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Understanding Employee Engagement: A Comprehensive Guide for HR Professionals

Written by

Kim Jamerson

Reviewed by

VidCruiter Editorial Team

Last Modified

Jun 25, 2024
Employee Engagement

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Few factors are more closely correlated to a company’s ability to grow and thrive than employee engagement. Increasing employee engagement has been tied to improvements in everything from retention and productivity to profitability and earnings per share.

In fact, recent Gallup research found that organizations with employee engagement scores that ranked in the top half doubled their chances of success compared with those in the bottom half. Differences were even more dramatic between the highest and lowest 1%, with companies leading in employee engagement achieving more than five times the success rate.

This guide explores what employee engagement is, why it’s important, and the approaches and strategies needed to foster a highly motivated and engaged workforce.

What is Employee Engagement?

Engaged employees are more committed to their company and invested in helping it achieve goals than unengaged employees. Employee engagement measures this commitment, including alignment with principles, and captures how employees feel about their job, their team, and the organization overall. Engaged workforces are enthusiastic about their work, take pride in their contributions, and are motivated to perform at high levels.

What is employee engagement

Are Employee Engagement and Employee Satisfaction the same?

No. While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably and are related, they are two distinct concepts. Understanding their differences is crucial for HR professionals looking to foster a productive and motivated workforce.

Employee satisfaction reflects how content employees are with specific aspects of their job and work environment. Surveys that gauge satisfaction tend to focus on more transactional factors, such as pay, benefits, perks, working conditions, job security, and work-life balance.

Employee engagement involves a deeper emotional and psychological connection to the job and the organization. It captures factors like willingness to go above and beyond to contribute to company success, alignment with the organization’s values and goals, levels of motivation and enthusiasm, and a sense of purpose and fulfillment at work.

How to increase employee satisfication

Key Differences Between High Satisfaction and Engagement

Employee satisfaction is essential for ensuring that employees’ needs and expectations are met. While these elements can contribute to engagement, they are not synonymous. Employee engagement is what drives higher levels of performance, innovation, and organizational success.

High Satisfaction

High Engagement

Motivation and Behavior

Employee may be content to do their job and nothing more.

Employees are motivated to go above and beyond their job requirements.

Longevity and Stability

Can fluctuate with changes in job conditions, benefits, or external factors.

Is more stable and resilient, often tied to intrinsic motivation and deeper organizational factors.

Impact on Performance

Can lead to lower turnover rates and a more stable workforce, but it does not necessarily drive higher performance.

Strongly linked to higher productivity, better performance, and greater organizational success.

Why is Employee Engagement Important?

Engaged employees are vital for the health and performance of a company. However, building a highly engaged workforce doesn’t just drive company success; it helps employees, too.

Key Benefits from a Company Perspective

As mentioned, improving employee engagement can increase profitability and provide a significant competitive advantage. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Increased Productivity: Engaged employees are more motivated and productive, contributing to higher output and efficiency.
  • Enhanced Quality of Work: Engagement leads to better performance and higher quality of work, reducing errors and increasing customer satisfaction.
  • Higher Retention Rates: Engaged employees are more loyal and less likely to leave, reducing turnover costs and retaining institutional knowledge.
  • Better Employee Health: Engagement is linked to lower stress and better overall health, leading to fewer absences and lower healthcare costs.
  • Stronger Company Culture: Engagement fosters a positive and cohesive company culture, which can attract top talent and enhance brand reputation.

Research has also shown that employee engagement dramatically improves performance in areas not often considered when discussing engagement. For example, companies with engagement scores that rank in the top quartile outperform their bottom-quartile counterparts on a wide range of key metrics, with increases in:

  • Customer loyalty/engagement: 10%
  • Productivity (sales): 17%
  • Patient safety incidents (mortality and falls): 58%
  • Absenteeism: 78%
  • Theft (shrinkage): 26%
  • Quality (defects): 30%
  • Safety incidents (accidents): 63%
  • Employee wellbeing: 68%

(Source: Gallup 2024 Meta-Analysis Report)

And that last bullet leads us to…

Key Benefits from an Employee Perspective

Engagement leads to greater job satisfaction and personal fulfillment for employees. Engaged employees, by definition, have a sense of purpose and are more likely to find their work meaningful, resulting in less stress and better mental health. Engaged employees also are more likely to develop and progress in their careers, benefiting from a reciprocal relationship with their employer.

Benefits from understanding your employees perspective

How much does employee engagement cost?

Gallup’s State of The Workplace Report indicates that the aggregate global cost of the loss of productivity from disengaged and not-engaged employees is $8.9 trillion.

23%

are enthusiastically engaged with their work

62%

are not engaged and uninspired by their work

15%

are disengaged and are potentially seeking other work

What are the Main Drivers of Employee Engagement?

Academic research and analyst points of view may differ on the importance of various factors influencing engagement, but there are common themes.

Inspiration from Leadership

Quality of leadership within an organization significantly impacts employee engagement. Effective leaders inspire, motivate, and guide employees, creating an environment where employees and engagement can thrive. Key aspects include:

  • Communicating a clear vision and direction so employees understand the big picture.
  • Empowering their teams to make decisions and supporting their efforts.
  • Providing regular, constructive feedback and recognition to reinforce positive behaviors.

Purpose and Meaning

Employees who are engaged find purpose and meaning in the work they do. They’re motivated to perform beyond getting their paychecks based on factors like:

  • Understanding how their role contributes to the organization’s goals.
  • Seeing how daily work and assigned tasks impact company success. 
  • Feeling that their work aligns with their values and passions.

Professional Growth

Opportunities for learning and development are critical for employee engagement. Companies with highly engaged workforces tend to:

  • Encourage a culture of continuous learning to promote innovation and engagement.
  • Offer training programs that help employees build new expertise and stay competitive, including the development of emotional intelligence and other soft skills.
  • Provide clear paths for career growth and advancement to keep employees motivated.

Transparent Communication

Effective communication ensures that employees are well-informed and feel connected, including:

  • Providing regular, open, and honest communication from leadership to build trust.
  • Encouraging employees to share their ideas and feedback to foster a sense of ownership.
  • Keeping employees updated on company news, changes, and achievements to keep them engaged.

 

How to Improve Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is all too often thought of as an HR goal, addressed with tactics like annual satisfaction surveys or rolling out an awards program. These activities may be part of the solution, but creating a workplace environment that gets and keeps employees engaged requires an investment of time and resources upfront and ongoing commitment and effort from the entire organization.

How to improve employee engagement

Responsibilities for Employee Engagement by Role

Senior Leadership: Senior leaders play a crucial role in setting the tone for engagement. They need to set the stage for the company’s vision and goals, which are the foundation of employee engagement. Also, they must communicate the importance of engagement, model engaged behavior, and allocate resources to support related initiatives.

HR Team: HR professionals are responsible for designing, implementing, and monitoring engagement strategies. They are crucial in conducting assessments, developing action plans, and providing support and resources to other stakeholders. The HR team should also identify ways to incorporate engagement efforts into recruitment key performance indicators (KPIs).

Management: Managers have a direct impact on employee engagement. They must foster a positive work environment, provide regular feedback, and support their direct reports’ development and well-being.

Employees: Employees themselves are also responsible for their engagement. They should actively participate in engagement initiatives, provide honest feedback, and take advantage of opportunities for development and growth.

Creating an Employee Engagement Action Plan

Interestingly, a recent Gartner survey revealed that dissatisfaction with what happens after employees provide feedback is one of the main issues impacting engagement. Only one-third believe their organization will take action, and 46% “wish their organization did more to address employee feedback.”

These insights underscore the importance of developing and implementing an effective employee engagement action plan, which involves several steps:

  • Get Leadership Buy-in: Senior leaders and managers need to understand the time and resources that will be required and support follow-through at each stage.
  • Assess Engagement: Gauge current workforce sentiments using a combination of surveys, focus groups, and interviews.
  • Identify Areas for Improvement: Analyze results to identify critical areas that need attention, getting feedback from leaders and managers on priorities.
  • Set Goals: Define clear, measurable objectives for improving engagement.
  • Develop Strategies: Create tailored initiatives or update existing ones to address the identified and prioritized areas for improvement.
  • Implement Initiatives: Roll out the changes (i.e., new or improved programs) and communicate why – that is, make sure you tie them back to employee feedback.
  • Monitor Progress: Regularly monitor and measure the progress of engagement initiatives.
  • Adjust as Needed: Be prepared to adjust strategies based on feedback and outcomes.
Employee engagement action plan

Initial assessment and ongoing measurement of employee engagement

One of the first steps in creating an engagement plan is determining which employee engagement model the company should use. Engagement models are important because they offer a systematic way to diagnose engagement levels, identify drivers, and implement targeted strategies for improvement. They also provide a common language and framework for discussing engagement across the organization.

A few examples include:

  • Gallup Q12 Model: Based on 12 key elements that Gallup research has found critical to employee engagement.
  • Aon Hewitt’s Engagement Model: Focuses on the three dimensions of say, stay, and strive.
  • Zinger Model: Emphasizes the interconnection of engagement elements like recognition, growth, relationships, and meaning.
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Adapted to the workplace, it highlights fulfilling basic to advanced needs for engagement.

After selecting a model, companies can move on to assessment. Surveys are the most common method for capturing a baseline and ongoing monitoring. They can include comprehensive, organization-wide employee engagement surveys (e.g., annual, bi-annual), pulse surveys that capture moment-in-time sentiments (e.g., after big announcements), and employee milestone surveys (e.g., recent hire surveys and exit interviews).

Surveys are great tools for providing high-level insights relatively quickly but consider following those up with focus groups and individual meetings to dive into specific areas. Additionally, layering on performance data, such as sales, employee turnover, and customer attrition, helps identify correlations between engagement drivers and outcomes.

Strategies to Improve Employee Engagement

While strategies to improve employee engagement can and should vary by company based on employee feedback, there are commonalities among successful organizations. They mirror the main drivers of employee engagement discussed above.

Here are a few popular strategies that successful companies implement before and after evaluating employee engagement:

  • Recognition and Rewards: Regularly acknowledging and rewarding employees' contributions can significantly boost engagement.
  • Professional Development: Offering training and development opportunities helps employees grow and feel valued.
  • Open Communication: Encouraging transparent and two-way communication builds trust and aligns employees with the company’s goals.
  • Inclusive Culture: Fostering an inclusive environment where all employees feel respected and valued enhances engagement.
  • Team Building Exercises: Organizing these activities helps employees build relationships and feel connected. Consider taking a cross-departmental approach (e.g., marketing with sales or sales with account management) to foster better communications across teams.
  • Regular Check-Ins: Meaningful manager interactions promote two-way communication and prevent potential issues from arising or festering.

Employee engagement strategies for remote or hybrid workforces

Remote work has been on the rise for years and is likely to grow given the flexibility it gives to both employees and employers in terms of time and place to work. That flexibility presents some additional challenges and considerations for companies if they have remote or hybrid workforces, including:

  • Creative Team Building: Working across different time zones and locations can make this challenging but not impossible. Hosting virtual breakfasts, lunches, or happy hours focused on fun, not-work-related topics can facilitate interactions that traditionally happen around the water cooler. Also, arrange in-person meetups whenever possible (e.g., sales kickoffs, industry events, annual planning).
  • Hyper Communication: Remote employees often need more touch bases from their hiring managers to keep them engaged and aligned with team goals, especially if a company has a hybrid workforce. Additionally, encourage “mini-chats” across the team. Taking 5-10 minutes every day to connect with a colleague one-on-one about what’s going on in their lives mimics in-person chats that happen organically in the office but don’t naturally occur in remote environments.
  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Allowing flexible schedules and respecting work-life balance are crucial for all employees but particularly important for those working remotely. It’s all too easy for employees working from home to allow work life to bleed into home life since they never technically “leave” the office. Communicate expectations clearly to prevent employee burnout
  • Technology Investments: Teamwork and collaboration should feel effortless for remote employees. Companies should review their tech stacks and implement tools that promote communication across teams and facilitate asynchronous work across time zones. This may include investments in team chat apps, video meeting platforms, project/task management software, etc. Picking the right mix, with employee input, can make collaboration frictionless.
Creating an employee engagement strategy

Key Takeaways

Employee engagement is a multifaceted and dynamic aspect of organizational success. HR professionals can lead the charge by providing expertise and guidance, but fostering a culture where engagement thrives requires continuous attention and effort from all levels. 

Companies that embrace and prioritize employee engagement by allocating time, dollars, and resources to improve it succeed more often than not. In comparison, companies that risk losing their best employees and customers are becoming obsolete in the market.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Important Is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement closely correlates to company success. Companies with highly engaged workforces achieve higher employee retention rates and productivity. They also tend to be more profitable.

Who Is Responsible for Employee Engagement?

While the HR team often leads the employee engagement efforts, creating an engaged workforce is a joint responsibility. It requires commitment and effort across the company, including from senior leadership, managers, and front-line employees.

How Do Employee Satisfaction and Employee Engagement Differ?

Employee satisfaction reflects more transactional factors (e.g., pay, benefits, and perks). Employee engagement captures the emotional connection to the organization and commitment to its success, including alignment of values and goals and a sense of purpose and fulfillment at work.

Why Is It Essential To Create an Employee Engagement Action Plan?

Creating an action plan increases the success rate of employee engagement initiatives. A well-formulated plan includes getting leadership buy-in, initial assessment and ongoing engagement monitoring, setting improvement goals, and communicating efforts with employees at every stage.