What is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is a fundamental concept in an effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees. An "engaged employee" is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization's reputation and interests. An engaged employee has a positive attitude towards the organization and its values. In contrast, a disengaged employee may range from someone doing the bare minimum at work (aka 'coasting'), up to an employee who is actively damaging the company's work output and reputation.
An organization with "high" employee engagement might, therefore, be expected to outperform those with "low" employee engagement.
What are employee engagement strategies?
1. Provide a road map for success
Knowing that they have a clearly-defined future is a major factor in whether or not someone decides to remain committed to an organization for the long term. This is especially important for millennials, who change jobs more frequently than previous generations and routinely identify development opportunities as a key factor in their career decisions. By holding regular career discussions with employees and asking them where they see themselves in the future, companies can create plans that help them develop the skills they need to take on additional responsibility in the future.
In addition to boosting retention rates, this emphasis on development also boosts engagement since employees are more likely to see their role in the organization as important and valued. They take greater ownership of their responsibilities while also keeping an eye on the future. Knowing that the work they do today will benefit their career tomorrow, employees who feel they have a clear advancement path in the organization can avoid feeling like they’re stuck in the same position with no end in sight.
Also, facilitating development helps to build trust because it demonstrates that the company values its employees. With that sense of trust comes a greater commitment to the organization’s mission and improved engagement.
2. Recognize good work
It’s one thing to show support for employees through development opportunities, but such measures are only one of the ways that companies can demonstrate how they value employees. Cheering on successes and highlighting accomplishments might seem like a minor gesture, but it goes a long way toward showing employees that the work they do matters.
Gallup research has reported that two out of three employees feel that the good work they do goes unrecognized. This figure should be particularly worrisome for companies since employees who feel unappreciated are more likely to engage in troublesome behavior and let their performance deteriorate. Considering that recognizing good work is such a low-cost strategy that can be implemented on a daily basis, it’s rather remarkable that so many organizations are falling short in this regard.
Encouraging employees and celebrating accomplishments doesn’t have to come exclusively from leadership. Positive feedback and recognition from colleagues can also help boost engagement by creating a sense of trust and camaraderie throughout an organization. When employees have a positive emotional investment in the success of their teammates, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work to further that success.
3. Establish two-way communication
No one likes being kept in the dark. Organizations that operate under a veil of secrecy and keep employees on a strict “need to know” basis tend to struggle with low engagement and retention rates. People want to know about decisions that affect them, what is expected of them and information that may be relevant to their work.
But simply sharing information isn’t enough to promote engagement. Employees need to know that communication flows both ways. If they can’t take their concerns or ideas to leadership, they will likely feel ignored or unvalued. This goes beyond simply having an open door policy. Being able to voice concerns is one thing, but knowing that someone is there to genuinely listen to them and take them seriously is quite another.
Effective leaders are generally proactive communicators who encourage people to speak out and let everyone know they’re willing to listen. They make themselves as accessible as possible and don’t treat information as leverage to further their own ambitions.
4. Provide a sense of purpose
For many employees today, especially millennials, it’s not enough to simply show up for work, perform a task, and collect a paycheck. They want to feel that the work they do matters, that it has some purpose beyond simply turning a profit. In addition to their own personal contributions, they want to know that the organization they work for is committed to values and goals that they share.
If employees can’t reconcile their personal values with those of their company, they will become disengaged very quickly and be less accountable for their work. It’s incumbent upon organizations, and especially leadership, to communicate their values and mission statement clearly and explicitly. Furthermore, they must show employees how their contributions actually make a difference in whether or not the organization accomplishes its goals. When employees connect their workplace to their personal values, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work and demonstrate a greater level of personal investment in the company’s success. Organizations can promote these values by becoming involved in local community outreach events or providing opportunities for employees to take part in other forms of corporate activism.
5. Be fair and realistic
In order for organizations and leaders to retain the respect of their employees, they must treat them with respect and fairness while also holding themselves to the same standards. Employees want to know that they will be judged primarily on their performance rather than factors outside their control. They also expect that rules and procedures are there to be followed, not discarded at the earliest, inconvenient opportunity. This is especially important for leaders, who very often set the standard for behavior by example. If employees get the impression that the rules do not apply to some people, they are more likely to become frustrated and voice their displeasure in unproductive ways that undermine the morale and performance of the entire team.
Companies also need to make sure that their expectations are realistic. While engaged employees will often take on a heavier workload than their less-engaged peers, leaning too heavily on them can burn them out or lead to resentment. Similarly, if even routine tasks seem to be overwhelming, employees may give up to some extent and allow their performance standards to slip below acceptable levels.
An engaged workforce is an invaluable asset for any organization, but it’s also a very precious one. Any breach of trust could easily undermine that engagement and cause drastic decreases in productivity, profitability, and retention rates. By keeping a focus on ways to boost engagement, companies will create a positive work environment that makes people want to commit to its success both in the present and for the future.
What are some variations of employee engagement definitions?
1. “The emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” Kevin Kruse, Forbes Contributor and NY Times Best Selling Author
2. “The art of getting people to believe what you want them to believe.” Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat
3. “Emotional connection an employee feels toward his or her employment organization, which tends to influence his or her behaviours and level of effort in work-related activities.” Business Dictionary
4. “A business management concept that describes the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward his/her job. Engaged employees care about their work and about the performance of the company, and feel that their efforts make a difference.” Investopedia
5. “The elusive force that motivates employees to higher (or lower) levels of performance.” Workforce Performance Solutions
6. “An emergent and working condition as a positive cognitive, emotional, and behavioural state directed toward organizational outcomes.” Michael Shuck and Karen Wallard
Why is employee engagement important?
1. Engaged employees boost productivity
Reports show that employees who are invested in their roles are more productive than those who aren’t. According to a Gallup poll, engaged employees are 21% more productive than their less engaged counterparts.
Engagement is, at best, a symptom of success. Employees who are succeeding and feeling good about their contributions to your company are naturally more likely to be proud to work for your company, be happy to come to work each day, and feel valued.
Finding ways to engage your people, whether that means giving them a challenge or more responsibilities, means you’re also finding ways to boost your organization’s productivity. In short, it’s good for everyone involved.
2. Employee engagement increases customer satisfaction
People who are passionate about their work are often the best people to interact with your customers. Why? Because that passion is infectious and your customers will take notice.
The most engaged employees are, according to Quartz, “more inclined to put in the effort that translates into buzzing productivity levels, a happier sales force, and a more credible product pitch.” In other words, customers are treated to a better experience when dealing with engaged employees.
Those who believe in the value of helping customers, and also feel valued by their organization, are far more likely to deliver a better customer experience and increase satisfaction.
3. You’ll retain your best people
Engaged employees are involved and invested in their roles and are therefore less likely to leave their job. Sometimes your best people aren’t engaged—and you may risk losing them. Keeping them engaged is absolutely essential to keep them at your organization doing their best work.
If your organization is dealing with low retention rates, it’s time to think about why they're not engaged, fast. Because when the best people at your organization leave, the rest of your people will notice. And you don’t want a domino effect.
4. Employee engagement enhances company culture
People who are engaged in what they do are, in general, easier to work with. And not because they’re happier or more cheery, either. It’s because they exemplify a culture of employee engagement.
What is a culture of employee engagement? According to Forbes, it’s a workplace that's “designed, first and foremost, around its company values.” Creating a culture of employee engagement requires “checking in with their employees to ensure that the company mission aligns with the ways that people currently work and the ways that they want to work.”
Ideally, engaged employees are living your company’s values every day at work, and being recognized across the organization for it. Celebrating your most engaged people is one step towards creating a culture of engagement.
5. Engagement is a symptom of success
As Ann Latham put it, engagement is a symptom of success. And this doesn’t necessarily mean a business success (or a successful business, for that matter). Rather, engagement is usually the result of a personal or team success.
In other words, engaged employees are engaged, not because they’re productive or easy to work with, but because they feel their work matters. They feel valued. And when their successes are recognized, your people will feel like they’ve succeeded in making a meaningful impact at work.
Employee engagement ideas
Here are 9 employee engagement ideas you can try with your team
1. Help With Personal Growth
2. Implement Continuous Feedback
3. Make Work Fun
4. Give Employees A Voice
5. Promote Wellness
6. Live Your Core Values
7. Respect Your Employees
8. Encourage Experimentation
9. Build Relationships At Work