How to Improve Employee Engagement

Posted in Employee Experience

“We need to improve our employee engagement.”

It’s a phrase repeated almost as often as “What’s for lunch?” – but if you ask for the definition of employee engagement or for practical tips or suggestions on how to increase it, you’ll be greeted with as much silence as if you had asked, “Who’s picking up the check?”

Despite the difficulty in providing more practical tips and definitions, we can no longer afford to awkwardly change the subject.

Table of Contents

  • How impactful is employee engagement on your business?
  • What is employee engagement?
  • Employee engagement vs. employee satisfaction
  • Why is employee engagement important?
  • What drives employee engagement?
  • Who is responsible for employee engagement?
  • How to improve employee engagement
  • How impactful is employee engagement on your business?

    Gallup found the following differences in business outcomes between the top-quartile-ranking businesses, units, and teams and those that ranked in the bottom quartile:

    • 81% decrease in absenteeism
    • 18% reduction in turnover for high-turnover organizations
    • 43% drop in turnover for low-turnover organizations
    • 41% reduction in quality (defects)
    • 10% increase in customer loyalty/engagement
    • 18% boost in productivity (sales)
    • 23% increase in profitability

    In this blog, we’re going to break through the awkwardness to discuss employee engagement – what drives it, who’s responsible for it, and how to increase it – in practical and actionable ways.

    Because mastering employee engagement is your only option for the sustainability of your business.

    What is employee engagement?

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    First, let’s tackle what employee engagement is:

    Employee engagement is a term that describes how involved and committed an employee is to their job and the company’s success. Still, it has a more significant emotional component that goes beyond “just fulfilling the requirements of the role” or punching the clock.

    In its most accurate form, employee engagement describes how enthusiastic or passionate an employee feels towards their job and if they feel a deeper emotional connection to the organization.

    An employee is likely to be highly engaged if they show:

    • Zeal for making an impact on the organization and its stakeholders
    • A willingness to go above and beyond in their work, take on additional tasks and responsibilities, and contribute to the success of the organization
    • A positive attitude and desire to collaborate with others
    • An interest in learning, growing, and sharpening their skills
    • A strong sense of ownership and pride in their work
    • Willingness to seek out and act on constructive feedback to improve their work and the organization as a whole

    But, with all this talk of what employee engagement is, it’s equally important to talk about what it isn’t so we don’t make incorrect assumptions that could end up hurting our business.

    Employee engagement vs. employee satisfaction

    It’s easy to conflate employee engagement and employee satisfaction because they’re often related. Still, they’re certainly not the same thing, and confusing the two can cause you to see inconsistent results – “My employees are engaged! Why do I keep seeing the same issues?”

    Employee satisfaction refers to the extent to which employees are content with their job and the organization they work for. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a good thing. But it’s a far cry from an engaged employee’s passion and enthusiasm, and the results of a merely satisfied employee won’t be comparable.

    As you can imagine, it’s possible for an employee to feel satisfied but not fully engaged (this is more of a “punch the clock” mentality). It’s also possible for an employee to be engaged but not satisfied with every element of their work. In fact, that’s normal.

    By understanding this distinction, we can not only detect an engaged worker from a merely satisfied one, but we can also help ensure we’re putting our focus and efforts on the higher-level things that truly engage our workforce.

    Why is employee engagement important?

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    We’ve already covered some of the higher-level benefits of an engaged workforce, but those are just scratching the surface. Research has shown that having higher levels of employee engagement affect virtually all areas of your business and every stage of the employee lifecycle.

    Studies have shown that overall productivity increases 20-25% when employees are engaged, and the Workplace Research Foundation found that engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity.

    Per our research, 94% of employees agreed that they’re more productive when they feel connected to their colleagues, and on top of that, companies that cultivate a strong sense of belonging see a 56% increase in employee performance and are six times more likely to have engaged and highly-motivated employees.

    Engaged employees are also more productive because they’re just plain at work more often (BetterUp found that employees with low social connection were 77% more likely to be stressed, 109% more likely to report feeling burned out, and 158% more likely to experience anxiety and depression. These effects become more tangible when you consider employees who rank high in connection experience 75% fewer sick days than their disconnected peers.)

    Engaged and connected employees also report being half as likely to leave their current role within the next 12 months and one-third more likely to see themselves staying in their current position for more than five years.

    And the effects of engaged employees can also be seen outside of your walls, as Glassdoor found that each one-star improvement in an employer’s rating results in a 1.3-point increase in customer satisfaction, and Gallup showed that companies with high levels of employee engagement even outperformed their competitors in Earnings per Share (EPS).

    What drives employee engagement? 📈

    Per a Quantum Workplace survey, here are six employee engagement best practices for creating highly engaged cultures:

    1. Inspiring, committed, and aligned leaders
    2. Prioritizing regular communication with employees
    3. Creating a robust feedback culture
    4. Sharing employee feedback and following up
    5. Complementing exit interviews with exit surveys
    6. Ingraining employee engagement throughout your workforce

    Note that there are two main areas where we need to focus on driving employee engagement: top-down (items 1-5) and lateral (Item 6).

    Top-down means, in addition to setting a strong company vision, our leadership can help fulfill the base of our employees’ physiological and psychological needs through leading with consistency and being open with employee communication and feedback, so our people can reach higher levels of the pyramid on the path to self-actualization (See below, taken from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs):

    Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

    And the effects are most notable when this consistency in leadership is lacking. The American Psychological Association (APA) found that employees going through workplace changes are 2x more likely to experience chronic stress and 4x more likely to exhibit physical health symptoms than those who aren’t.

    Consistent and open leadership, as well as a strong mission for the company, is necessary for engagement to happen.

    Regarding lateral relationships, our research found that 63% of employees said their co-workers and peers had the most significant impact on helping them feel connected at work (25% of employees attributed this to their managers, 10% to their company leadership, and 2% to HR).

    To further emphasize the importance of lateral relationships, Gallup found that having a best friend at work is one of the most significant factors influencing employees to be more engaging with customers, produce better work, have higher well-being, and be less likely to experience workplace injuries.

    But the responsibility of driving employee engagement falls on more than just the C-suite and the employees themselves.

    Who is responsible for employee engagement? 🤔

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    As we just discussed, some responsibility for engagement certainly falls on senior leaders who need to lead, not only on the financial and business fronts but also on culture initiatives.

    Senior leadership helps set the vision for the company, and their example sets the tone for the rest of the organization – two significant factors that directly affect employee engagement. Similarly, employees also play a non-trivial role in their engagement. Employees can’t just expect engagement to be “done for them.” They must put forth an effort to create the environment where they want to work.

    Some of this involves brainstorming and providing feedback to management, HR, senior leaders, and other stakeholders, seeking out opportunities for personal development and growth, and forming workplace connections.

    But managers and HR also play a pivotal role in creating an environment where employee engagement can flourish.

    Unsurprisingly, managers have a big part to play in employee engagement. They’re the primary touchpoint for employees and the bridge between employees and the rest of the organization (in fact, their impact is so substantial that Gallup found that managers alone account for up to 70% of the variance in team engagement!).

    Managers need to be sure that they’re helping foster connections and relationships with and between their employees, helping their people create goals that align with the company vision, and mapping out career paths that help them feel engaged and motivated.

    Finally, HR must be the glue that holds all the different programs together. From offering suggestions and recommendations for new initiatives and programs to jumping in to help out if and when issues arise, HR ensures everyone is playing their part and that the programs are executed successfully.

    Engagement is more than just the job of a single person or department. It takes a team to make a meaningful difference.

    How to improve employee engagement ✔️

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    Ok, you now have a better idea of what engagement is and the people who need to be involved. But what are some practical measures you can take to improve employee engagement at your company?

    In this section, we’ll go over some tips for improving employee engagement. From living your mission and values to recognizing and rewarding your employees, we’ll cover all the ways you can create a more engaged workforce, no matter your role.

    Are you ready? Let’s dive in.

    Live your mission, vision, and values

    In a world where 70% of employees report feeling that their work defines their sense of purpose in life, your mission, vision, and values must be more than just a plaque on the wall.

    When crafted and used effectively, your mission, vision, and values can serve as a fantastic tool to help engage your employees and keep them engaged (Deloitte reported that purpose-driven companies experience 40% higher levels of workforce retention than average organizations).

    A thoughtful set of values also creates a positive company culture and work environment, which is necessary for your culture to thrive.

    But how can you realize these benefits for your organization?

    Make sure your mission, vision, and values are clear and compelling, so your employees can understand and relate to the sense of meaning and purpose behind them and see how their daily tasks contribute to achieving these goals and living out these values.

    Our people don’t just want to clock in and clock out – they want to contribute to something more meaningful. Allow them to build something beyond themselves with a strong mission, vision, and values.

    Focus on onboarding 🥳

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    Within the first six months, 86% of new hires have already decided how long they will stay with a company, and 10-25% of them leave.

    The employee onboarding stage is a crucial time to help employees feel welcomed, supported, and connected. It can lead to higher levels of engagement and retention, and when executed well, it can lead to impressive results.

    (For example, studies have shown that having a thoughtfully structured new employee onboarding process can mean employees are over 69% more likely to remain at a company for up to three years).

    If you’re looking to up your employee onboarding game, here are a few key components you should integrate into your onboarding experience:

    1. Set clear expectations.

      There’s no better time than the onboarding process to set clear expectations for your employee. This way, there are no surprises, and your new hire will know exactly what to expect (and what will be expected of them), so they can feel more confident while serving in their new role.
    2. Provide support and resources.

      When starting a new role, one of the biggest challenges is knowing who to call or where to go when you need help. Make sure to devote some of your onboarding time to helping connect employees with the support and resources they need to be successful in their roles (this can include, but isn’t limited to, training, mentorship, and access to the right information and tools).
    3. Build connections.

      Remember that stat from Gallup about the importance of having a best friend at work? Onboarding is a great time to help your new employee establish new connections with members of their team or other people within the organization. Be especially mindful of remote and hybrid employees who might find this more difficult.
    4. Gather feedback.

      There’s no better time to assess an onboarding experience than to get the thoughts of someone currently going through it! Be sure that you’re integrating employee experience surveys into your onboarding process so you can be sure it’s hitting the mark and making improvements where possible to make the experience better for your next round of new hires.

    Remember, onboarding doesn’t just happen when the employee first walks through the door – it starts from the minute an employee reads your job posting and carries on for their first several months of employment.

    Ensure you regularly review your process and optimize every stage to maximize employee engagement!

    Make sure your managers are engaged

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    As we discussed, a manager’s influence on their employees can’t be underestimated, so it’s vital to ensure your managers are engaged.

    Here are a few ways our managers can help create a positive work environment, communicate effectively, and support their team in achieving their goals:

    1. Provide support and resources.

      Engaged managers ensure their teams have the support and resources they need to do their jobs effectively. This can include training, access to necessary tools and equipment, and a clear understanding of employees’ roles and responsibilities.
    2. Communicate openly and transparently.

      As the bridge between their people and the rest of the organization, managers need to ensure they’re providing their people with open and transparent communication about company goals, progress, and any changes that may affect their work. This not only helps employees feel secure but also helps them feel included and involved in the decision-making process.
    3. Providing feedback and recognition.

      Great Place to Work found that 37% of respondents said that more personal recognition would encourage them to produce better work more often. There’s no better way to recognize an employee than having their manager do it at a team meeting. Feedback is also an essential part of employee engagement, so managers should use feedback intelligently to help employees understand their strengths and areas for improvement, which can help employees feel valued and motivated to continue contributing to their teams.
    4. Leading by example.

      When engaged managers lead by example, modeling the behaviors and values they expect from their teams, their people follow suit.

    So, should we just unload these expectations onto our managers? Of course not!

    Per our research conducted last year, 60% of managers said they’re suffering from information overload, 55% of managers said they need to catch up on work on nights and weekends, and 65% of managers said they were just plain burned out.

    We need to be sure that if we’re adding more responsibilities to our managers’ plates, we’re also helping to ease the burden in other places to prevent further burnout.

    Train employees to success in their roles and beyond

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    It’s hard to overstate the importance of training on employee engagement, but when it comes to increasing engagement, training is rarely considered.

    In actuality, training substantially influences employee engagement, and 80% of surveyed employees agreed that learning and development opportunities helped them feel more engaged at work.

    On the surface, training helps individuals improve their job performance by assisting them in acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to do their work effectively. It also helps employees grow their confidence and feel a sense of accomplishment. Equipping employees with new skills helps them feel more motivated to take on new responsibilities and expand their skill set.

    Another facet of training that makes it more meaningful for employees is that it’s seen by the employee as the company investing in them, personally and professionally.

    Unsurprisingly, LinkedIn found that 94% of workers would stay longer if their employer offered more learning and career development opportunities.

    A robust training program is a sign of a thriving company culture, as it shows that the company values and supports employee growth and development.

    Ask and learn from employee feedback 💬

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    Everybody wants to feel heard, so it’s no surprise that asking for and responding to employee feedback is a great way to increase employee engagement (and improve your company in the process!).

    Taking and responding to employee feedback demonstrates to your employees that their opinions and ideas are valued and considered by leadership, which can help foster a sense of ownership and investment in the company. Direct employee feedback can also provide valuable insights into areas where the company can improve, which can further increase employee engagement.

    One of the easiest ways to get employee opinions is to directly ask for them through employee engagement surveys, but be mindful to craft the survey to drive responses that can be used effectively to measure and assess engagement.

    More important than just collecting employee feedback is acting on it. Employees need to see that their feedback is being taken seriously and that changes are being made to increase their trust and engagement, so be sure to follow up with the employees who take the time to respond to your surveys and, if possible, offer for them to be involved in the task force that will be assigned to address the issue.

    Recognize and reward your employees 🏆

    When employees feel their contributions are valued and recognized, they’re more likely to feel engaged in their work and company. Rewards serve as a tangible way to motivate your employees and inspire them to continue to perform at a higher level.

    SHRM found that over 80% of employees agree that employee recognition positively affects employee experience, employee relationships, organizational culture, employee engagement, and even the humanity of the workplace.

    But it needs to be done correctly.

    When giving rewards, remember to tailor them to the needs of the employee receiving them. Personalized rewards, such as extra time off or a specific experience, will be more meaningful and have a more significant impact on an employee that values these things than it would be on an employee who prefers something more physically tangible (like a certificate or a monetary gift).

    Also, use discretion when offering recognition. Some individuals wish to be recognized in front of their peers, while others may appreciate a more personal statement of appreciation.

    No matter how you do it, providing rewards and recognition for your employees to demonstrate your appreciation will go a long way in helping them to feel engaged and encouraging them to keep contributing!

    Support your employees’ physical and mental well-being 🙏🏻

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    The workplace is no longer just the place where people go to complete their jobs. Now they’re where many employees derive their sense of community and mental well-being. It only makes sense that when employees feel that their well-being is being taken care of, they are more likely to be engaged and invested in their work.

    From a physical perspective, this can mean everything from providing ergonomic workspaces (like standing desks and adjustable chairs) to promoting healthy habits and providing access to physical activities (like providing healthy food options and promoting regular breaks to move around). It’s important to remember that while your remote employees may not physically be in the office, they also have physical needs. Consider providing helpful tips on nutrition or physical activity or allocating a small budget for home office furnishings or a gym membership.

    Encouraging employees to prioritize their physical health can not only reduce the risk of physical illness but also improve mental well-being as well.

    From a mental perspective, providing support can mean offering access to mental health resources, promoting a healthy work-life balance, and creating a positive work environment. For example, offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help employees access counseling and other mental health resources.

    Providing opportunities for professional development and promoting career growth can also help employees feel valued and engaged. Creating a positive work culture and fostering open communication can also help reduce stress and promote positive mental well-being.

    It’s important to remember that promoting physical and mental wellness isn’t a one-time effort. It must be an ongoing process that constantly evolves with your employees’ needs.

    Create Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

    Employees need to feel a sense of community and belonging to be engaged, and ERGs are an excellent way to help encourage precisely that.What are ERGs?
    Employee Resource Groups are groups of employees who come together based on shared characteristics, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, to support and advocate for one another and to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the organization.

    By creating an ERG, employees are encouraged to connect with others with similar experiences and backgrounds, which can help reduce feelings of isolation and marginalization. Additionally, ERGs provide a space for employees to share their unique perspectives and experiences, which can inform and improve the company’s culture and policies.

    ERG participation can also provide personal and professional development opportunities for members. Members are exposed to leadership development, mentoring, and coaching opportunities within the group, allowing them to grow and develop new skills while contributing to the company’s goals and initiatives.

    Research from SHRM found that, in addition to increasing engagement, organizations used ERGs to successfully build a diverse workforce, increase spending with diverse suppliers, and even improve their onboarding processes.

    As with anything else, ERGs shouldn’t be treated as a “set it and forget it” program. You should continuously invest in your program by ensuring they have the resources and support they need to be effective.

    Plan team activities 🫶

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    Looking for a fun way to encourage community and collaboration among your employees? Team activities like team building exercises, offsite retreats, and recreational activities might be the answer.

    The whole purpose of team-building activities is to encourage employees to get to know each other and work together more effectively and efficiently by participating in activities that require collaboration and problem-solving. With the freedom to get to know each other outside of the interactions they experience in their day-to-day work, they can learn to appreciate each other for their individuality and develop deeper relationships, camaraderie, and trust (which, in turn, leads to better performance, productivity, teamwork, and engagement).

    When planning your team-building activities, pay special attention to your remote and hybrid employees. As many of them may not be able to attend, they are prone to feeling left out or not included, which can negatively affect their feelings of engagement.

    Sixty-six percent of hybrid employees already feel like they’re missing out on opportunities for collaboration and meaningful “hallway discussions” when they’re not in the office, so you can only imagine how they’d feel hearing how amazing the last offsite was from their friends and co-workers.

    How can our remote and hybrid employees participate in team events?

    Including remote and offsite employees in team-building events can be more challenging than including on-site employees. However, it is still possible with a little extra planning and creativity.

    Here are a few ideas for including remote and offsite employees in team-building events:

    • Host virtual events, including games, quizzes, and other interactive activities
    • Enable remote participation, letting people tune in remotely to on-site events
    • Use online communities like posting fun questions or activities on your group Slack channel
    • Allow flexible scheduling so remote, and hybrid employees can participate at times that are convenient for them
    • Share the whole process by allowing your remote opportunities to be involved in the planning stages as well as during the actual event

    It’s important to have fun at your event, but it’s equally important to gather feedback after the event to understand what worked well and how you can improve the next one.

    Offer training opportunities and professional development programs 🖊️

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    Training and professional development programs are ways you can show that you’re invested in your employees, which, in turn, helps them be more engaged. Research from Effectory showed that employees who feel sufficiently trained are over 27% more engaged than those who don’t.

    Through training opportunities, employees can acquire new skills and knowledge, which not only help them perform their jobs more effectively but also help them advance their careers and take on new responsibilities.

    Training or professional development may take the form of on-the-job training, mentoring, coaches, or classes and workshops. Regardless of the medium, it’s essential to ensure that the format of your training program (in-person or remote) aligns with the needs of your employees.

    Also, regardless of the training format you choose, consider making elements of your training collaborative, as 71% of the employees we surveyed agreed that they need to discuss their training with someone to learn something new or change their thinking. Still, less than half of organizations have instituted a peer-to-peer learning program.

    Task employees with meaningful work ☺️

    It’s common sense that everybody wants to do meaningful work (studies have shown many positive effects for employees who get to do work they perceive as significant), but what does this look like in a practical business context?

    In actuality, meaningful work can take many forms:

    It could be a project that aligns with the employee’s interests and passions or work that directly impacts the company’s mission or goals. Alternatively, it could be work that allows employees to use their skills and abilities to make a difference, or it may even be giving employees autonomy over their work and allowing them to have a sense of ownership and impact on the outcome.

    In addition to helping foster engagement, doing meaningful work has also been tied to reduced feelings of burnout – it turns out that when people do things they find meaning in, they can do them longer without tiring.

    By tying employees’ work directly to the company’s performance, mission, and values, employees can see their work’s impact on the company. They are more likely to be engaged and committed to the company’s goals and mission.

    Equip managers with employee engagement training 📖

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    It’s common sense that everybody wants to do meaningful work (studies have shown many positive effects for employees who get to do work they perceive as significant), but what does this look like in a practical business context?

    In actuality, meaningful work can take many forms:

    It could be a project that aligns with the employee’s interests and passions or work that directly impacts the company’s mission or goals. Alternatively, it could be work that allows employees to use their skills and abilities to make a difference, or it may even be giving employees autonomy over their work and allowing them to have a sense of ownership and impact on the outcome.

    In addition to helping foster engagement, doing meaningful work has also been tied to reduced feelings of burnout – it turns out that when people do things they find meaning in, they can do them longer without tiring.

    By tying employees’ work directly to the company’s performance, mission, and values, employees can see their work’s impact on the company. They are more likely to be engaged and committed to the company’s goals and mission.

    Improve employee engagement with solutions from Enboarder

    As we’ve seen, employee engagement is much deeper than general employee satisfaction, so it requires much broader and more meaningful strategies and efforts from all parts of your organization to foster and grow.

    With the diversity of our workforce and the range of needs that our employees have, creating and managing all of the various programs and initiatives to encourage this engagement would be far too overwhelming of a task to load on a single individual.

    Thankfully, Enboarder is here to help. 🤝

    Enboarder helps you create a timeline on which to orchestrate all of these various programs and events and delivers them to the right individuals at the right time without requiring them to juggle multiple passwords and systems:

    • Send your new hires encouraging messages from their future teammates, have the proper hardware requests into the IT department, and prepare your hiring manager with a survey full of fun and interesting facts about their new hire’s favorite things – all before your new hire even steps foot in your building.
    • Break big, complicated, and siloed trainings into smaller, more manageable pieces and distribute them to the employees who need them right in the flow of work. Orchestrate notes to your managers to follow up with their people on the training they’ve just completed with a list of items to discuss.

    Send mentors and buddies regular nudges to get together and help grow their relationships with suggestions for discussion topics.

    Sound too good to be true?

    Our current customers thought it was, too, until they saw how easy it was to implement.

    Enboarder exists because employee engagement is that important. If your business would benefit from deeper employee engagement, sign up for a demo today.

    Become an Enboarder insider!