You’ve likely heard the term “employee engagement” (EE) in your workplace at some point these last few years. In fact, according to Google Trends, “employee engagement” reached an all time search high during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Q4 of 2021. Why? At that time, working from home had become accepted as the long term solution to keep employees safe…and companies panicked.
That particular context aside, a strong employee engagement is beneficial for your business and its employees regardless of the global management environment. In this post, we’ll unpack:
- The Concept of Employee Engagement: what it is, what it’s not
- The Importance of Employee Engagement and the role it plays at work and in the workplace
The Concept of Employee Engagement
Often mistakenly used interchangeably with “employee satisfaction” and “employee experience,” employee engagement is related to both of those but is distinctly different.
What it is: “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” With any emotional commitment you currently have in your life: don’t you tend to actually care about it more? EE is that same concept: the more engaged the employee, the more they care about their work and the company; the more likely they are to go beyond working just for the paycheck. Engaged employees take care and consideration in working on behalf of the organization’s goals; they have a tendency to go the extra mile.
Employees can become more engaged with their work when there is a respectful, honest, and open conversational relationship with their team and their manager. With these relationship dynamics in mind, there are a few key things that are important to engaged employees in the workplace:
Key Things that are Important to Engaged Employees
- Clear understanding of goals and objectives: having a clear understanding of how their role fits into the big picture and how their role is a value-add to the organization is paramount to most employees’ sense of belonging and purpose to a team. It helps to mentally tie-in how they contribute to the organization’s overall goals.
- Development, Empowerment, Feedback: Employees who care about their roles and their employers do expect to be cared for in return in some way, shape or form. Whether that be through development opportunities, consistent empowerment to make decisions to expand their scope, and/or receiving consistent feedback to help them improve, care is typically a two-way street. Engaged employees appreciate “…being included fully as a member of the team, focused on clear goals, trusted and empowered, receiving regular and constructive feedback, supported in developing new skills, thanked and recognized for achievements.”1
- Having a voice: being able to offer ideas and express views is one thing; being able to then have those ideas taken into account as decisions are made can mean the world to employees who really care and are invested in their work. It takes a strong, trusting leader to truly listen and implement their teams’ recommendations. It isn’t difficult, in fact that model may seem like a no-brainer to some of you reading this, but with the hierarchical organizational structure that much of Corporate America is comprised of, it is not easy to actually implement in practice.
- Respect, Trust, Values: Many organizations don’t realize how important it is to have strong values. Not only does it bolster an employee strategy by having brand values to rally around, but also helps to set parameters for the company’s culture. “Engaged organizations have strong and authentic values, with clear evidence of trust and fairness based on mutual respect, where two-way promises and commitments – between employers and employees – are understood and fulfilled.”1
While engaged employees are typically satisfied employees, the reverse is not always true. Engaged employees challenge the status quo – while satisfied employees may be perfectly content maintaining status quo, perhaps even “quietly quitting” because again: that will keep them satisfied. Satisfaction is a very different beast than engagement.
While determining who of your employees is more engaged in their work isn’t the easiest, an engagement attitude includes: their strong sense of purpose and leadership; their love to be challenged; their passion and commitment to improve performance and workplace results.2 They truly do care and put in more than an employee who is simply satisfied. With that added care and emotional connection, engaged employees are more focused on working towards their organization’s goals.
Basic Characteristics of an Engaged Employee are:
- Knowing what their role is, what their job entails, and they want to do it
- Loyalty to their employer and productive with their time
- Motivated to work toward the success of their organization
- Know what success looks like (and how to work towards it)
- Motivated to perform at a high level3
- Intellectually and emotionally connected to their organization, as measured by three primary behaviors according to outsourcing company Aon Hewitt:
- Say – an employee consistently speaks positively about their employer to co-workers, customers, and job candidates (these are your brand advocates)
- Stay – an employee has a strong desire to remain with an organization despite having other opportunities
- Strive – when an employee makes an extra effort to contribute to their organization’s success
What it is NOT: Employee engagement itself is not the catered breakfasts and free snacks, the ice breaker events or team building activities…nor is it the group volunteering efforts either. Those are all tactics intended to boost your employee engagement, but without true intentional efforts rooted in employee feedback in addition to these your employee engagement will stagnate.
Employee engagement cannot be achieved by a mechanistic approach which tries to extract discretionary effort by manipulating employees’ commitment and emotions. Employees see through such attempts very quickly and can become cynical and disillusioned.1
While Employee Engagement and Culture go hand in hand, they are not the same thing. If you’re interested to learn more about the distinction, a post on that will be coming soon. Spoiler alert: toxic cultures oftentimes perpetuate the employee morale problem.
The Importance of Employee Engagement
With all of this, you may be asking yourself “so why does this matter”? I’m happy you asked! It’s a vitally important question for leaders to consider. Because without employee engagement, there’s no team engagement, making it more difficult to improve business outcomes.4 Yes, while the average employee has come to think of “engagement” to include games, free food, activities and events, strong employee engagement drives performance and leads to better decision making.
Employee engagement matters because more engaged groups show these improvements:
- 22% increase in profitability
- 21% increase in productivity
- 10% increase in customer ratings
- 41% decrease in quality defects
- 48% decrease in safety incidents
- 37% decrease in absenteeism
Simply put: Organizations with an engaged workforce outperform their competition5. Not only from a results perspective either, but from an employee retention standpoint too. Why? An engaged workforce is also a workforce that isn’t as quick to leave. There’s no denying that employee expectations differ across generations – job hopping is much more common than “job for lifers”. Flat out: employee turnover is expensive for any business, often costing organizations thousands of dollars each year. With employee expectations in flux for a number of reasons, retaining top talent is more difficult than ever before.
A company that has an effective employee engagement strategy with programs, ideas and initiatives to engage the workforce is more likely to retain top performers, attract new talent, and increase performance throughout the organization. The role management and human resources plays in improving workplace engagement and morale is critical.
Share in the comments:
- Does your employer conduct an annual employee engagement survey?
- How are you liking your employer’s engagement efforts?
- Do you have an Employee Engagement Manager in your company/organization?
1 – Engage for Success – What is Employee Engagement?
2 – Custom Insight – What is Employee Satisfaction?
3 – Investopedia – Employee Engagement
4 – Gallup – How to Improve Employee Engagement in the workplace
5 – Custom Insight – What is Employee Engagement?