“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 which can show the overall health of a business at every level. If you can affect it, it can result in massive benefits such as a 67% lower employee turnover rate and 21% higher productivity.
It’s time to learn what employee engagement is, how to measure it, and what you can do about it.
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 can ignore it.
Employee engagement is a basic measure of how happy your team is and how aligned they are with your company goals and values.
Think of an “engaged” employee as being one who is happy 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 measure 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.
From an employee’s perspective
To an employee, engagement can be seen as a measure of how happy they are with their work and everything that entails.
- Whether they are consistently motivated to do their tasks
- How happy 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.
“Darn, another weekend’s 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.
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 to burnout – you have a team full of energy who can seemingly 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 should be 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.
Why is employee engagement important?
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 that they’re more aware and less likely to daydream while on the job. This results in far fewer workplace accidents, with companies in the top quartile of an employee engagement Gallup study having up to 70% fewer accidents than those in the bottom quartile.
As for the employees themselves, they’re more likely to be 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 – Gallup has shown that engaged employees have up to a 67% lower turnover rate and 21% higher overall productivity.
Basically, an engaged employee is able to perform almost any duty to a higher standard, more efficiently than a disengaged counterpart, and they’re less likely to quit their job or even call in sick.
That 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 listen 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.
Laura would also be less likely to leave the company as others are unlikely to put her in the same situation, most likely giving her a solid schedule which could affect her personal life and start to cause unnecessary stress.
It might sound like a highly cynical term but it truly is a win-win. Your organization benefits from an employee who performs better on all aspects that matter (productivity, loyalty, etc) and your team are helped to be as happy and satisfied as possible with their job.
How to measure employee engagement
Employee engagement can be daunting to measure since it’s such an intangible concept. You need to know what aspects contribute to “engagement” in order to be able 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:
- Turnover rate
- Growth opportunities
- Manager/team relations
It’s a daunting list but many of these items can be measured at the same time using a mix of three techniques:
- One-on-one meetings
- NPS scores
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:
- Absences from work of employed full-time wage and salary workers by occupation and industry – Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Estimated rate of self-reported work-related illness and non-fatal injury by industry for people working in the last 12 months – Health and Safety Executive
- See The Industries With the Highest Turnover (And Why It’s So High) – Paul Petrone
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.
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 fortnightly 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.
Employee engagement strategies
Employee engagement is as hard to effect as a whole as it is to define and measure. If you try and 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 need to make sure that this doesn’t happen so that they have a chance to rest and don’t resent their work for interfering with their personal life.
If they aren’t getting everything done that they need to within their work hours, you need to talk with them 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. Not to mention the benefits of onboarding a new hire with a healthy culture.
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.
How do you handle employee engagement?
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!