What is Employee Engagement and Why Is It Important? A Complete Guide

what is employee engagement

“What is employee engagement?“

I’d been explaining the ins-and-outs of my job to my family for a while but here I had to stop to give more detail. That’s when it hit me.

To most people, employee engagement is jargon.

They see it as an airy concept that doesn’t have a solid definition – it’s something that marketers point at to sell products and nothing more.

The reality couldn’t be further from that.

Employee engagement is a vital statistic to show the overall health of a business at every level. If you can better this statistic, it can result in massive benefits such as a 67% lower employee turnover rate and 21% higher productivity.

In this Process Street post, I’m taking you through what employee engagement is, how to measure it, and what you can do about it to get those lower employee turnover and higher productivity levels. 

Let’s go!

What is employee engagement?

“Engagement” is a term thrown around so much that it’s easy to write it off as a buzzword. The fact that it’s difficult to measure and slightly abstract to describe certainly doesn’t help.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

Employee engagement puts a metric to how content your team is and how aligned they are with your company goals and values.

An “engaged” employee is typically one who is satisfied with their work, motivated to get their tasks done to a high standard, supports the company goals, and is in good health.

Anything can disrupt this from a work-life imbalance to bad management, family issues, and more. That’s why it’s important to keep track of how your team is performing and take measures to try and improve how they’re doing.

It’s a mutual benefit; the better an employee is feeling (mentally and physically) about their work and life, the better they are likely to perform in a work environment.

Looking at it from the employee’s perspective

To an employee, engagement can be seen as a measure of how satisfied they are with their work and everything that entails.

This includes:

  • Whether they are consistently motivated to do their tasks;
  • How content they are with their workload;
  • How inclusive and encouraging their team is;
  • Whether they are listened to in discussions and meetings;
  • How much agency they have.

We’ve all had days where we dread getting out of bed in the morning for one reason or another. However, in an ideal world, this would never be due to the work they’re assigned or the team that they’re working with.

Instead of:

“Darn, another weekend has gone. Time to get back to the grind.”

You should be in a place where you can think:

“I know exactly what to do – I’m stoked to make these suggestions to my team and really knock it out of the park this week.”

I know it sounds cheesy, and it won’t always be possible (partially due to factors outside of work), but this is the goal you should aim to help your team reach.

What about from an employer’s perspective?

Any employer worth their salt knows that engaged employees outperform those who aren’t. They’re more enthusiastic, motivated, thorough, and creative with their solutions, resulting in higher quality work at a faster rate.

It’s the opposite of burnout – you have a team full of energy who can take any challenge you lay on them.

This doesn’t just benefit an employee’s regular duties either. The more engaged and happy they are in their work, the more likely they are to serve as an advocate for your business when it comes to customers, family, friends, and prospective employees.

Plus, an engaged team is less likely to squabble or have inner conflict, as everyone is satisfied with what they’re doing and what everyone else has to do.

Finally, it pays in terms of sick days, too. While you don’t want your employees doing themselves harm by coming in when they’re genuinely too sick to work, they’re far less likely to call in sick when they aren’t ill.

Whether they do so because of feeling burnt out or due to something entirely outside of work, the better your employee engagement the more they’ll actually want to come into work.

Reaping the benefits of an engaged employee

So why is all of this important? Well, to put it bluntly, engaged employees result in:

  • Better workplace safety;
  • Healthier and happier employees;
  • Lower absenteeism;
  • Lower turnover rate;
  • Higher productivity.

First off, engaged employees are more “keyed in” to their workplace. Meaning, they’re more aware and less likely to daydream while on the job. Engaged employees are happier and healthier than their disengaged counterparts. This saves time and money for the company due to fewer sick days being taken and a lower employee turnover rate.

Don’t take my word for it – HR Cloud found that a highly engaged workforce boosts productivity by 21%. Overall, an engaged employee is able to perform almost any duty more efficiently than a disengaged counterpart and they’re less likely to quit their job or even call in sick.

That is all well and good to say, but it’s easy to forget about what these benefits would look like on a personal level, so let’s take two examples.

Let’s say that Bob and Laura have the same job but at two different companies.

Bob is forced to work a strict schedule which conflicts with the rest of his life, is overworked and overstressed due to poor management, and due to the strain often doesn’t exercise or eat healthily. Meanwhile, Laura’s company allows her schedule to be flexible and listens to her feedback.

This results in Laura being more engaged, healthy, and happy. She has the time and mental energy to eat more healthily, exercise, and have a satisfying personal life.

In turn, this means that Laura is more satisfied with her work and the flexibility it offers, taking into account her needs rather than treating her the same as everyone else. As a result, her mind has room to rest up and return to work refreshed to perform at the best of her abilities.

With this satisfaction comes loyalty. She isn’t likely to look for another job, which boosts retention and engagement. Overall, your organization benefits from an employee who performs better on all aspects that matter (productivity, loyalty, etc.) and your team is as happy and satisfied as possible with their job.

Employee engagement: Can you put a number to it? 

Employee engagement can be daunting to measure since it’s such an intangible concept. You need to know what aspects contribute to “engagement” to measure it.

You can’t just ask your employees: “How engaged do you feel today?“

Instead, you need to be able to measure employee:

  • Absenteeism
  • Accidents/incidents
  • Turnover rate
  • Productivity
  • Happiness
  • Growth opportunities
  • Feedback
  • Manager/team relations
  • Recognition

It’s a daunting list but many of these items can be measured at the same time using a mix of three techniques:

First off, let’s examine the items that you can assess without any kind of extra analysis or data gathering.

Namely, you can check the number of accidents that have occurred in a certain time period, the level of absenteeism, the current employee feedback, and your turnover rate without bothering your team at all.

Assuming that you’re recording this information (which, let’s be honest, you really should be) with either an internal system or an external tool, you can then compare your levels with those of industry averages. It’s not perfect since every company is different, but it’ll give you a good base level to judge from.

Here are some resources to get you started:

Surveys are then a great way to measure statistics such as happiness, team relations, how employees feel about their recognition and growth opportunities, and to gather some extra feedback. There are no special tricks here – you just need to ask your team questions that show how they feel.

If you need help creating your survey, Insights has a fantastic article on exactly that topic.

One-on-one meetings, meanwhile, are a much more personal way of connecting to specific employees. They’re also a great way to make sure that your team knows that you’re listening to their voice in particular, which itself can help to engage them more in their work.

For example, here at Process Street, we have weekly meetings with our team manager to let us discuss anything that we’ve achieved, what we’re having problems with, and how we’re feeling about our work in general.

It takes two to tango, and if the person you’re meeting with clams up around you then you won’t get much. However, I can say from experience that a bit of persistence on your manager’s part can work wonders with getting to the root of issues and really making sure that your team is as happy as possible.

Besides that, you should also have individual meetings with employees when they leave your team. That gives you an opportunity to find out why they left and whether it was a problem that could have been solved before it reached critical mass.

Finally, calculating the NPS (Net Promoter Score) value of your employees is another great indication of how satisfied they are overall with their work.

How to improve job satisfaction and increase employee engagement

Employee engagement is as hard to effect as a whole as it is to define and measure. If you try to tackle the issue without a solid strategy you’re only going to make things worse.

Thankfully, you don’t have to create your own strategy from scratch.

The following strategies are all methods you can take advantage of to help improve the various aspects that make an engaged employee:

  • Make sure everyone has a good work-life balance.
  • Celebrate achievements.
  • Support employees through problems.
  • Give them room to speak and listen to them.
  • Focus on culture.
  • Be transparent.
  • Provide growth and/or training opportunities.
  • Don’t treat everyone the same.
  • Always remember – they’re humans, not robots.

Most of these are self-explanatory, but together they make up a solid employee engagement strategy that’s hard to beat.

I won’t focus on every aspect due to how simple they are, but there are a couple I want to stress in more detail due to personal experience of both being engaged and feeling burnt out.

First up is work-life balance. This is absolutely critical for the long-term health of any employee from interns all the way to your CEO.

Team members might be happy to take work home with them, but you still need to make sure that this doesn’t interfere with their personal time and rest. The last thing you want is your employee resenting their work that they seem to never escape from. 

If they aren’t getting everything done during work hours, you need to find out why. This leads us nicely into supporting employees through their problems.

Don’t automatically assume that the team member is being lazy. They might have too much assigned for them to realistically complete, they may be having issues outside of work, they might not be properly trained for their tasks, and so on.

It’s not your job to punish them for every misstep. It’s your job to find out why they’re struggling and try to help them through it.

This will also help to naturally create a healthy company culture, which is vital to have engaged employees. They should be happy with the people they’re working with so that collaboration and communication are free and easy.

One of the best places to start enforcing this healthy company culture is during new hire onboarding. If you need further help crafting a welcoming company culture, try introducing some team building activities to get everyone working together towards a common goal.

Also, storing your standard business operations and company policies in a place that’s accessible for all employees works wonders when improving transparency. Pages is good place for this – all your business documentation can live alongside your workflows for a more centralized company knowledge hub.

Stop, drop, engage! 

Employee engagement might sound corny and buzzword-y but assessing it is a vital part of any functioning team that wants to have a good long-term relationship with their employees.

Remember, disgruntled employees perform worse, are more likely to talk badly of your company, and are more likely to leave for greener pastures.

That being said, the methods stated here aren’t all-encompassing.

Everyone is different and so will benefit from different techniques. The key is to take these as a base and experiment until you find what works in your company.

How do you measure and improve your employee engagement? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Ben Mulholland

Ben Mulholland is an Editor at Process Street, and winds down with a casual article or two on Mulholland Writing. Find him on Twitter here.

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