Are 22% more satisfied with their jobs

3. Increased productivity 

Productivity is one positive outcome of an engaged employee workforce. Research shows that engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity.

4. An inclusive, thriving culture 

When employees are engaged, it’s likely they feel a deep sense of belonging. To be able to truly connect with their work and their workplace, employees need to feel included. They need to feel connected — and feel like their work matters.

We know from our data that when leaders are inclusive, it pays off. Inclusive leaders actually show a 150% increase in employee engagement

In the context of building a thriving company culture, belonging and inclusivity should be at the top of any organization’s priority list. And even if your organization is remote, there are still plenty of opportunities for virtual team building.

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5. Business performance 

As you might’ve guessed by now, increased employee engagement has a positive ripple effect across an organization. With employees more likely to stay, they become more productive and innovative. 

When employees are maximizing their contributions to the company, the company’s performance only grows. Research shows that companies with engaged employees outperform companies with disengaged employees. The science backs it up — increased employee engagement leads to increased profitability.

6. Safer, healthier workplaces

This is an interesting positive outcome of increased employee engagement. Research has found that organizations with higher employee engagement report fewer safety incidents. In fact, engaged workforces reported 48% fewer safety incidents and 41% fewer patient safety incidents. 

With increased employee engagement comes a safer, healthier workplace for all.

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7. Higher customer satisfaction 

You might’ve heard the phrase, “happy employees means happy customers.” There’s science to back that up. 

Data shows that companies in the top quartile of employee engagement have 10% higher customer ratings. Beyond ratings, one study found a benefit in the customer experience

This study found that 79% of companies with engaged employees reported a better customer experience than companies that didn’t. When customers are happy, they’re more likely to stay loyal — and refer other customers to your business.

What are examples of employee engagement?

If you look closely, you might be able to spot examples of employee engagement in your organization. Let’s walk through a couple of good — and bad — examples to help. 

  • Example A: In a team meeting, employees speak up when they have ideas for how to improve processes, projects, or work.

    Area of opportunity: Keep fostering open lines of feedback! This is a great sign of employee engagement. People feel safe enough to voice opportunities.
  • Example B: Your employee was supposed to deliver a report yesterday. You still haven’t seen the report come through. When you checked in with the employee, they said they didn’t realize it was a priority.

    Area of opportunity: This might be a great opportunity for the leader to connect the larger purpose of work to the employee’s project. It sounds like the employee might be ambivalent about the project at hand. It also sounds like the employee isn’t deeply connected to the work.

    Consider opening up a conversation around purpose. Perhaps there are other projects on the team that resonate better with the employee. Or perhaps the employee hasn’t made the connection to the larger purpose or vision. Encourage open feedback from the employee and show appreciation for their perspective. 

Employee engagement vs. employee satisfaction

It’s not uncommon to confuse employee engagement with employee satisfaction. But it’s critical to understand the differences between the two. 

  • Employee engagement. Engaged workers are motivated and deeply connected to the company. They are committed to helping the company achieve its goals. They also understand their role in helping the company succeed.
  • Employee satisfaction. Employee satisfaction means employees can enjoy (or are satisfied) with their jobs. Satisfied employees could meet expectations. But employee satisfaction is not an indicator of employee engagement. Satisfied employees lack the deeper commitment and motivation that comes with employee engagement. 

However, there is an overlap in similarities between employee engagement and employee satisfaction. 

  • An employee can be deeply engaged at work and satisfied with their job.
  • Satisfied and engaged employees can fulfill their day-to-day duties. Those duties can contribute to the company’s goals. 
  • Employee satisfaction and engaged employees both lead to happier employees who are more likely to stay. The difference is for how long.

3 tactics to help measure employee engagement

There’s no one right way to measure employee engagement.  But, there are key tactics you should consider. Work with your HR professionals to ensure expectations, communication, and deliverables are clear.

  1. Survey your employees. In order to set a goal of where you want to be, you need to know where you’re starting from. Consider leveraging employee engagement surveys to measure employee sentiment.

    Surveying your employees is one way to get a better understanding of their current engagement levels. There are a number of tools you can leverage to survey your employees. In general, you’ll want to get a sense of how employees think, feel, and act to help your organization reach its goals.

    Consider questions that dig into these areas: retention, satisfaction, pride in the company, and willingness to recommend the company to others. You might consider some sort of NPS survey to help.
  2. Conduct listening interviews or focus groups. Everyone wants to be heard. It’s important to provide opportunities for employees to voice their opinions and perspectives.

    Once you have this feedback, your leadership can gather data and synthesize the information to detect larger themes. It can help when measuring your employee engagement strategy.
  3. Encourage open and honest feedback. Managers have an incredible influence over employees. Make sure your team leads are encouraging two-way feedback with their direct reports.

    Consider asking managers to implement a feedback section in regular one-on-one meetings. Or as a leader, make sure you’re gathering informal feedback from the bottom up as well as the top down. Informal feedback can lead to great insights about your employee engagement strategy. 

While employee engagement may be driven by the HR arm of the company, it’s a company-wide owned effort. Every leader should assume responsibility for doing their part in engaging their employees.

How to spot engaged vs. disengaged employees 

Engaged 

Disengaged 

Proactive, willing to go above and beyond to see the company succeed 

Meeting the minimum requirements of their job (or needs to be pushed to do work) 

Open, honest communication; feel psychologically safe to voice opinions or perspectives 

Doesn’t speak; doesn’t communicate or shows withdrawal from conversation 

Motivates and empowers other employees 

Complains or brings other employees down 

Shows up to help make the company better, an active participant and contributor to company goals 

Absenteeism

Models inclusive behaviors, cares deeply about the well-being of teammates and in turn, customers 

Apathy or talk about not caring; does not model inclusivity and can seem ambivalent 

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What are the 4 key drivers of employee engagement?

There are a lot of key drivers of employee engagement. Let’s take a closer look at some of these elements. By implementingsome of these, you'll see better business outcomes.

1. Purpose

Years ago, we might not have outlined purpose as a key element to employee engagement. But recently — especially in the wake of COVID-19 — we’re seeing purpose emerge as a key indicator to engagement.

McKinsey found that 2 out of 3 employees reported having reconsidered their purpose at work since the pandemic. Through survey data, BetterUp found that employees who feel a deep sense of purpose report higher job satisfaction.

With a sense of purpose, job satisfaction can lead to increased employee engagement. It improves performance, reduces absenteeism, and boosts employee retention.

It’s important for leaders to reiterate the purpose of their employees’ contributions. If employees can’t recognize the why behind their work, it’s likely you’re missing out on a big opportunity for engagement.

2. Learning and development

Employees need learning and development opportunities. Creating learning pathways leads to increased employee engagement levels. But from an employee perspective, it can also boost morale and allow autonomy.

3. Inclusive leadership

We know a manager has an incredible influence over the employee experience. But in tandem with the employee experience, the manager also has influence over employee engagement.

Our data shows that inclusive leadership can be a game-changer for businesses and employees alike. In fact, we’ve found that employees are 50% more productive, 90% more innovative, and 150% more engaged when they have an inclusive leader. Inclusive leadership also results in 54% lower employee turnover.

4. A psychologically safe workplace

Take a minute to reflect back on observed employee behaviors. Are your employees voicing their opinions and perspective? Are you providing safe places to provide feedback? Are you encouraging leaders to provide and receive feedback?

If not, it might be a sign that your workplace needs some help with psychological safety. Employees need to be able to feel safe to speak out. If there’s fear of retaliation, your employee engagement strategy won't be successful.

Consider ways you can build a culture of trust and belonging. Work with your HR leaders in building a psychologically safe workplace. Increased psychological safety means increased employee engagement.

4 ways to boost employee engagement

Now that we’ve looked at key drivers that impact employee engagement, here are four ways you can increase your team’s engagement.

1. Lean into company values

Having clear, relatable company values gives your employees something to connect to. Just as these values drive the business forward and help leadership make decisions, they can also give employees direction. When everyone is driving toward the same goals by the same values, you foster a culture of unity and collaboration.

2. Organize team-building activities

As we mentioned earlier, team building is a valuable tool, especially in remote and hybrid environments. It can be difficult for some team members to connect with each other across screens. So facilitating this connection can help individuals feel a sense of belonging and be more tied to the company’s overall mission.

3. Show gratitude to your team

Toiling away day after day without recognition can be exhausting. Try keeping your employees motivated and engaged by showing your appreciation for their work. There’s no need to wait until the next review cycle. You can thank an employee via public announcements in meetings or over Slack, or more privately in small team meetings or messages. Whichever method you choose, be sure to be specific and genuine with your feedback.

4. Enhance your onboarding 

An effective onboarding strategy leaves new employees feeling inspired and equipped to bring their best efforts to work. Ensuring each member of your team has access to the tools and resources they need to succeed is crucial. It helps employees feel valued, empowered, and engaged. Each of these qualities feeds into employee retention.


How does leadership impact employee engagement?

Employee engagement is a company-wide responsibility. While everyone plays a role in engaging employees, two key leadership groups play a significant role.

Managers

Managers play a big role in the employee engagement strategy. We’ve outlined three key responsibilities managers need to help increase employee engagement. 

  • Growth and development opportunities. Equip your managers with the tools they need to offer growth and development opportunities for their employees. 
  • Recognition and appreciation. Employee recognition goes a long way. It’s critical employees feel appreciated and recognized for all their contributions.
  • Open communication and feedback. Open communication and feedback are vital. It’s likely that regular one-on-ones are the most common way to provide feedback to leadership. 

Consider offering your managers access to personalized coaching. With one-on-one coaching, you can empower your managers to build the skills they need to foster a thriving workforce. 

Human resources (HR)

HR has a vested interest in designing and executing a stellar employee engagement plan. Your HR professionals will likely put together the infrastructure for a strategy.

You might consider your HR team to be the “hub” of the employee engagement strategy. From there, your leaders and managers are the “spokes.” 

  • Provide safe, open forums for feedback. Many organizations have some sort of forum where employees can provide feedback. Whether it’s a survey or HR-monitored mailbox, consider ways your HR team can provide that safe space. Make sure policies and guidelines are in place that protects employees from retaliation — and uphold them. 
  • Foster a culture of trust, starting with onboarding. Companies have the opportunity to engage their employees from day one. For most organizations, this starts with the onboarding process, which is often owned by HR teams.

    Make sure your HR teams are fostering a culture of trust from the very beginning. Clear, transparent communication around expectations, policies, guidelines, and culture is paramount.
  • Put employee engagement programs in place. Your organization’s HR might be in a position to offer additional programs to engage employees. For example, employee resource groups (ERGs) are a great way to engage employees around shared connections and purpose.


You might also consider things like clubs, social hours, or volunteer opportunities. These social activities (with purpose) can help connect employees to the company.

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8 steps: Implement your employee engagement strategy

By now, you might have a good idea of what approach you’d like to take to engage your employees. Before you dive in, consider this step-by-step implementation list. 

  1. Measure your starting point. Then, set goals. You might conduct a company-wide survey to get a sense of how employees think, feel, and act towards the company. Once you get a pulse on employee engagement and sentiment, think about what you’d like to accomplish. Collaborate with leadership and employees to set tangible goals.
  2. Identify what programs, actions, or behaviors you’d like to implement. This is the more tactical component. Does your workforce need personalized coaching? Have you heard from employees that they’d like more learning opportunities? Does it seem like opportunities to provide feedback are lacking? Look at the data you’ve gathered to outline solutions to each of the challenges.
  3. Ensure your strategy aligns with your company’s core values. Employee engagement is all about feeling connected to the company. If there’s misalignment to the company’s core values, it’s likely it could hurt your employee engagement. 
  4. Socialize goals, clear expectations, and purpose. This can happen in an all-company meeting, but it shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation. Continue to socialize where the company has growth opportunities to increase engagement.

    Make sure managers bring up goals and expectations around any new strategic implementations. Get your leaders enthusiastic about their role in the company's mission. Contributing to the company's mission helps drive employee engagement. 
  5. Gather feedback. Gather more. Say you’ve implemented a few new programs and adopted new behaviors. Ask your employees: how’s it going? What’s working well? What isn’t working? Keep the feedback coming. 
  6. Evaluate strategy successes and failures. Then, course-correct where needed. For example, you might spin up a new program for clubs. But say employee participation is low. Figure out why some programs or strategies are working better than others. Listen to employee feedback to evaluate how your strategy is working. 
  7. Communicate progress. If you’re serious about engaging your employees, your employees need to know how it’s going. Make sure you communicate progress on employee engagement goals. 
  8. Continue to innovate. Employee engagement strategies are living, breathing organisms. That’s because employees are human beings. Change is inevitable. And as our world continues to change, so should your strategy. Stay on your edge and innovate where possible. 

How to evaluate employee engagement initiatives

So, let’s say you’ve implemented some new programs and initiatives to help improve employee engagement. But when you re-surveyed your employees, you’re not seeing much of a change in survey results.

What do you do? You pivot.

It’s important to stay agile when things aren’t going as planned. This will look different for every program and initiative but at its heart, it’s about listening to employees. 

Consider asking yourselves these questions. 

Have you gathered candid feedback from your managers and employees? Is your company culture psychologically safe and inclusive? Are you providing professional development opportunities? Can you listen better to your team members? Is there an opportunity to improve work relationships?

Sometimes, it takes help from outside the organization. Personalized coaching has proven hugely beneficial to employee engagement. Consider ways you can provide your employees access to coaching resources.

Start to drive employee engagement 

If you want better employee performance, better business outcomes, and a better bottom line, it's time to make a change.

With your company's mission top of mind, how can you help employees reach their fullest potential? In what ways can you implement employee engagement ideas to help foster a thriving workforce?

To truly empower human transformation at scale, consider coaching. With personalized coaching, employees are more likely to be productive, engaged, and innovative. You’ll also actively build mental fitness, resiliency, and innovation.

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Published June 17, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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