What is employee engagement and how to improve it (2022)

Engagement is the word on everyone’s lips. It’s becoming such a pivotal part of our vocabulary, and it’s applicable to almost every sector in the professional world.

Year-after-year, increasing employee engagement in the workplace remains a top priority for many organizations. Some companies even feel it’s the most important aspect in Human Resources. And with good reason. Employee engagement has an undoubtable and direct impact on performance, retention, and overall company results.

This article will walk you through the steps you’ll need to take to increase staff engagement in your workplace. Increasing employee engagement should be at the top of your priority list. Luckily, following our tips to improve employee engagement is straightforward and easy to implement.

But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. What is the definition of ‘employee engagement’?

What is employee engagement?

There are many definitions for employee engagement, but at its core, it’s the degree to which employees are motivated by, invested in, and passionate about the work that they do and the organization they work for.

EngageForSuccess.org, an organization that promotes employee engagement, defines employee engagement as:

[Employee engagement is] a workplace approach resulting in the right condition for all members of an organization to give their best each day, committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.

In other words, employee engagement boils down to a genuine commitment to a cause, driven by happiness to work at an organization and a shared sense of purpose. As you can see, there are multiple layers and variables that contribute to whether or not an employee will be truly engaged. Just as important as what employee engagement is, is what it is not.

What employee engagement is not

Engagement is often conflated with:

  • Employee happiness, and
  • Employee satisfaction

While both of the above contribute to employee engagement, they do not alone cause it. Employees may be happy, for example, but not particularly motivated to work hard for the organization. Likewise, employees may be satisfied with their employers and what they’re paid to do, but not motivated enough to go that extra mile.

The challenge, therefore, is to find the right blend of engagement variables that will make employees feel motivated to go the few miles every day. This can be influenced by factors such as location, culture, individual values and characteristics, processes, communication, and so on.

If we’re honest, we can all remember a role where, despite being satisfied with what we had to do, it didn’t light us up enough to create high levels of motivation. Those roles never pushed us to give our everything on a daily basis. That’s because of the lack of employee engagement. If the leadership team had collaborated with HR to determine how to improve employee engagement, our motivation as employees may have heightened. In that, the employers will have gained better production of work, satisfied workers, and a lower turnover rate. Instead, they ignored our lack of engagement, settling for the minimum.

What a shame! If they had invested their time and energy into increasing employee engagement levels, their whole business could’ve been transformed.

But you have learned from their shortcomings. And as such, you’re searching for ways to improve employee engagement in your own organization.

Every team is susceptible to changes in engagement levels, making it necessary to continuously monitor and tweak your employee engagement strategy.

Now that we’ve talked about what employee engagement is, let’s turn to why it’s important.

Why is employee engagement important?

As mentioned, there is a lot of evidence citing the importance of employee engagement. Consider some of these statistics as an indicator of how much your peers value employee engagement:

In addition to these statistics, engaged workforces have been shown to lead to:

  • Improved productivity and efficiency
  • Higher customer retention rates
  • Competitive advantages
  • Happier employees

Or, as Forbes succinctly summarizes for the business-minded readers, high employee engagement leads to:

  • Better service, quality of work, and productivity
  • Higher customer satisfaction
  • Increased sales
  • Increased levels of profit
  • Higher stakeholder returns

The above lists and statistics focus mostly on benefits to the employer, but there are obvious upsides for your staff as well, including:

  • A stronger sense of belonging
  • Better work-life-balance
  • Reduced stress and friction during daily work
  • A sense of purpose towards a common goal
  • Motivation to use “discretionary effort,” (i.e. going to extra mile, even when nobody’s watching)

As you can see, employee engagement is a win-win for employers and employees alike. It’s the secret ingredient that unlocks a workforce’s true potential and allows them to do great things, while also ensuring happiness and job satisfaction.

Saying that you want an engaged workforce is one thing, but achieving it is quite another. It takes a continuous, top-down effort that combines the right strategies and continuous measurement and refinement.

The rest of this article will focus on how to measure and generate employee engagement at your organization.

How to measure employee engagement

Here at Recruitee, we’re firm believers that, unless you are keeping tabs on something, you can’t possibly improve it. Data can be a scary prospect for some people, but if you’re hoping to improve in any area, you need to begin measuring the strengths and fall-backs of what you’re currently doing. Only then can you put strategies in place to become stronger.

Why you need to be measuring your employee engagement rate

This is no different for employee engagement rate. Once you know the current level, you’ll then be able to put strategies in place to improve employee engagement. So, when it comes down to it, you need to learn how to measure employee engagement so you can better it, and gain all those lovely benefits we outlined earlier.

Apart from the fact that you can’t improve on what you don’t know, there are four key reasons you should measure your employee engagements levels:

  1. To identify strengths, problems, opportunities, and unknown truths in your workforce.
  2. To build trust with your employees.
  3. To help keep everyone at the organization informed about what’s going on.
  4. To understand and act on trends.

In other words, measuring employee engagement isn’t just data collection. It’s a show of goodwill and an exercise in accountability and clear communication that shows your employees that you’re committed to their well-being and improvement.

How to measure employee engagement rate

Clearly, measuring employee engagement is important. But how do you do it?

Here’s a list of steps to help you get started.

  • First, determine what you want to find out.
    You can’t measure everything.
    In collaboration with your executive team and HR, determine what information you’re hoping to uncover about your workforce.

    Allow this information to be a combination of priorities that management and senior leadership want to address, alongside issues that are important to your staff. Make a list and use this to guide the next steps of this process.

  • Next, choose your survey medium and process.
    Once you’ve determined what you want to learn, decide on how you’re going to learn it.
    Will you use a long-form employee engagement survey? Will it be a series of interviews? Who will receive the survey? When? How will you process the results and action the suggestions?

    You’ll need to create an end-to-end process for how you will manage the project.

  • Now, communicate the plan to your employees.
    Before sending out your survey, inform your employees about your engagement initiative. Be transparent.
    Explain the catalysts behind the project, what you’re hoping to achieve, and how you’ll process and action their feedback.

    Clarity of communication helps to build confidence in the process.

  • Then, identify what’s important to your employees.
    If you’re sending your first engagement survey, structure it so that employees can tell you what they value in you most.

    Be broad with your questioning, but not burdensome. The answers to these questions will help to show what your employees really value, helping you identify your areas of focus.

    Ask employees to rate their opinions on the importance of things like:

  • Teamwork
  • Employee development
  • Change management
  • Individual needs
  • Recognition
  • Trust in leadership and co-workers
  • Confidence in the future
  • Make sure you collect qualitative AND quantitative data. Quantitative data will help you find trends and priorities, but qualitative data is where hidden gems of information come from.

    Ask open-ended questions and allow employees to write candidly. This will give you ideas for how to improve employee engagement in the way that your staff values.

  • After you’ve gathered the data, process the results, prioritize action items, and communicate the next steps.
    Gather survey results and work through your action plan from Step 2.

    Make sure that you communicate progress with your team to make it clear that their voices have been heard. This will be appreciated and demonstrate that you’re acting on the feedback provided.

  • Develop a continuous listening strategy.
    This measurement process outlined how to measure the results from one survey.

    In reality, one survey must lead to a culture of continuous listening. Engagement is fluid: it changes and evolves over time. Because of this, you need to listen regularly and adapt as needed.

    Establish a yearly or half-yearly cadence for a “full” engagement survey. Use monthly pulse surveys to gather more immediate feedback. Encourage “radical candor” as part of your daily operations to promote spontaneous recommendations for improvements.

Measuring employee engagement can be onerous. But, if it’s done effectively and you follow the steps above, the results will speak for themselves.

The key to this process is to not cut corners. Don’t rely on one type of survey, as that can lead to data biases. Don’t survey a sample of your workforce, as that can lead to misrepresentation. Don’t focus on only qualitative results, as that misses gems of information generated from open-ended questions.

But above all else, make sure that you act on the engagement insights that you’ve measured. Without action, all you have is data. And data alone doesn’t improve engagement.

Remember, data is the way you unlock a treasure chest. But, unless you put your hands in the chest and grab the items, all you’ve got is an open chest.

This next section will give you some ideas for how to act on that data. So, let’s dive into how to increase employee engagement.

How to increase employee engagement in the workplace

Now you understand the definition of employee engagement, why it’s so important, what it can offer, and how to measure it, it’s time to learn how to increase employee engagement in the workplace.

Employee engagement: the 3 key areas you should focus on

When thinking through how to set your employee survey results into action, it’s helpful to understand what factors impact engagement. For employees, there are three key areas of an organization that you should focus on:

  • The organization
  • The manager
  • The processes

At the organization level, company culture is the key driver for engaged or disengaged workforces.

Take an honest look at your own company culture. Does a culture of engagement and empowerment exist? Do you have policies that promote motivation, respect, and empowerment? Do you clearly communicate the company’s goals and vision?

Improving employee engagement - the organization

If you answered “no,” to any of the questions above, then there’s likely some work to be done on an organizational level.

Here are some ways you can improve employee engagement in terms of the organization.

  • Create a people-focused culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing above all other commitments.
  • Focus on engagement at the local and organizational levels.
    In other words, don’t try to shoehorn the same strategies into all departments in all offices.

    Get granular to determine engagement drivers among teams. Fix locally to improve globally.

  • Clarify your core values and emphasize the company’s mission.
    Ensure that everyone at the organization knows what they’re working towards and why. Don’t underestimate the power of the ‘why’. Human beings need to feel a sense of purpose. What is your organization doing to change the world? And why is that important? Articulate it well and stress the transformation. It’s vital that each employee understands their responsibility. You’ll see an increase in employee engagement levels if they’re motivated, and motivation comes from a sense of purpose.
  • Create a culture of continuous feedback.
    Empower employees to voice their opinions with a culture of continuous feedback. Ensure they’re given the confidence that they will be heard every time. It would be a good idea to give your employees an easy-to-use multi-step office survey form that will let you collect opinions on your office culture.
  • Make physical and mental health a priority.
    Provide or encourage healthy snacks and meals, wellness programs, fitness incentives, and health competitions. If you’re working with remote staff, facilitate video conferences where people can have fun together, get to know each other, and hang out. Show a commitment to your employees’ well-being and they’ll show a commitment to you.
  • Show a commitment to the community
    Provide volunteer opportunities or team-building activities. 70% of employees believe that these types of experiences enhance morale and engagement.

Improving employee engagement - the managers

Managers also play a critical role in fostering engagement at the team and departmental levels.

Management needs to exhibit behaviors and values that motivate (not demand) employees to go the extra mile. Leaders who inspire their team are much better at creating engaged workforces than those who demand productivity.

As the saying goes, “people don’t quit companies, they quit managers.” Poorly placed managers can wreak havoc on engagement, employee retention, and performance. Ensuring you have the right leaders, in the right place, is critical.

It’s also the organization’s responsibility to engage their managers, give them the training and tools they need to perform, and promote the right people into leadership positions.

Improving employee engagement - the processes

The processes you have in place at your organization are the third pillar that will influence engagement at your organization.
Processes should be in place to make things operate more smoothly, rather than getting in the way of productivity. Too much red tape, or lack of clear structure, are two sure ways to ensure that employees become frustrated and disillusioned about the work that they do. That, as you may have guessed, results in negative employee engagement.

Processes affect engagement right from your first contact with a candidate through to when they leave the organization. Clean processes show that you have your house in order, while disjointed ones show exactly the opposite.

Here are some key processes that you should focus on to improve employee engagement in the workplace:

  • The hiring process.
    Ensure that your hiring process is efficient, fair, and treats the candidate with respect. This is your first impression for future employees: make it a good one.
  • The onboarding process
    Make sure that you have a seamless, complete, and inspiring employee onboarding process that sets employees off on the right foot.
  • The training and development process.
    Make professional development available to all employees, and ensure that they have the tools and resources needed to meet their professional development goals.

Processes are a massive part of your organization. Here are some further tips to improve employee engagement by focusing on adapting your processes:

  • Remove the red tape.
    Review processes at the organizational and departmental levels to find causes of churn and frustration. Adapt or remove these processes where possible.
  • Provide and encourage flexibility.
    87% of employees expect that their organizations will help support them in balancing work and personal commitments. Make work-life balance a priority by providing flex hours, work-from-home arrangements, and any other benefit that will help employees juggle their priorities.

Ideas to improve employee engagement

After considering the strategies mentioned above, you may need further ideas to increase employee engagement for both the short and long term.

  • Prioritize your managers and their engagement levels
    Engagement is a type of energy, which can be contagious. If a manager isn’t enthusiastic or engaged with their work, it can’t be filtered down into their teams. With this in mind, make sure you implement employee engagement strategies with leadership teams as a priority.
  • Reward achievement and place emphasis on recognition
    When you were at school, I bet you worked best for a teacher that rewarded you when you worked hard. This is because you wanted to make that teacher proud, and you wanted more praise. We don’t grow out of this. We just disguise our yearning for appreciation a lot more. Implementing an ‘employee of the month’ takes only a few moments to set up, and it can have a wonderful impact. If that’s not your style, then find another way to reward effort, achievement, and hard work. We never grow out of wanting to hear we’ve done something particularly well.
  • Hold competitions and let your employees compete
    You’ve likely got employees because they’re good at what they do. Give them an opportunity to show how good. Whether that’s on a smaller scale between each team, or a whole company competition, allow their competitive side to spark engagement. Perhaps you’re holding a competition to award the employee who makes the most sales? Or a competition to award a particular team for completing a range of tasks with the fewest errors?
  • Create a point system, and have clear rewards for these points
    Point systems work fantastically in the education sector, but they’re rarely used outside of school. Why not take something that works marvelously with children and simply mature the prizes? A point system works by rewarding employees for completing certain tasks. Then, employees can cash out their points. You could have a system where 100 points is an extra day of annual leave. Or 50 points allows them to work at home if they’d like. You could even transfer a certain amount of points to a cash bonus or a gift card.

Employee engagement is one of the key drivers of organizational success. Of course, everything in this article will not work without buy-in from the entire leadership team. Acknowledging that reality, and acting on it, will set your company up for great things in the future.

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