Everything You Need to Know About Maximizing Employee Engagement
Nothing is as exciting as the buzz of an office where everyone is fully engaged. You can taste the atmosphere the moment you walk through the door. There’s an energy in the air, a sense that everyone is pulling together towards a greater goal.
In this office, you’ll see engagement take many forms. For some people, engagement means sitting in the meeting room with colleagues, brainstorming the next big innovation. For others, engagement means sitting at a desk with noise-canceling headphones and getting into a flow state.
Low-engagement environments are also memorable, but in a different way. When there is a problem with engagement, you’ll see absenteeism, staff turnover, and friction between colleagues. Disengaged employees have one eye on the clock, and the other eye on a job listings website.
In this guide, we’ll look at how to measure employee engagement and address the factors that lead to disengaged employees. We’ll also look at employee engagement initiatives that suit your company culture.
- Why does employee engagement matter?
- How do you measure employee engagement?
- What causes poor employee engagement?
- How to fix the causes of poor employee engagement
- How to create a culture of high employee engagement
- Your next steps for building a high-engagement culture
1. Why does employee engagement matter?
First of all, what exactly is employee engagement?
SHRM defines engagement as “the level of an employee’s commitment and connection to an organization.”
And this definition is mostly correct – commitment and connection are most certainly the key elements of engagement. But SHRM’s explanation overlooks the fact that engagement is a two-way street. Both employer and employee have to work hard on building engagement.
So, we see that engagement isn’t just something that employees choose to give to their employers. Instead:
Engagement is the product of a strong employer-employee relationship
How employee engagement impacts your organization
Talking about psychology and relationships is all very well, but what about the practical aspects of engagement? Does any of this affect the bottom line?
Employee engagement has a huge impact on every aspect of your business. Here are just a few of the areas where engagement is key:
An engaged workforce is more likely to deliver consistent results. A survey by Gallup found that having an engaged workforce can lead to a 21% in productivity and a 22% increase in profitability.
Engagement is closely linked to the employee life cycle, and a dip in engagement usually indicates a retention risk. Studies show that engagement levels decrease in the nine months before an employee resigns.
Culture and engagement are inextricably linked. In organizations where employees highly rate their culture, engagement levels tend to be 2.5 times higher. Conversely, toxic culture almost always correlates with low engagement.
Engaged employees are more likely to innovate and be creative. One study found that 80% of engaged employees say their company has a culture of innovation, while only 40% of workers with low engagement said the same.
Low engagement can increase your costs, through lower productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher turnover. One study estimated that poor engagement costs U.S. companies as much as $550 billion per year.
Highly engaged teams tend to give 100% every day, and that kind of commitment will drive any company to success. But the reverse is also true. Companies with low employee engagement find that they miss opportunities and struggle to meet expectations.
Which means that there’s an urgent question that every leader must answer: how engaged are your employees?
2. How do you measure employee engagement?
Engagement looks different for each employee. Some people are engaged when they are constantly interacting with colleagues and customers. Others reach peak engagement when they have space to focus on a task.
In each case, there are two sets of metrics you need to consider:
- Cultural factors: How organizational culture affects engagement on a team level.
- Individual factors: Indicators that show a specific person is fully engaged.
You’ll need a different approach for both sets of metrics. Let’s look at them individually.
Four signs of an engaged culture
Every organization has its own unique culture. Some teams are highly collaborative; others are more independent. Some companies thrive on being flexible; others stick rigidly to processes.
But, while every culture is different, there are some universal features of a high-engagement culture. They are:
- Culture of Engagement: Does your organization promote respect, inclusion, empowerment, and open communication? Is there an active employee engagement strategy in place?
- Motivating and Relating: Can your leaders help team members succeed? Do team members help each other succeed? Are teams focused on delivering great work?
- Strategic Alignment: Are day-to-day activities closely related to your company’s goals, mission and values? Do people understand how their work relates to business outcomes?
- Managing Execution: Do leaders set clear expectations for all team members? Is there a consistent, supportive approach to driving productivity?
An engaged culture is all about giving employees the best chance to succeed. This kind of culture gives people the focus, support, and knowledge they require to do a great job each day.
Four signs of an engaged employee
A great culture doesn’t automatically mean that everyone is engaged. You also have to check in with individuals and see how they feel about their role.
Individual engagement can look different from employee to employee, depending on the culture and environment. But there are four essential attributes to monitor in any scenario:
- Expectations: Every person has expectations for their role and for their career path. If you’re not meeting those expectations, you’ll see low levels of job satisfaction. Are you supporting employees’ dreams by offering them professional development?
- Loyalty: Does the employee think they will still be here in twelve months? Engaged employees are generally less likely to leave, while actively disengaged employees are probably seeking another role.
- Connections: Are they part of the team? Do they have close ties with their colleagues? Strong interpersonal relationships and a sense of inclusion are all positive indicators of engagement.
- Well-being: Has the employee taken any sick leave recently? Or do they show signs of burnout? It’s hard to be fully engaged when you don’t feel right, so it’s important to monitor everyone’s general well-being.
Of course, all of these factors can vary from day to day. That’s why it’s essential to keep checking in and monitor employee happiness.
What tools can you use to assess employee engagement?
Once you’ve got a clear idea of what engagement looks like for your team, it’s time to start gathering some data.
There are a number of tools and techniques you can use to obtain useful engagement data and employee feedback, such as:
Employee engagement surveys
Engagement surveys are usually a set of yes/no questions that allow employees to give a gut response. Short, focused pulse surveys will enable you to get an insight into current employee satisfaction levels. You can also use pulse survey data to monitor the ongoing progress of your employee engagement initiatives.
Helios HR offers a platform for employee engagement surveys that allows you to create powerful data-driven insights. You can see a quick demo of the platform on YouTube.
For a deeper understanding of engagement issues, you’ll need to have in-depth meetings with individual employees. You can use your employee engagement surveys as a jumping-off point, and then dive deeper into the issues that might impact that person’s engagement.
A focus group allows you to bring together a representative sample of your workforce and ask them to discuss issues relating to engagement. These groups can offer a rich insight into team engagement levels, plus it allows group members to compare their experience with that of other teams.
Employers can now gather rich data on employee activity, especially employees who are working from home. A word of caution, though: raw data doesn’t always give the whole picture. For example, someone who spends eight hours on busywork might show up as being more engaged than someone who spends a lot of time speaking to clients and supporting colleagues. It’s best to combine this kind of analytic data with qualitative research using the methods above.
Staff turnover is often the result of poor engagement, which means that you can learn a lot about retention issues. Employee feedback from exit interviews and stay interviews will give you insight into the current employee experience for your team members.
The best way to learn about employee engagement is simply to talk to your team members. They’ll often be glad to let you know if anything is preventing them from giving 100% each day.
3. What causes poor employee engagement?
How many workers in the U.S. are engaged at work? According to data from Gallup, it’s only one in three.
Gallup conducts regular workplace engagement studies, and the average engagement rate is generally around 30%. Since the survey began, the number had never risen higher than 36%.
This survey also reveals a disturbing level of actively disengaged employees, with 16% of all workers falling into this category. Gallup defines an actively disengaged worker as someone who has decided to switch jobs as soon as possible, which means they’re no longer committed to their current role.
Between these two groups, you have approximately 50% of employees who are neither engaged nor actively disengaged. These people do their jobs and have no plans to leave, but they are unlikely to innovate or go the extra mile for customers. And that’s a lost opportunity for employers.
5 main causes of low employee engagement
Sometimes, people just aren’t a good fit for the role. They might have the wrong skill set or temperament, or they may not gel with the company culture. In these cases, a move or separation is the only answer.
But sometimes, you can have the right person in the right job and still see low engagement. That’s often caused by a different factor, such as:
Support – They’re not adequately equipped to do their job
Engaged employees usually get into a flow state, in which they’re working efficiently and producing results. But it’s hard to get into that state of flow if you haven’t got the right tools. For example, if your critical IT systems are slow or hard-to-use, it can slow the employee down and impact their engagement.
Adequate training is the most important tool for any job. If an employee doesn’t feel confident about what they’re doing, it can undermine them and slow them down. Equally, an overqualified employee might crave a more exciting challenge.
Purpose – Their day-to-day isn’t linked with the company’s strategy
A 2021 study by McKinsey showed the importance of purpose in working life – and how many senior leaders are getting this wrong. The survey showed that 70% of people feel their sense of purpose in life is driven by work. However, the same survey found that only 15% say that they get a sense of purpose from their current job.
This “purpose gap” means that employees are seeking a sense of meaning from their work, but their employers are not providing it. This gap can lead to low levels of engagement unless employers actively work to include each employee in the company’s mission and overarching strategic vision.
Inclusiveness – The team culture isn’t inclusive
Engagement at work is often about one-to-one relationships. Friendship, camaraderie, and team can make people feel excited about going to work today. Even in highly independent environments, most workers prefer an atmosphere of respectful, honest communication.
In a toxic culture, some people may feel excluded or even have to deal with hostility. This tension can also happen at a macro level, where a lack of diversity can make entire groups of people feel unwelcome. If that occurs, it will have a devastating effect on engagement.
Opportunity – They don’t have a path toward the future
Every employee has a long-term career goal. The question is whether that goal lies within your organization or if they will have to leave to pursue their dreams. Employees with active career paths tend to be more engaged, as they know that their future is tied to that of their employer.
When there’s a lack of professional development opportunities, the employee is likely to imagine a future elsewhere. Even if they don’t have immediate plans to leave, this frustration can still have a huge impact on productivity and innovation.
Wellness – They’re unwell or burnt out
An employee might be 100% emotionally engaged with the company, but they don’t perform because they’re absent or unwell. Sometimes, this might be caused by ill health or a medical condition – Long Covid sufferers, for example. Other times, it might simply be burnout from working too hard.
Managers play a huge role in employee well-being. For instance, when someone consistently puts in extra hours, they’re likely heading towards severe burnout. In high-engagement environments, leaders will keep an eye on their teams to ensure that everyone is looking after themselves.
4. How to fix the causes of poor employee engagement
When you’ve identified one of the issues above, you need to take immediate remedial action.
Your exact approach will depend on the nature of the problem, but a solution often takes this shape:
Acknowledge the issue
Sometimes, employees will feel better when you admit that there is a problem. It makes them feel seen and understood, and they will be optimistic about what lies ahead. Even this small step can boost engagement.
Use all of the techniques mentioned above to find out as much as you can about the engagement problems. Your HR team can conduct surveys and interviews with employees to ask targeted questions.
Develop an action plan
Remember, each of these issues arises from some aspect of the employee experience. Your action plan has to focus on employee pain points and identify practical ways to improve that experience. Share your plan with the team, so they know you’re taking things seriously.
Make meaningful changes
Now, you have to do what you promised. For team-level initiatives, make sure you issue large-scale communications about your progress. For individual measures, such as reviewing employee career paths, have regular check-ins with the employee about their progress.
Explore your culture
Organizational culture can be one of the most critical factors in employee engagement. Each company needs to create a culture aligned with its strategic goals, and ensure that this culture helps bring out the best in employees. To learn more about building a thriving organizational culture, read the Helios HR guide:
Related Reading: How to Build a Thriving Organizational Culture
Measure and repeat
Employee engagement can vary sharply over time. Make sure that you’re continuously measuring and responding to any variations.
This approach will help you maintain a baseline of employee engagement. But how do you go beyond that? How do you maximize employee engagement?
5. How to create a culture of high employee engagement
We’ve talked a lot about the problems facing organizations that have poor employee engagement. Now, let’s focus on the benefits of having a highly engaged team.
Companies with engaged employees have a killer competitive advantage. Those companies tend to be more productive, innovative, and profitable. High engagement is why energetic startups often outperform their slow-moving rivals.
What does high employee engagement look like?
When a team is engaged, you know it. They will display qualities such as:
There’s a high level of team cohesion, with good interpersonal relationships between members. Communication is good, and people are glad to help each other.
Engaged employees are more likely to stick with their current employer. That can lead to highly stable teams and longer employee life cycle.
Engaged workers are often passionate advocates for their employers. Satisfied employees might post positive reviews on sites like Glassdoor or refer their friends for vacancies.
The company’s mission is at the heart of day-to-day life for focused employees. They understand how they can help deliver your strategic goals and how to live the company’s values.
Employees always give what’s required to meet expectations. That might mean that they occasionally work some extra hours or innovate solutions to unexpected problems.
With a team like this in place, your company is bound to hit its targets. But how do you get them to the next level?
8 strategies for maximizing employee engagement
Your organizational culture plays a vital role in employee engagement. By creating a positive, inclusive culture, you’ll start to see improved engagement across the board.
Here are some strategies that work in any type of culture.
Communicate openly and frequently
Engaged employees know what they’re expected to do and why it matters. They know what’s happening in their team and across the rest of the organization, and they have a clear understanding of the company’s goals.
Communication strategy is especially important when dealing with remote workers, as they may feel left out of the loop when something happens in the office. Make sure, also, that employees feel comfortable offering their feedback.
Align daily routines with overall strategy
Encourage managers to talk about daily tasks in terms of long-term strategic goals. It’s easier to focus on a task if you know why you’re doing it. Is this task important because a customer needs it? Or because of a regulatory obligation? Is it an important step in the company’s evolution?
Ideally, each employee should only work on tasks that really matter. If the employee’s daily routine includes a task with no strategic value, then why are they doing it? Work with your team to identify low-value tasks, and then find ways to streamline or eliminate those tasks.
Create individual career paths with clear milestones
Every employee has a career path mapped out. The question is whether that path is something they’ve agreed with you, or something that involves looking for a different job. That’s why it’s so important to be proactive and engage with employees about their professional futures.
It’s also important to make sure that those paths have clear milestones, including professional development opportunities such as training and mentoring. Professional development encourages employees to be more engaged, as they realize that their employer is helping them work towards their dream job.
Organize team-building activities
Team-building is a lot more challenging now that we’re in the age of hybrid and remote teams. It’s not easy to get everyone in the same room – sometimes, you can’t even get them all in the same city. But interpersonal connections are a huge part of engagement, so you have to try.
Look at digital and hybrid solutions that allow you to host social events with the whole team. You can also look at smaller, regional events as well. As long as employees feel connected to someone on the team, they’re more likely to feel engaged.
Engagement and well-being have a reciprocal relationship. When employees are fully engaged, they tend to feel less work-related stress. And when employees are less stressed, they will engage more with their duties. It’s a virtuous cycle – if you can get it right.
Benefits like gym memberships and healthy eating options can boost employee well-being. It’s also important to have the right Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that can support your team members through personal challenges.
Be as flexible as possible
The previous point about well-being is correct, but something unusual happened at the start of the pandemic. Gallup found that average employee stress levels went up, which would typically lead to lower engagement. In fact, the opposite happened: engagement levels reached an all-time high.
Gallup found that this was paradox was due to remote workers, who reported higher levels of engagement. Telecommuting and flexible schedules allow people to define their own work-life balance, making it easier to focus during working hours. If you can be flexible about your employee’s needs, you’ll see a rise in overall engagement.
Foster an inclusive culture
The employee experience often comes down to personal relationships. That’s why it’s a good idea for leaders to work on team-building and promote open, respectful communication. Team spirit can boost your mood, which then helps you focus on tackling your to-do list.
It’s also essential to have an active Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategy. Bias – whether conscious or unconscious – can make people feel excluded from the team. This leads to lower engagement and can ultimately result in staff turnover. Make sure you have a culture that welcomes everybody.
Engage with your community
One of the key drivers of engagement is a sense of pride in the company. One way to do this is to have strong values at the heart of your organization, and to live those values every day. For instance, if one of your values is integrity, make sure that leaders always talk about the importance of being honest and accountable when making decisions.
Another way to live your values is to connect with your community through volunteer work. Volunteering programs allow you to make a difference and show that your company stands for something. By giving your team a chance to represent you in this way, you’ll give them a chance to feel a real sense of pride in their employer.
6. Your next steps for building a high-engagement culture
Are you ready to build a team of satisfied employees who will provide an unrivaled customer experience and deliver amazing business outcomes?
It doesn’t come easy, especially if you want a sustainable team to deliver long-term success. Mostly, it’s a matter of focusing on the fundamentals:
- Use pulse surveys to monitor engagement
- Support people in their career plans
- Prioritize well-being and avoid burnout
- Focus on your company’s goals and values
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
With the right HR processes in place, you can build a culture where people feel excited about coming to work.
Need help putting this all in place? Helios HR has been building highly engaged teams for over 20 years. Book a no-obligation call with a Helios HR consultant today, and find out how you can get the buzz back in your office.