Employee Engagement: Definition, Purpose, and Importance

What is employee engagement

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is defined as the level of enthusiasm an employee feels toward his/her role and workplace. Engagement is a sliding scale that ranges from actively disengaged to actively engaged. 

While top leaders are the driving force, everyone in the organization plays an active role in employee engagement. Executives are responsible for casting the shared vision and implementing practices that bring that vision to life. HR leaders are expected to retain and attract top talent, managers are held accountable for coaching and development. Finally, employees are responsible for taking ownership of their own growth and communicating their needs and desires.

Key Takeaways

  • Employee engagement is the level of enthusiasm an employee feels towards their role and workplace. 
  • Employee engagement is not a feeling, like happiness or sadness.
  • Employee engagement is critical because it increases productivity and retention. 

What Employee Engagement is Not

Engagement is not a feeling. Feelings like happiness or sadness are ever-changing and therefore should never be the barometer by which employee engagement is measured. HRD says it best: “While it is true that engaged workers tend to be happier, happiness itself is not an indication of engagement levels.”

Employees experience increased enthusiasm about their work not just when they feel happy, but when they are fully bought-in to the mission and believe their work has purpose. An actively engaged employee can have a bad day at work and remain committed to high performance.

Why is Employee Engagement Important?

Employee engagement leads to a high-performing culture, improved employee experience, and increased productivity and employee retention. Actively disengaged employees who are coming to work to collect a paycheck, or in rare cases, are actively disrupting the workplace, can affect every aspect of the business. Productivity slows, customers are not well cared for, and business outcomes decline. By contrast, when employees are actively engaged through proper management and healthy work environments, all stakeholders are positively impacted. 

It is important to remember that engagement permeates into every aspect of life, professionally and personally. Someone who is disengaged in their job is more likely to experience higher stress, more negative emotions, and relationship strain. Work outcomes and performance are impacted by by both the professional and personal environment an employee is facing.

The following list highlights major findings in the Gallup State of the Global Workplace report for 2023. The percentages listed reflect the results from polling 1,000 people in each of the 160 countries included in the study. These takeaways indicate the critical ripple effect that employee engagement, or a lack thereof, has on the global economy down to the individual employee. 

  • Engaged/Thriving at Work- 23%
  • Not Engaged/Quiet Quitting- 59%
  • Actively Disengaged/Loud Quitting- 18%
  • Intent to Leave- 51%
  • Emotions experienced during a lot of the previous day:
    • Stress- 44%
    • Anger- 21%

These data points reveal that the majority of organizations have employees who are not engaged, and therefore are waiting for their next employment opportunity to come. More than half of employees interviewed indicate some sort of intent to leave their place of employment, indicating low engagement levels. Perhaps most alarmingly, almost 20% of employees are actively disrupting the workplace due to disengagement. A positive point to note is that more than 20% of employees are part of organizations that have fully engaged them, and therefore they are thriving in their work.

Employee Experience vs. Employee Engagement

Employee experience differs from engagement in that it encompasses every aspect of the employee’s life cycle, from recruitment to offboarding. It tells the story of the individual’s experience with the organization as opposed to their enthusiasm about the organization. 

A positive employee experience is far more likely to breed high employee engagement. From day one, if the employee feels informed, cared for, and can daily use their talents to accomplish good work, their enthusiasm for the business will be higher.

A common thread shared between employee experience and engagement is effective performance management practices. These processes ensure that employee performance, behaviors, growth, and career development are prioritized immediately upon hiring. People-centric performance management recognizes the team member’s unique talents and needs and therefore cultivates an environment focused on engagement, retention, and improved business outcomes.

What Impact Does Employee Engagement Have?

According to John Shufeldt with Forbes, “Research reports show that employees who are invested in their work are more productive than employees who are disengaged or merely satisfied.” Taking it further, a study conducted by Bain & Company found that engaged employees are roughly 44% more productive, but inspired employees go above and beyond. Those who are inspired by their leadership and work are almost 125% more productive than those who are just simply satisfied. 

Turning to Gallup again, the research indicates that the top and bottom quartile of employee engagement levels among business units had major differences in outcomes. The following list details those differences and, in turn, highlights the how employee engagement can impact business outcomes:

  • Productivity– 18% increase in sales
  • Profitability– 23% increase 
  • Talent retention– 43% decrease in turnover for low-turnover organizations and an 18% decrease for high-turnover organizations
  • Customer loyalty– 10% increase in customer engagement 
  • Absenteeism– A decrease of 81%
  • Safety– A decrease of 58% in patient safety incidents

 

While not measured in this study, it should be noted that organizations with high rates of employee engagement produce team members who are proud of where they work and are more willing to share about their workplace with others. Creating internal brand ambassadors is an organic way to attract top talent outside of the organization. Greater team morale leads to healthy, palpable company cultures that encourage employees to stick around and invite strong candidates into the team.

How is Engagement Measured?

HR professionals are correct to lean on quantitative data for accurately measuring employee engagement levels. Informative data can be found by measuring all of the bullet points above, such as absenteeism and productivity. However, it is qualitative responses that will provide the reason behind that data. For example, it is critical to know that retention rates have decreased but it is arguably more important to know why employees are choosing to leave.

The list below details several ways to measure employee engagement that gather both quantitative and qualitative data:

  1. Engagement Surveys

Utilizing an employee survey platform is generally a good business practice, especially when it is used to track historical trends. Surveys that include open-ended questions give the employees a voice and the encouragement to know what they say matters and promotes change when necessary. Including options like a Likert scale (a scale ranging from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree) is a simple way to enhance and more accurately measure the data gathered. Surveys of any kind should be sent out to employees at strategic times and with a distinct purpose to avoid form fatigue. 

A highly recommended survey is the eNPS, or employee Net Promoter Score. This survey includes one question only: “How likely are you to recommend to others that our organization is a great place to work?” Responders choose a number between 0 and 10. The results interpret that Detractors choose 0 to 6, Neutrals choose 7 or 8, and Promoters choose 9 or 10. At its core, the eNPS survey reflects the organization’s employee engagement and sentiment.

  1. Ongoing Pulse Checks 

Employee engagement is best measured on a regular basis as opposed to all at once. Implementing ongoing pulse checks throughout the year between managers and employees ensures engagement is consistently inspected. WorkDove’s Check-In solution includes an employee sentiment check that asks, “How are you feeling lately?” so managers can continually gauge where the employee is at and measure trends over time.

one-on-one performance check-in

  1. Exit Interviews 

For employees choosing to exit, it is imperative they do not walk away before sharing their reason(s) for leaving. Because they have nothing to lose, departing team members are more likely to provide honest responses to your questions. Their feedback could be essential to making necessary improvements. Scheduling a formal exit interview is crucial not only for proper documentation of the conversation but also to ensure that the departing employee feels valued and leaves on a positive note.

      4. Documented Performance Management

The bullet points below indicate performance management best practices to consider for assessing employee engagement throughout the year:

Performance reviews– Scores from performance reviews are a good indicator of engagement level as they show the relationship between performance expectations and performance outcomes. WorkDove’s performance review software includes a Workplace Satisfaction report that categorizes employee satisfaction alongside employee performance for a more informed understanding of final scores.

performance review example

  • Goal tracking– As goals are generally aligned to the mission and vision, highly engaged employees are more likely to take ownership of and accomplish their goals. The Goal management tool in the WorkDove platform allow for cascading goals, ensuring all employees know how their efforts contribute to organizational goals. 
  • Check-ins- Frequent, consistent, and ongoing check-in conversations between managers and employees improve communication, strengthen the relationship, and show employees their development is prioritized and a business strategy. Managers are also given the opportunity to provide coaching and guidance in a timely manner as opposed to waiting for the performance review conversation once or twice a year.
  • 360-degree feedback– A 360 feedback tool gathers information from multiple perspectives so employee assessments are unbiased and well-informed. Multi-rater feedback helps to eliminate myopic views about individual employees and shows team members that their perspectives are considered and everyone is held accountable for their performance and workplace behaviors. 
  • Peer recognition– Incorporating an employee recognition tool is essential for promoting positive workplace behaviors when they occur. Giving a way for peers to recognize other peers boosts team morale and makes others want to join in on the fun. Company cultures that recognize one another freely are more likely to be cultures that are engaged. 

What are Good Ways to Increase Employee Engagement?

In the book Green Goldfish: 15 Keys to Driving Employee Engagement, the authors pose the question, “In difficult economic times, how can companies boost employee morale and drive high performance? The simple answer is doing the little extras beyond compensation to demonstrate commitment to your employees.” Increases in engagement levels rarely come from just increasing salaries or bonuses. Instead, employees desire purpose, personal and professional growth, and strong relationships with their leaders. The book breaks down 3 approaches for increasing engagement into Building, Belonging, and Becoming.

  1. Building- Creating a stable environment where people can thrive

Employees need stability so they are confident that the organization will be steady and not react to every internal or external factor. They also need to know that they are in a healthy environment that will provide for their basic needs, including appropriate time away and health and wellness. A few examples of increasing engagement through the workplace environment are a well-thought-out and welcoming onboarding experience, sharing the occasional meal with team members, and encouraging health through physical activity challenges. 

  1. Belonging- Enabling high-functioning teams and recognizing their efforts

Everyone desires to belong somewhere, and employees are no different. Fostering a culture that invites people to work together to accomplish the same goal is a culture that breeds loyal, hard-working devotees. Tying performance and workplace behaviors back to the mission and vision provides employees with the ‘why’ behind everything they do, and therefore creates a sense of togetherness that leads to increased engagement. Examples of ‘belonging’ include memorable team-building experiences, employee awards, and intentionally celebrating milestones like birthdays and work anniversaries. 

  1. Becoming- Empowering employees to learn, give back, and take control of their destiny

Highly engaged cultures look ahead to the future. Employees do not wish to stay stagnant in their skills but rather desire to improve and live up to their own potential. A few ways to establish a future-oriented culture are to implement ongoing skills training, professional development practices, and incorporate ways for employees to give back. Giving team members ways to tangibly impact their local community or society at large gives them purpose beyond the business itself and encourages them to know their efforts will leave a lasting impact.

Choosing the Right Employee Engagement Tools

The most efficient way to ensure employee engagement is made a priority is to utilize tools that naturally fit with everyday workflows. The WorkDove platform provides a unique approach to employee engagement in 3 major ways: the Performance-Values Matrix, Workplace Satisfaction Report, and Employee Sentiment Surveys. 

The Performance-Values Matrix (PVM) shows a holistic view of the employee by tracking performance and behaviors and plotting them both on a matrix. The Workplace Satisfaction report gives a high-level visualization of employee satisfaction, categorized by PVM placement. The Check-In Pulse captures real-time employee sentiment and identifies trends over time. WorkDove is the only platform that improves retention and employee engagement by combining all three of these tools. 

If your organization is dedicated to assessing and increasing employee engagement, check out WorkDove today!