Employee engagement describes a worker’s level of enthusiasm for their job. Engaged employees typically feel a strong sense of connection to their organization and will go above and beyond to help meet organizational goals.
Prioritizing engagement leads to several benefits. According to studies, organizations with high levels of engagement experience lower employee turnover and higher productivity and profitability.
But only 34 percent of U.S. employees are engaged, while 16 percent feel actively disengaged in their work and workplace. Discover what that means and how to improve employee engagement at your organization.
Examples of employee engagement
Employee engagement falls into three categories:
An engaged employee is enthusiastic about coming to work, personifying organizational values, and contributing to business goals.
For example, someone with a high level of engagement might feel motivated to work overtime to complete an important project or pick up the slack when a colleague is taking time off.
An employee who is not engaged simply goes through the motions, doing no more than expected.
For example, an unengaged employee comes to work to complete their assigned tasks and collect a paycheck. They would be less keen to volunteer for new projects or help colleagues but wouldn’t necessarily balk at the idea.
An actively disengaged employee is generally dissatisfied at work and may display negative behaviors.
For example, they may arrive late or skip work some days, produce low-quality work, or say negative things about your company to colleagues, job candidates, customers, and prospective customers. In addition, some actively disengaged employees may be looking for a new job, but not all-which can cause disengagement to affect morale throughout your team.
Disney theme parks are a great example of environments with high employee engagement. Cast members are empowered to create exceptional customer experiences and have been known to “Pixie Dust” guests at Disney theme parks. For example, a cast member might randomly invite your group to jump to the front of the line or provide you with a shopping voucher if your child loses a shoe. They could easily let you go about your day, but they choose to go out of their way to make your day better. That’s the difference between an engaged employee and a disengaged one.
What are the drivers of employee engagement?
Employee engagement is complex. Several factors come together to affect overall engagement at your organization. For example:
Employees are more likely to be engaged when they align with your organization’s mission, vision, and values and feel that their work has a purpose. Ensure each team member knows their role in helping your organization achieve goals and has the autonomy to do their work in a way that makes sense to them.
Employees are more apt to go above and beyond for their company when they feel supported at work. Offering professional development opportunities, fair compensation, and benefits that support health and wellness can go a long way to show employees that you care about them. But don’t stop there-think about everything from managing workloads, promoting workplace safety, and creating an inclusive culture.
Company leadership is the highest driver of engagement globally, with 78 percent of engaged employees agreeing that they have confidence in the leaders at their company. This includes each team member’s direct supervisor, as the manager alone accounts for 70 percent of the variance in team engagement.
Effective leaders are clear about goals, provide frequent feedback and recognition, and support their teams to do their best work.
Read more: Design Leadership Development Training That Works
Clear, frequent communication ensures team members stay aligned with the organization, stay up-to-date on changes within the company, and have the job clarity and support needed to excel in their roles. But this is a two-way street. Organizations must also listen to their team members and implement their suggestions so employees continue to make meaningful contributions.
It’s important to think about these drivers holistically. If even one input is off, you might see low levels of engagement. For example, an employee is very likely to be disengaged if they have a terrible manager-even if they have great compensation, endless opportunities for development, and flexible work options.
How do you improve employee engagement?
Effective employee engagement requires continuous, intentional effort to get it right. Unfortunately, increasing job satisfaction isn’t as simple as implementing a couple of ideas or buying employee engagement software.
Instead, you should focus on building a strategy that will make a long-lasting impact on your organization. Here are some things you can incorporate to improve engagement.
Begin with company culture
Workers say improving company culture is the number-one way employers can increase engagement. But only 52 percent of companies have asked team members where they could improve.
Begin by crafting an environment that aligns with your organizational values. Doing this can help you guide the attitudes and behaviors you expect from your workers so your culture can influence your other employee engagement initiatives. Next, recognize and reward team members for embodying company culture to provide positive reinforcement and encourage other workers to do the same.
Use surveys to ask your employees for feedback on how you can improve your culture and create a more engaging employee experience. Implementing suggestions can help your team members feel connected to your culture, making them 75x more likely to be fully engaged at work than those who don’t feel connected.
Promote Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
More than half (52 percent) of workers would be more engaged at work if their employer improved Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B).
We’re all different, but some people are treated differently based on demographic characteristics. They might be talked over in meetings, passed up for promotions, or even belittled in front of colleagues. This can hurt engagement as your team members begin to withdraw or resent working at your company.
DEI&B requires intentionality and work so your team members feel celebrated and valued for their differences and their unique contributions to your team. When your employees can bring their authentic selves to work, they can reach their true potential and go above and beyond in their work.
Kick off a great employee experience with a welcoming onboarding process
Only 29 percent of new hires feel fully prepared and supported to excel in their role after their onboarding experience. That means most new employees could be floundering, unsure exactly what to do or how to do it.
The early employee experience is critical for building engagement. Create an onboarding program that welcomes new team members and helps them assimilate into their new roles, team, and company. For example:
- Send a welcome email as soon as the offer letter is signed to let them know how excited you are to have them join the team
- Help them develop core competencies by reviewing product knowledge and messaging, tools, soft skills, and cross-functional team relationships
- Check in regularly to ensure they have everything they need to be successful
- Plan team-building activities so your new hires can get to know their colleagues
Set clear goals
Employees who strongly agree they have had conversations with their manager in the last six months about their goals and successes are 2.8x more likely than other employees to be engaged. But only one in two employees strongly agree that they know what’s expected of them at work.
It’s important to set clear goals and review them during onboarding, and at regular intervals, so your employees understand what they’re working toward and how they’re being measured. Also, share how individual goals align with company goals, so your team members are driven by purpose and understand the bigger picture.
Offer continuous feedback and employee recognition
Two in five (40 percent) employees say their manager is just “OK” at recognizing their work, and one in five (20 percent) say feeling underappreciated for their contributions is hindering their engagement at work. But employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are 3x more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less.
Managers should provide constructive feedback when they see teachable moments and praise their team members when recognition is deserved for a job well done. It’s also important to regularly discuss progress toward goals during regular one-on-ones and offer support to help employees succeed.
“At WorkRamp, we make a big deal of employee recognition,” according to Maile Timon, WorkRamp’s Content Strategist. “We have a dedicated Slack channel where team members can shout out colleagues for support, hard work, and stellar performance. We also take time during weekly All-Hands meetings to spotlight various team members for their contributions.”
Record all employee recognition and feedback in a performance management system to ensure there are no surprises or recency biases during performance reviews.
Provide opportunities for employee development
Only three in 10 employees strongly agree that someone at work encourages their development, but strengths-based learning can result in up to 23 percent higher employee engagement.
Managers should take the time to learn their team members’ career goals and strengths to create a development plan to help each employee reach their full potential. Development plans should outline the skills, education, experience, and other qualifications employees need and how to attain them. This may include training workshops and courses, informal learning, mentorship, and coaching.
Investing in your team members can help them visualize their future with your company and help them feel valued. In turn, they are more likely to put in extra discretionary effort to go above and beyond in their work.
Extend a comprehensive compensation package
Seventy-three percent of organizations agree that compensation is a key driver of employee engagement. But apart from competitive compensation, many workers also expect benefits from employers. For example:
- 66% of workers expect healthcare coverage
- 49% expect a 401k program
- 40% expect bonuses and stipends
- 39% expect paid family leave
When your workers are financially stable, healthy, and happy, they can bring their whole selves to work and put their best foot forward. Offer various benefits alongside fair, competitive compensation to reduce external obstacles to employee engagement.
Collect employee feedback and act on it
Asking for feedback lets your employees know you value their input and ideas, but only if you act on them. Unfortunately, fewer than one in five employers is consistently taking action on feedback, making team members feel unheard and unvalued. This can have the unintended consequence of actually driving disengagement.
Collect feedback regularly through surveys, casual conversations, and anonymous review sites. Prioritize actions based on the most impactful suggestions or the fastest to implement. Then, communicate with your team about the changes they’ll see based on their feedback. This can ensure feedback keeps coming and will have the intended effect of boosting engagement.
Collecting feedback can be particularly useful for learning ways to improve employee engagement because it allows you to tailor your efforts to your team’s specific needs.
Offer flexible work opportunities
Most (85 percent) organizations agree that workplace flexibility is a key driver of employee engagement. Flexible work options include:
- Remote work
- Flex hours
- Compressed work weeks
- Job sharing
Flexible work opportunities allow employees to work where and when best suits them. This will enable them to maintain a work-life balance while producing great work. And when employees are satisfied with their organizations’ time and location flexibility, they’re 2.6x more likely to report being happy and 2.1x more likely to recommend working for the company. These are both good indications of high employee engagement.
How to measure employee engagement
Engagement levels can change over time, especially as companies implement new strategies or as workplace attitudes change. Therefore, it’s important to measure engagement periodically to benchmark where you stand and collect actionable insights to adjust your plan.
Use these methods to measure employee satisfaction:
- Surveys. Employee engagement surveys, Pulse surveys, and Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys can help you collect quantitative data.
- Feedback. One-on-ones, stay interviews, and exit interviews can provide qualitative feedback that adds color to your survey data.
- Other HR metrics. As you improve employee engagement, you should see other HR metrics improve, including productivity, retention, and absenteeism. Track these metrics over time to see how they change as you adjust your strategy.
Break your data down by employee characteristics to identify any differences between groups. For example, look at data by gender, ethnicity, age, and other demographic characteristics to ensure underrepresented or marginalized groups feel actively engaged. If applicable, you may also want to track data by location and remote status to see how the employee experience differs between groups.
Employee engagement is worth the investment
The percentage of engaged workers is declining at an enormous cost to employers. The lost productivity of actively disengaged and not engaged employees is equal to 18 percent of their annual salary. Still, replacing them would cost one-half to 2x the employee’s annual salary. On the other hand, high engagement leads to a 23 percent increase in profitability.
Improving employee engagement is well worth the investment. Take the time to get it right and continually improve it so you can reap the benefits.
Want to learn how WorkRamp’s All-in-One Learning Platform can help you improve employee engagement? Contact us to schedule a free demo.
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Jen Dewar is a marketing consultant in HR technology, focusing on developing educational content for HR professionals and recruiters. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion, lifelong learning and development, and treating people like people throughout candidate and employee experiences. Outside of work, you can find Jen snowboarding in Tahoe, enjoying a glass of wine in Sonoma, or hanging out at home with her family.
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