Employee Engagement

After reading this guide, you will be able to improve employee engagement in your organization for both general and remote workers.

Given the current situation with COVID-19, many workplaces are turning to remote work, some for the first time.

With workers being away from direct supervision, employee engagement becomes that much more important, as an engaged employee is one who can be trusted to competently, consistently perform their job, often going above and beyond their job description to make sure that they are delivering high-quality results.

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This guide will help you better understand employee engagement, how to curate it in your organization, both for general and remote work, and give you actionable tips and best practices for increasing your employee engagement.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the level of mental and emotional commitment an employee has towards their job, the organization, and its goals.

An engaged employee is driven to help their organization succeed by directing their best efforts towards their work. They believe in the organization, and they will work to make sure that the organization succeeds.

It is important to note that employee engagement is different from employee satisfaction. A satisfied employee will not necessarily commit extra time and effort into the organization’s success, rather they will perform their job competently without expending extra effort.

Job satisfaction tends to be transactional, corresponding to salary and benefits. Employee engagement is not transactional; an employee with a higher salary will not necessarily be an engaged employee.

Why is employee engagement important?

Employee engagement can massively aid an organization, and organizations with engaged employees consistently outperform their competitors.

The benefits of employee engagement within an organization:

1. Better customer satisfaction

Engaged employees will go above and beyond to provide great service to customers. They will take pride in performing their jobs to the best of their ability.

This could mean that a salesperson takes extra time out of their day to walk a potential customer through the product, a programmer works overtime to rid bugs from a client’s new program, or a retail clerk helps customers find the perfect fit of jeans, no matter how long it takes.

Customers who receive great service will both return and tell others about their experience, increasing customer loyalty for your organization.

2. Improved productivity and efficiency

An engaged employee wants their work to benefit the organization, so they will find ways to produce great quality work quickly. While an employee who is not engaged might simply want to come in and collect a paycheck with the least amount of work, an engaged employee will use discretionary effort to make sure that their work yields the highest result.

3. Reduction of staff turnover

This is another example of how employee engagement and employee satisfaction are different. An employee might be very satisfied with their job but they will happily take another job if offered a nice raise. Studies show that employee retention is a challenge, with 81% of small businesses recognizing turnover as a costly problem. When an employee leaves, it can disrupt services, costing the organization money and upsetting clients, and replacing a lost employee can cost up to 40% of a salary.

If an employee is truly engaged, they will not want to leave their role, as they want to continue helping the organization reach its goals. They won’t be tempted to look for other work, because they are mentally and emotionally connected with the work that they are already doing.

Employee engagement leads directly to better staff retention, especially of top performers, which has become increasingly important, and difficult, with today’s hyper-mobile workforce.

4. Lowered absenteeism

Continuing from the above point, another benefit of employee engagement is that engaged employees will want to come into work, as they believe in what they are doing.

They are less likely to miss work, and will even make an effort to work on their own time.

5. Enhanced company culture

Company culture is massively important to employees, and a bad culture can break an organization.

When employees are properly engaged with the organization, they understand their own importance in the company, as well as others, and are far more likely to take time to help train, advise, and lead those around them.

They are invested in the organization’s success, which is built by employees, so they will make sure that other employees are able to contribute to that success effectively.

7. Better business outcomes

Companies that have engaged workers report 21% higher profitability and were scored 17% higher on productivity.

Engaged employees work harder, doing a better job, driving up customer satisfaction and loyalty, and bringing a great deal of value into the organization.

Engaged employees will increase profitability through their work, and often lead innovation within their team, department, or organization.

8. Decrease number of safety incidents

Engaged employees pay attention to what they are doing, because they care about doing their job right. Workers will be more mindful of their surroundings and actions, and will go the extra mile to perform their duties correctly.

Engagement also increases innovation, with workers offering solutions to avoid safety incidents in the future, streamlining processes and increasing productivity.

Employee engagement strategy

Once you have given an employee engagement survey and identified the areas in which your organization needs to improve, the next step is to develop a strategy for doing so.

What actions you can take will depend on the size and budget of your organization, but no matter the level, there are concrete actions that your organization can undertake to improve employee engagement.

There are seven main areas that have the most impact on employee engagement:

  1. Work-life balance
  2. Communication and goal setting
  3. Organizational transparency
  4. Autonomy and challenge
  5. Rewards and recognition
  6. Training and learning opportunities
  7. Compensation and benefits

Depending on the results of your employee engagement survey, there will be certain areas in which your organization will want to focus on.

Selecting two or three which are the most urgent is a good place to start.

Employee engagement action plan

After your organization has chosen the areas in which you will focus, it is time to develop an employee engagement action plan.

It is not enough to simply say that you want to improve rewards and recognition, you must develop concrete, actionable steps to do so. This is done by creating initiatives.

For example, if an organization wants to focus on training and learning opportunities, here is how they could develop an action plan:

  1. Organizational leadership decides which area they would like to focus on. In this example, it is training and learning opportunities.
  2. Leadership would then decide who is responsible for leading the action plan. This should be a team from different levels of the organization, ideally made up of employees who show a high level of engagement already. This is a good opportunity to develop leadership skills in employees and to show that their contributions are valuable.
  3. Leadership should agree on a budget, timeline, and meeting schedule for this team. Desired results should be clearly laid out, so that the team has a clear mandate for what they should achieve.
  4. A team is gathered, instructed, and asked to develop a plan. They present this plan to the leadership, with the steps that they will take to achieve their results. For example, they might develop an initiative for upskilling employees by pairing them with senior members of their team. They could recommend using a talent development platform, researching which platforms would work for this purpose, showing a timeline, expected costs, and projecting what the outcome of this initiative would be.
  5. The leadership team will adopt this plan, or make adjustments to it based on organizational needs and goals. The budget is approved, and the timeline is set.
  6. As the team proceeds with this process, there will be regular presentations to the leadership to update on progress, make necessary adjustments, and expand the program, if needed.

Laying out a clear path to how this initiative will be achieved is the best way to ensure its success.

Employee engagement ideas and best practices

These ideas and best practices will help you construct your employee engagement action plan and effectively implement it in your organization.

1. Think holistically

Given how much time is spent at work, it’s no surprise that employees want their workplace to be a pleasant one.

This covers everything from the space in which they work to the small perks like coffee and snacks.

  • What are the features of the work environment that you can control?
  • Are there ways that you can make the working space a nicer place to be?

Changing the environment to better suit your employees shows them that you value their comfort.

2. Emphasize respect

This approach is all about the individual value that each person brings to the organization.

You want your employees to feel that both their opinion and work is respected.

An engaged employee is one who is willing to come to their leadership team with their opinion, even if that opinion is negative, because they know that they will be listened to.

This is the best way for organizations to quickly learn where issues are, but will only happen if the employees know that there are no negative repercussions for speaking out.

3. Recognize achievement often and loudly

If an employee feels that their work is not properly recognized, they will quickly lose engagement. What is the point of working hard if no one cares?

This doesn’t mean that each time a project is completed successfully that your organization should be giving out cash prizes, even a simple announcement at a weekly meeting can be enough to energize an employee and make them feel valued.

Management teams should focus on recognizing individual achievements regularly.

4. Increase transparency

It’s no good to work behind the scenes to increase engagement, employees should be updated often about what their leadership is up to.

Using strategies like all-organization meetings, weekly team updates and newsletters, an organization can let employees know that they are taking employee well-being seriously, and are working to make the organization a better place.

Employees will become more engaged simply by knowing that their leadership values them and is working to make the organization a better place.

5. Show employees that you listen

If you want truly engaged employees, your organization has to make the action a priority.

If there are complaints, there should also be solutions proposed and acted upon by the organization.

If employees feel like their complaints, suggestions and thoughts on improvement fall upon deaf ears, they will quickly stop trying to engage.

6. Help your employees understand their role in the organization

A key part of an employee’s engagement is the feeling that their actions help the organization achieve its goals.

To help employees better understand how they contribute, make sure that they understand their role, and how that role is a key part of the overall organization. No matter their specific job, each person contributes to an organization’s success, and from day one, employees should understand their contribution.

7. Empower your managers to coach

Your managers are on the front line of empowering and engaging their teams.

Their role should be one of coaching, advising and nurturing their employee’s growth, rather than simply managing. When you have engaged managers, their employees will respond in the same way.

Employee engagement activities

There are plenty of ways that leadership teams can energize and engage employees. These can range from in-office activities to group expeditions, and, depending on your organization, different ones will be effective.

  1. Have your employees write their own job descriptions.
    Ask them to define their role, and have them carve out some areas in which they would like to take on responsibility. This will give you critical insight on how you can develop that employee, and they get a feeling of ownership over their role.
  2. Have the leadership team turn to employees for advice.
    Upper management shouldn’t be too far removed from employees, and the pride of being asked for help, and being listened to, by upper management can give a real boost to employees. Not only that, you might discover some hidden talents or skills amongst employees that could help the organization. It’s crucial that the advice given is advice followed in this case, you want to demonstrate that employees are heard.
  3. Make sure to create the space inside the office to celebrate work achievements, birthdays, special occasions, and to give exiting employees a proper send-off. Create an organizational culture that celebrates individuals, makes time for fun, and holds people in the spotlight to reward their contributions.
  4. Use out of office activities to activate engagement.
    Escape rooms have become a particularly popular one for smaller teams, as they promote teamwork in a fun, dynamic environment. Team-building activities can be done on a variety of levels, from organizational camping trips to volunteer work, and there are many opportunities to create out of office opportunities for employee engagement.
  5. Start a mentorship program.
    Employees that receive training and skill development feel more valued by their company and will be more engaged. Encouraging upskilling and cross-training will benefit both the company and the employees greatly.
  6. Promote from within.
    If an employee sees a clear path to career opportunities within their organization, they will be much less likely to look elsewhere for them. Show that your organization recognizes the value of its own employees by promoting from within the company whenever possible.
  7. Encourage health, wellness, and charitable actions.
    A healthy business needs a healthy workforce and community. Giving employees access to gyms, green space, even massage therapists can dramatically improve engagement. Try organizing company-wide charitable actions to improve teamwork and community engagement.

How to measure employee engagement

How can you find out how engaged your employees are? It isn’t a simple, quantifiable question you can ask employees, nor is it something you can measure without your employees direct input.

Not only that, but different factors will engage employees in different companies, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for measuring employee engagement.

An employee engagement survey is one of the best tools available to measure employee engagement metrics.

A well-designed survey will give you plenty of data about your organization, as well as give you some insight into which areas need work.

You will even be able to pinpoint if there are certain departments under or overperforming, so you can further study those areas.

To measure employee engagement, an organization should design an engagement survey.

This survey should be given to all employees and should be done on a regular basis.

Some companies choose to perform an in-depth engagement survey once a year, then use pulse surveys on a more frequent basis to check in on employees. Other organizations choose to have engagement surveys much more frequently.

It all depends on the needs of the organization and the situation inside that particular industry, country, or the world.

Pulse surveys

Pulse surveys can be used to explore individual topics more closely or look further into how specific teams or departments are feeling, delivering real-time feedback from employees that can be used to measure the efficacy of new policies to drive employee engagement, but are less in-depth than an employee engagement survey.

If there has been an event inside the company, such as a change in leadership, disruption in the industry, or some other large event (such as COVID-19), then an engagement survey can be a great tool to help leadership understand how the employees are feeling.

Engagement surveys

The engagement survey is an important starting point for measuring employee engagement, but organizations can also use more continuous strategies to get data more frequently.

Using engagement surveys, pulse surveys, and one-on-one techniques can help an organization have a more complete understanding of employee engagement.

The goal of the engagement survey is to better understand your employees thoughts and feelings about the organization, find where there are problem areas or areas of particular strength, understand trends within the organization, and show your employees that you care about their thoughts and want to improve the organization with their help.

With a survey like this, it is important to design it from the end. It is useless to give your employees a survey if you don’t know what to do with the information you will receive from it.

Think about what you will do with the survey results.

  1. Who will be in charge of following up on the results of the survey?
  2. Who will be leading the action based on the results?
  3. How much action are you willing to take?
  4. What will the action look like?

Smart organizations also direct their management teams to measure engagement on a more individual basis, using one-on-one techniques to better understand how members of each manager’s team are feeling.

Employee engagement metrics

There are many metrics that can be used to measure employee engagement, but keep in mind that every company is different and these metrics will differ year to year, or even depending on the season, especially if your organization has one time of year that is busier or more stressful.

1. Employee turnover rate

Your organization should keep track of the employee turnover rate, as it will give you valuable information about any problem areas within your organization.

There is no one turnover rate that should be aimed for across the board; it will be different for various industries, departments, and levels within an organization.

Consistently high turnover rates within one team or department could be an indication of an engagement issue.

Engaged employees stay with their company, as they are plugged into the greater goals of the organization and want to work to help achieve them.

2. Absenteeism

This metric is closely associated with the turnover rate.

As stated above, engaged employees show up to work, and want to put in the effort so that the organization will succeed.

If there is a high percentage of absenteeism within your organization, you should take that as a sign that your employees are not engaged.

3. Employee net promoter score

This is a simple, but effective, metric that simply consists of asking employees if they would recommend working at your organization to friends, colleagues, or family.

It is scored on a 0 to 10 scale, with 6 or less being classified as a ‘detractor’, 7 to 8 being considered ‘passive’ and 9 and 10 being considered ‘promoters’.

Survey your employees on this question, subtract the detractors from the promoters, and you will have your organization’s score.

A negative score will tell you that employees, on the whole, don’t recommend your organization as a place to work, while a positive score shows good employee engagement.

4. New employee engagement

Look at the rates of new employee 90-day failure, as well as employee engagement with onboarding content.

If your employees are failing right out of the gate, this is a key indicator that they are not being set up for success within your organization. This can be traced back to a lot of factors, including a bad onboarding process, lack of training, or bad company culture.

Employee engagement survey questions

We have mentioned that it is important to create a well-designed survey, but what questions should be there?

Employee engagement survey questions should cover the following areas, and should be rated on a scale from one to five:

1. Individual needs, feelings and beliefs

Good examples of this type of question:

  • I feel like I am compensated fairly for the work that I do
  • I am proud to work here
  • I would recommend this organization to friends and colleagues
  • I feel motivated by my role, team or workplace

2. Trust in team, management and leadership

These questions could include:

  • I feel valued by my manager and team
  • I trust my colleagues and management team
  • I enjoy working with my team
  • I feel that the goals of the company are aligned with my own
  • I trust the leadership of this company

3. Teamwork focused questions

Some example questions are:

  • I feel that my team is effective
  • I trust my colleagues to do their jobs well
  • My team helps me complete my work
  • I know who I can turn to for help

4. Career development and support

Questions like:

  • I am given the proper time and resources to do my job well
  • I feel that I have been trained properly for my role
  • I know what is expected of me
  • I see myself working here in five years
  • I am excited by my work

5. Value and recognition

Questions like:

  • I am recognized for my work
  • I feel like I am valued by my organization
  • I think I am rewarded fairly for my effort

6. Confidence in the future

Questions like:

  • I believe this company will be successful in reaching their goals in the long term
  • My leadership team is effective
  • My organization’s long term goals match my own

All of the questions in these categories can be adjusted to better suit your particular organization.

The purpose of the employee engagement survey is to get a deeper understanding of your unique organization, and so there is no pre-made survey that can achieve that. For example, if there has been a recent shakeup of leadership, the survey might have more questions about trust in leadership than one for an organization that has had the same leadership team for decades. Consider what areas your organization needs to focus on, and design the survey with that in mind.

Employee engagement models

There are many employee engagement models available to help organizations better understand the process of increasing employee engagement.

IES model of engagement

The IES model, developed in 2003, emphasizes that employees must feel valued and involved to be properly engaged with their employer.

The ten core concepts that lead to feel valued and involved are:

  1. Job satisfaction
  2. Family-friendliness
  3. Cooperation and communication
  4. Health and safety
  5. Pay
  6. Conditions and benefits
  7. Equal opportunities and fair treatment
  8. Performance and appraisal
  9. Immediate management and training
  10. Development and career

When those needs are fulfilled, then employees will be engaged.

Schmidt model of employee engagement

The Schmidt model, developed in 2004, places a great deal of importance on the recruitment and retention of the right workers.

This model posits that once an organization has the right workforce in terms of specific competencies and knowledge, then they can focus on creating a positive and supportive workplace, which in turn promotes a feeling of workplace well being, which will lead to employee engagement.

Penna’s model of employee engagement

This model, developed in 2007, is a hierarchical model.

The pyramid-shaped model begins with basic working conditions. It then moves to the next level, learning and development, followed by promotion opportunities, which is followed by leadership, trust and respect. At the top of the pyramid is meaning.

As the organization develops each of these levels, employee engagement will increase. This model posits that an organization that follows this model, delivering meaning within work to employees, will increase their retention and attract better employees.

The Zinger model of employee engagement

David Zinger developed this model in 2009.

This model balances three inputs:

1. Organizational

Organizational input is the development of a culture where employee engagement is valued, prioritized and shared amongst all employees.

Recognition and appreciation are key aspects of this. At the top levels of management, support should be given, as well as investment in organizational resources and education, to increase engagement.

2. Leadership

Leadership input is the development of leaders who are themselves engaged.

Zinger’s model states that employees will not become engaged if their leaders are not, so this is a key step.

Leaders must engage authentically with their employees, paying close attention and working enthusiastically to develop their team’s strengths and helping them overcome weaknesses.

3. Individual

Individual input is the employee’s own engagement contributions.

Employees should work to focus on the positive aspects of engagement, channeling their energy in the correct direction while making space to include fun in their work life. Ownership of one’s own work and contributions to the organization are key factors here.

Zinger’s model posits that when those three inputs are developed, employee engagement will increase.

The Zinger engaged model is arranged like a pyramid, with the bottom four blocks representing the leveraging of employee strengths, making meaning in work, leveraging employee energy, and employee well being. The next level consists of three blocks that represent living in the moment, fostering a strong workplace community, and proper recognition of employee effort. The third level is two blocks, representing the path of career development and excelling at a performance. The final level, which is the culmination of all the levels below it, is the achievement of results.

Employee engagement books, articles, and publications