What is employee engagement?

Amy Woodward
Amy Woodward September 22, 2020

When employees are more engaged, everyone wins: They do, their employers do, and customers too. Rather than boosting engagement with sporadic events, it should be an ongoing practice within your organisation. But what exactly will you be working on? We’ve taken the art of employee engagement and put it into practical terms for you. Find out what it’s all about.

How do we define employee engagement?

There are several definitions circling the web about what employee engagement is. Employee engagement is defined as the emotional commitment an employee has to the organisation and its goals. There’s a natural enthusiasm for the organisation, its mission, and the products or services provided.

What does an engaged employee look like?

To make it less abstract, let’s take a look at how you can recognise an engaged employee — or the lack of them.

Engaged employees are invested in their work and workplace. They are 5.3 times more likely to recommend an improvement for your company. They are also 8.9 times more likely to recommend the company as a place of work.

Engaged employees are more inclined to keep learning, to challenge themselves and invest in their work. They are not just aware of the company’s purpose, but actively align with it.

If that’s still a bit vague, think about the question: ‘’So, what is it you do?’’. A question we’ve all gotten, surely. But in the way you approach your answer, you can find out how engaged you actually are in your job.

Do you jump to job titles or descriptions? Or would you answer in terms of what the company as a whole is doing, and how you are contributing to that?

Ever heard of the janitor JFK met at NASA? When the President asked him what he did, he answered: “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” Now, that’s engagement.

Types and levels of engagement

We can distinguish between three levels of employee engagement: Engaged, not engaged and actively disengaged. Here’s how to recognise them.

  • As we explained before, engaged employees are not just there to get the job done within the set working hours. They are involved, enthusiastic and willing to go the extra mile. They will make suggestions or improvements that their colleagues or customers will benefit from, even when it’s not directly being asked from them or part of their job description.
  • Not engaged workers don’t take work home, or bring any extra passion to work, for that matter. They are ‘psychologically unattached’ to their jobs. They put in the time, but not the effort. They’ll be on time and get the job done, but that’s that. Even though they might not be disrupting any processes, this kind of attitude could still have a negative effect on productivity or customer experiences, doing damage in the long run.
  • Actively disengaged employees harm the company. They make more errors and miss more days of work. Basically, you’ll find there’s a need for someone to clean up after them. Actively disengaged workers can even potentially undermine what their engaged peers do. They are most likely unhappy at work.

Finding purpose at work

Critical to employee engagement is the meaning or purpose people find in their work. And let’s face it: Nobody is born with a built-in passion for managing Excel sheets or preparing presentations.

But when there’s a purpose to be found in your work, the practical moves to the background.

Every organisation, no matter what line of business they’re in, can contribute to a better world and involve its employees in that. That’s where purpose comes into the equation.

Purposeful engagement

There are different kinds of engagement, and different ways to engage employees. Learning and development opportunities are important drivers of engagement. But all too often, organisations depend on rewards, perks and benefits to boost employee engagement. While this may be successful every once in a while, it is hard to maintain in the long run: What kind of perks are still surprising and valuable enough to top the last one?

Real engagement boils down to something deeper: We all want to feel like we are making a difference.

Adding meaning to what’s done in a workplace can be done by investing in the social responsibility of the company as a whole, and allowing employees to contribute to this. From giving back to communities to volunteering: Help your employees make a positive impact on the world and watch engagement skyrocket.

What happens when you get employee engagement right?

“To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” – Former Campbell’s Soup CEO, Doug Conant

Everyone involved will benefit from engaged employees. From the workforce itself, all the way to your end customer. Let’s take a look at three areas that will improve once your employee engagement rises.

Higher revenue

Unsurprisingly, employees who are more engaged, are happier at work and find more meaning in what they do. But what’s in it for you, as an employer? For instance, high employee engagement has been correlated with 26% higher revenue per employee. Where does that come from?

Happier customers

Engagement turns out to be one of the four customer experience core competencies. Meaning that if your employees are engaged at work and in your business, the customer experience will improve. Happier customers lead to loyal customers, which will show on your financial results.

Human resources benefits

Companies with a highly engaged workforce have been able to lower employee turnover by 31%, and with that, lowered their hiring costs. Given the fact that the average cost-for-hire for new employees is $4,129, plus $986 to onboard the new hire, it certainly pays to invest in retaining the existing talent you have on board.

FAQs about employee engagement

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the business, its goals and vision. Engaged employees care about their work and the company. They don’t just work for a pay check, but are passionate about what they do.

How did employee engagement come about?

Employee engagement is not a buzzword nor is it a new concept. It was first mentioned in an academic journal in 1990, by professor William Kahn of Boston University, in his paper “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work.”

Before engagement came into the picture, HR was more focused on ‘satisfaction’. Kahn identified that when employees were not performing optimally, it had little to do with them not being the right fit for the job or not being rewarded enough for their work.

This was when the switch from happiness to engagement was made. Twenty-five years after the act, Kahn explained, ‘’The engagement concept was developed based on the premise that individuals can make real choices about how much of their real, personal selves they would reveal and express in their work. ‘’

Who is responsible for employee engagement?

Everyone is responsible for creating an engaging environment in the workplace, but management should actively take the lead. Managers are the primary influencers of employee engagement scores, affecting 70% of the variance in scores across all various business units. HR should take charge of engagement strategies and initiatives.

How can you measure employee engagement?

Employee engagement doesn’t have to be an abstract concept or merely a feeling in your organisation. Take out the guesswork and make it tangible by using the following indicators:

  • Employee Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Turnover rates and absence data
  • Acceptance offer rates
  • Onboarding metrics
  • Engagement or pulse survey results

How can you improve employee engagement?

There is no quick fix to employee engagement. And it’s a company-wide effort, where management should take the lead.

To engage your workforce, what they do must connect to the individual’s need for meaning and accomplishment in the world. There should be room for professional as well as personal development. Communication is key for engagement: you want to make sure you have the right people, that they are aware of your goals and mission and that they align with them. Then, you can start building the engagement with activities, programs and initiatives to put the engagement into practice and build a strong company culture, together.

What are some employee engagement statistics?

The list is endless, but we’ll make a start. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • Employee engagement pays off: Companies with engaged employees showed 21% higher levels of profitability.
  • Highly engaged workplaces see 41% lower absenteeism. And those who come, work hard.
  • Employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.
  • But sadly, a staggering 8 out of 10 of employees are not engaged in the workplace — time to work on that.

What are the drivers of employee engagement?

There are three top drivers for employee engagement.

  1. Leadership: If employees trust their leaders and feel that management is committed to making it a great place to work, engagement can thrive.
  2. The work we do: Employees are looking for purpose and meaning in their work, as well as challenges and opportunities to grow. Meaningful work is crowned the third most important employee engagement driver by 76% of people.
  3. Relationship with coworkers: Not just management, but also your peers make a great difference in how engaged you are at work. A close friend at work makes you feel a stronger connection to the company. Naturally, you’ll be excited about coming into work every day, and you will collaborate better, creating more success for the business.

Let’s get to work, in an engaged way

Engaged employees are happier, and will improve your business. Employees engaged through purpose and values even step it up a notch: They also contribute to their community, society or the world. Time to take this knowledge from the screen to your work floor.

Engage employees while making an impact

Get a demo

Related Content

4 ways to improve employee engagement by doing Good
6 creative virtual team building activities for remote teams in 2020
Engaging employees in the Age of Purpose
Creative ideas to boost employee morale
Why take your employee volunteering and giving program digital – save 20% of program costs