We all know employee engagement is important at every company. It helps employees become more productive and better aligned with the overall strategy. But what is employee engagement, and what can a company to do increase employee engagement levels in the long run?
At Sociabble, we run into these questions often. Especially after a year in which remote work scenarios have become the norm, and more employees than ever feel disconnected and misaligned with what’s happening at their company. But while we’ve encountered this problem time and time again, we’ve also found powerful employee engagement solutions. In fact, we’ve worked with hundreds of companies around the world on employee engagement best practices to enhance their employee communication and engagement levels, including industry leaders like Coca-Cola CCEP, L’Occitane, and Vinci to name a few. In this Ultimate Guide, we’ll answer the question, “What is employee engagement?”, we’ll explain why it’s so important, and we’ll lay out the best ways to boost it and ensure that employees stay engaged for the long term.
Table of Contents:
1. What is Employee Engagement and why is it important?
It’s common to hear employee engagement discussed as if it’s the employee’s responsibility to ensure that they’re engaged with their team, their company, and their industry on a daily basis; that they feel informed and that they have an active role in the company’s strategy and objectives. In this mindset, if employees aren’t engaged, it’s their own fault, as if their own lack of commitment is to blame. But in fact, employee engagement is a two-way street. It’s a mutual commitment between the organization and its employees. You could even say a kind of psychological contract that relies on a communication promise between both parties.
Employee engagement includes everything related to how the company creates the best possible conditions for employees to:
Give their best.
Engaged employees want to perform at their highest level because they see the achievement of their own personal objectives and those of the company as being closely connected.
Commit to the other team members and company values and goals.
They embrace the values of their organization as well as their specific team, and they’re committed to ensuring the success of both.
Be motivated to contribute to the success of their team, department, and organization.
Engaged employees want to be involved, and they want to add value. They give because they see personal value in contributing, and they take pride in this, in building something together; it gives them satisfaction because they know in the long run it’s good for everyone. Employee engagement is often defined as the employee’s emotional investment in their work. As Simon Sinek put it: “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”
2. What are the three key elements of Employee Engagement?
What’s at the center of employee engagement? Many believe there are three crucial “C’s” that encourage employees to be involved and stay informed at their jobs. There may be other factors too, but these three combined make a tremendous difference in the engagement levels of employees.
Employees need to feel like they’re in the loop and understand what’s happening, within their specific roles, but also in regards to what’s going on within their company and their industry. And it pays to remember, communication is a two-way street after all. They need to feel listened-to as well, otherwise they will not be motivated to stay engaged.
As employees develop their skill set and feel more confident with their role, they’ll naturally want the chance to grow and gain more responsibility. It’s important to encourage this through opportunities that reward their skills and overall achievements. Without this encouragement, they’ll have no motivation to perform at their best and be part of company life.
For the last “C”, employees need to know that management at the company actually takes an interest in their professional well-being. It makes sense: for them to care about the company, they need to know that the company also cares about them. This mutual relationship is what generates strong bonds between a company and its workforce.
3. What is a Typical Engaged Employee?
So we understand that employee engagement is a contract of sorts, a mutual understanding and commitment between the company and the employee. But what would an engaged employee look like? And how would their behaviors and thoughts be different than another employee who is not engaged? There are many answers to that question, but here are some of the prominent features of real engagement. Generally, an engaged employee is:
• Someone who knows what they’re going to do and why they’re going to do it, from a “micro” standpoint as well as a “global” standpoint. Someone who understands their role and how it contributes to the global objectives.
• Someone who brings ideas on how to do things, and how to do things better because they know their voice is heard.
• Someone who is happy to work with their team and with their manager.
• Someone who is aligned with the values of the company.
• Someone who feels trusted and empowered, and who can be trusted as well. Someone who is loyal.
• Someone who feels appreciated. Who feels properly thanked for their achievements.
• Someone who feels supported in developing skills, and is given the resources and space to grow.
• Someone who is a great advocate for the company to clients, prospects, and future employees.
• Someone who goes an extra mile for the company without being asked or wanting credit for it. Just because they care and want to see the company succeed. Their own personal success and that of the organization are one in the same.
According to Gallup, there are essentially 3 levels of employee engagement: employees who are “actively engaged” (loyal and productive), “not engaged” (average performers) and “actively disengaged.”
Quantum Workplace, meanwhile, sets 4 levels: Highly Engaged (advocates who intend to stay longterm), Moderately Engaged (favorable, but something holds them back), Barely Engaged (indifferent and at risk for turn-over), and Disengaged (negative and disruptive toward the workplace).
4. What is NOT Employee Engagement?
Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is employee engagement?”, and discussed the important elements that make up employee engagement at a company, it’s also important to explain what is not employee engagement. There are many misconceptions regarding this, as many companies expect any sort of positive reaction or response to be indicative of engagement, when in fact this is not always the case.
Manipulation tactics used with employees is not engagement.
Trying to manipulate an employee’s commitment or feelings to increase their engagement level is not real employee engagement, because the desire it produces is not authentic. It’s not based on a mutual sense of identity or gain.
Employee happiness alone is not engagement.
In fact, there are probably many employees who are happy, who enjoy their work, but who are not engaged. Engaged employees often are happy, but the relationship does not automatically work the other way. An employee who just had their vacation time approved may be happy, but not engaged in the least!
Employee satisfaction is not engagement.
Similar to what was said above, an employee can be satisfied with their role and their daily tasks, and still not be engaged with company and industry news. They might be content with their salary and their responsibility level, and still have no idea what’s going on around them, or where they fit in the larger company strategy.
5. Why Employee Engagement is Difficult
There are many reasons why employees might choose not to engage with their organization, or why they might decide it’s not worth their while. However, there are a few common reasons that seem to crop up again and again, discouraging workers from engaging in the mutual relationship of engagement. They include:
Employees focus on team level, not company.
They might feel engaged with their immediate coworkers, but not with the company as a whole. They feel part of their team, but the larger office feels irrelevant to them. Their loyalty and commitment is only to the people they interact with every day.
Employees don’t feel connected.
They don’t understand the company’s goals and strategy, and they don’t understand how it relates to them, or what their role is in ensuring success. This is especially common among remote workers or those in smaller, more isolated office branches.
Employees don’t feel that their voice is heard.
This could be for operational ideas, or broader global subjects like CSR initiatives. They don’t bother to join in the conversation because they don’t feel that anyone is listening. They simply lose motivation to engage. In some cases, just one of these issues can be the cause, but in others, it can even be all three that combine to prevent meaningful employee engagement.
6. How to improve Employee Engagement?
According to experts David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, there are four primary enablers for strong employee engagement. For companies to ensure that employees do engage, incorporating these into their strategy can build a bond between the organization and its employees, and in turn enhance engagement. They include:
A strong narrative about the organization.
This means a powerful story that explains where it came from, where it is, and where it’s going. It needs to be authentic, compelling, empowering, and supported by all, including company leadership.
Management should focus their teams and give them scope, while treating each employee as an individual and providing individual coaching and encouragement for them to stretch their abilities and reach their full potential.
Loud employee voices.
The voice of the employees should be heard throughout the organization, for both reinforcing and challenging views. Employees need to be involved, listened to, and invited to contribute their experience, expertise, and ideas.
This means that the values of the organization are reflected in day-to-day behaviors, and in every activity. There should be no conflict between what the company says it believes in and how it acts. Its values should be visible at every level.
For example, the 10 top drivers of Employee Engagement based on 2020 Quantum’s Employee Engagement trends research are:
1. My job allows me to utilize my strengths.
2. I trust our senior leaders to lead the company to future success.
3. I believe this organization will be successful in the future.
4. I find my job interesting and challenging.
5. The senior leaders of this organization value people as their most important resource.
6. My opinions seem to count at work.
7. If I contribute to the organization’s success, I know I will be recognized.
8. I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself here.
9. The senior leaders of this organization demonstrate integrity.
10. I have the information I need to do my job well.
Additionally, Quantum identifies two categories of drivers that promote engagement: organizational drivers and management drivers.
1. The leaders of their organization are committed to making it a great place to work.
2. Trust in the leaders of the organization to set the right course.
3. Belief that the organization will be successful in the future.
4. Understanding of how I fit into the organization’s future plans.
5. The leaders of the organization value people as their most important resource.
6. The organization makes investments to make employees more successful.
• The Gallup “Q12,” which are 12 core elements that link strongly to key business outcomes. These elements relate to what the employee gets (e.g., clear expectations, resources), what the employee gives (e.g., the employee’s individual contributions), whether the individual fits in the organization (e.g., based on the company mission and co-workers) and whether the employee has the opportunity to grow (e.g., by getting feedback about work and opportunities to learn).
• Employees enjoy a good relationship with their supervisor.
• Employees have the necessary equipment to do the job well.
• Employees have authority necessary to accomplish their job well.
• Employees have freedom to make work decisions.
7. How to Implement a Strong Employee Engagement Strategy: 13 Steps
We now know what the enablers are, but how can we use them to create a larger employee engagement strategy? One that will get the entire company on board and caring and interacting with important information and events related to company life? Here are the ten most important steps an organization can take to build engagement:
1. Have a strategic narrative to give employees a sense of direction. Invite them to join a journey, make them understand that you’re embarking on an adventure together. Inspire through mission, vision, and values.
2. Turn your managers into great coaches. Give training, and incentives, to help managers teach, encourage, and lead.
3. Build strong internal communication. Informed employees are naturally more engaged, they understand their role and what the company is doing.
4. Create a feedback culture. Encourage employees to share their experiences and thoughts with each other and their managers. Use surveys to help give employees a louder voice. Sociabble’s platform, for example, comes with a surveys & polls module to make creating and sending surveys simple.
5. Share employee feedback and try to always follow up. Open the channels of communication, let them know that you’re listening, and address their comments or concerns.
6. Highlight behaviors aligned with values, develop positive culture, and highlight employees who lead by example. This must be done at the organizational, team, and employee level. Recognize what employees have done. With Sociabble, badges and rewards can be assigned for different goals and metrics. There’s even a CSR feature, Sociabble Trees, that rewards employees with trees planted in their name, in forests around the world.
7. Highlight great leaders and the opportunity to become one of them. Reward strong leadership and encourage others to pursue it.
8. Provide developmental opportunities to all of your employees. Encourage and allow them to grow and expand their roles.
9. Create seamless onboarding so employees immediately feel like they’re part of the company. Get them engaged and involved right away.
10. Provide access to productivity tools. Give employees what they need to perform at their very best.
11. Make workplace flexibility part of your plan. Be open to hybrid and remote scenarios when they make sense.
12. Invest in technology and platforms that make all of the above possible. An employee communication platform like Sociabble, for example, has a host of features, including chat, live events, notifications, polls & surveys, gamification and rewards, all designed to keep employees informed and engaged.
13. Have fun! Make sure to leave a space for employees to share what matters most to them, what they care about, and what makes them laugh. Give them the tools to make User Generated Content on their own. Photo contests, best client stories, even little things like that can make a huge difference.
8. How to Measure Employee Engagement
So you’ve taken all of this advice into account and tried to implement the steps and techniques described above. How can you tell if it’s actually working? These are a few ways:
Create Polls & Surveys
This can be done at any time, and on a regular basis. But be sure to communicate the reasons you’re doing it and of course the results, not to mention what actions will be taken afterward. Things to look at are engagement within the organization, i.e. does the culture empower, motivate, challenge, and respect employees? Would employees recommend your company as a great place to work? Engagement with the manager, i.e. do managers motivate their employees to give their best, are they clearly defining expectations and holding employees accountable? And engagement with the team, i.e. do people feel supported by their team, and are they motivated to support the team in return?
Employee lifecycle surveys allow you to collect feedback from employees during key moments in their tenure at your organization. Examples include:
• New Hire Survey: What do new hires think of your onboarding process? What was their perception at the 30-, 60-, and 180-day marks? What’s their outlook on the future?
• Stay Survey: Why are employees still working at your company? What could drive them to leave? What can be done to prevent it?
• Exit Survey: Why did an employee leave your organization? How did the turnover impact remaining employees? What can you do to prevent others from leaving?
Look at Sentiment Analysis and Net Promoter Scores
These two analytic tools can be used for taking the temperature of an organization, and getting a feel for overall perceptions. AI-backed sentiment analysis can help you get a handle on general reactions and moods within the company. And Net Promoter score can give you an idea if people’s overall perceptions are negative, positive, or somewhere in the middle, and how they are interacting with and sharing company content. But keep in mind, while useful analytic tools, these should never take the place of surveys and direct human conversations. They are merely a means of augmenting your understanding of engagement.
Conduct One-on-One Meetings and Exit Interviews
As noted above, there’s no substitute for direct human interaction when it comes to understanding and measuring engagement. It’s a good idea to meet regularly with employees to discuss their engagement, both at the managerial and HR level. And exit interviews are crucial because that’s the moment when employees are most honest and upfront about what worked for them at the company and what did not. That kind of honest feedback can be crucial when it comes to making improvements.
What should you do after running surveys?
1. Review survey results.
Once your survey results come in, take some time to dig in. Look for strengths and opportunities for improvement and pay attention to any themes and patterns in the results. Encourage managers to review results with their teams.
2. Choose focus areas.
After reviewing the data, decide on 2-3 key focus areas to explore further. Prioritize focus areas based on the level of impact of that driver and how much effort it will take to move the needle.
3. Brainstorm solutions.
Next, create focus groups and assign them to each target area for further discussion and brainstorming. Focus groups should discuss the data, identify possible challenges, and brainstorm solutions. Then, translate employee engagement ideas into takeaways.
4. Make commitments.
Once you’ve settled on key takeaways and actions, it’s time to build out your action plan. Be sure to include commitments, owners, timelines, and measurable goals. By clearly outlining these areas, you can ensure your plan won’t fall through the cracks.
5. Communicate progress.
The work isn’t done once you’ve developed your action plan. As the weeks and months go by, be sure to follow up on progress. You’ll want to keep these commitments top of mind throughout the year in order to drive the most impact.
9. What are the Benefits of Employee Engagement?
So you’ve taken the steps described above, you’ve done your best to create an environment where employees feel engaged with company life and news, where they understand their role at the company and feel motivated to contribute. What kind of benefits should you expect?
Well, having engaged employees usually means:
• Enhanced performance, productivity, and well-being at the individual and organizational level
• Higher services, customer satisfaction, increased sales, higher shareholder returns
• Reduced employee turnover, sick leave decrease, and fewer conflicts
• Better recruitment and talent acquisition
• Increased workplace safety
• Greater brand presence and reputation
In fact, according to Towers Perrin research, companies with engaged workers have 6% higher net profit margins. And a study by Kenexa found that engaged companies have five times higher shareholder returns over five years, not to mention a 65% lower turnover rate. Conversely, companies where employees aren’t engaged suffer the consequences. Disengaged employees cost organizations between 450 and 500 billion dollars a year. Low engagement levels within companies result in a 33% decrease in operating income. Hopefully, this should convince you that employee engagement does indeed matter! And if your company commits to engagement, and takes the necessary steps, you will see the results.
The Sociabble platform helps boost employee engagement thanks to features like its gamification and rewards module.
10. Sociabble: Choose the Right Employee Engagement Platform
A cohesive, single platform can enable all the steps described above, from sharing targeted company news, to running polls and surveys, to creating CSR ideas and running charitable campaigns. You want a unified solution that will allow you to connect and engage with your workforce, beginning with onboarding, and continuing through every step of their professional journey. Quantum Workplace has some suggestions in that regard.
If you want to continue working on employee engagement at your organization and need additional help, Sociabble is a complete Employee Communication solution with tons of features built in to help boost engagement, including an advanced surveys module, gamification, and rewards options. As a platform, it also provides support for Employee Advocacy, and it comes with consulting and training options as well. We’ve already helped companies around the world to create a workforce that is informed, engaged, and influential, and we’re passionate about what we do. If you’d like to learn more about how Sociabble can help, just click here for a free demo.
Engaged employees feel that their voice is heard. Which is why the Sociabble platform comes with a survey engine that makes creating, sending, and replying to surveys simple and intuitive.