There’s much buzz about how to improve employee engagement — and for a good reason. It’s the simplest way to limit unwanted employee turnover, boost productivity, increase safety, boost your employer brand, and support your strategy. When employees are engaged, they have passion, energy, and commitment. They bring their best to work every day, and they’ll go above and beyond for your organization.
Many organizations across the U.S. continue to struggle with improving employee engagement, which is one of the reasons why employees quit. Yet others have done it successfully. And for some — the nation’s Top Workplaces — they’ve been able to achieve engagement levels almost double the U.S. average. We’ll talk about the secret to improving employee engagement, but first, let’s define what “employee engagement” truly means.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is a measure of how strongly employees feel connected to their work and their employer. To measure it, the Workplace Survey — the same research-backed employee engagement survey that identifies Top Workplaces — considers three specific things: Commitment, Referral, and Motivation. When employees are engaged, they respond positively to survey statements such as:
- This company motivates me to give my very best at work.
- I have not considered searching for a better job in the past month.
- I would highly recommend working at this company to others.
Some people think the best employee engagement strategies include a focus on benefits, a cool work environment, and things like “bring-your-dog-to-work day.” The truth is, sustainable engagement is based on intrinsic motivation. These are internal goals like mastery, autonomy, and purpose. External rewards, such as pay and bonuses, only earn short-term benefits.
Learn more: Signs of Employee Engagement
Why is employee engagement important?
“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” This quote from Simon Sinek underscores the importance of employee engagement.
Engaged employees are motivated, committed, and willing to refer people to your company. It substantially impacts employee turnover, productivity, morale, customer service, and recruitment. When employees are engaged, they’re less likely to leave your organization — and in today’s environment, companies can’t afford to underestimate the importance of retaining employees.
Statistics about engagement in the workplace
People spend most of their lives at work. Yet for decades, employee engagement in the U.S. has stagnated at just 33-35 percent. That means approximately two out of three employees wish they were doing something else.
It’s a different story for Top Workplaces. Energage research shows these award-winning organizations have more than double the rate of engaged employees (68 percent) compared to average organizations (31 percent.) And at the top 10 percent of Top Workplaces, this number jumps to an incredible 83 percent. Even aspiring Top Workplaces — the companies that participate in the employer recognition program but have not won — exceed the U.S. average employee engagement level at 57 percent.
Who is responsible for employee engagement?
Managers play a significant role in employee engagement. In addition to ensuring employees feel appreciated, valued, and heard, managers are also responsible for employee growth and development.
In addition, managers are responsible for supporting leadership’s employee engagement initiatives. They also act as a liaison between employees and leaders.
Leadership’s role in improving employee engagement
Leaders can impact employee engagement by being intentional about driving a people-first culture. Employees who believe in the company values and direction set by leadership feel a greater sense of connection. With this solid foundation, organizations are better equipped to handle challenges and fast-paced change.
Leaders can support managers’ efforts to engage employees by stressing the following:
- Enabling employees to work to their full potential.
- Genuinely caring about employee concerns.
- Supporting employee learning and growth.
13 ways to improve employee engagement
There are many ways to improve employee engagement. Some focus on long-term goals such as improving training and development, while others are quick, short-term wins for your employees and business. Before you can make a positive impact and achieve real results, it’s important to know the drivers of employee engagement. Here are 13 ideas to try.
1. Live your mission, vision, and values
What is your company’s purpose? What do you value internally? Employees want to know that the organization they are a part of sees a bigger picture and provides meaning to themselves or others. A company that incorporates its values into everyday work life helps foster a more meaningful work environment for its employees.
But simply listing your mission statement on your website isn’t enough. You must integrate your company’s long-term vision and values into your business functions to get real buy-in. When employees strongly understand company core values and how those impact the organization, they are more likely to feel inspired and engaged.
Top Workplaces companies excel at living their values. When asked to respond to the survey statement, “This company operates by strong values.”, a whopping 88-96 percent responded positively. In average organizations, this score drops to 65 percent. Lower scores on this statement don’t represent unethical behavior. But it does signal a disconnect between a company’s stated values and what is reflected through action.
2. Focus on onboarding
First impressions are vital, even inside the workplace. The onboarding process sets the tone for how employees view the company and their position. Onboarding employees is a great way to connect employees with your company’s mission, vision, and values. It also helps them better understand how they fit into the larger picture.
Use the onboarding process to show new employees what makes your company culture unique and how they play a vital role on the team — and the company as a whole. Provide information related to their role and set expectations for interacting with other team members moving forward.
3. Train employees to succeed in their roles and beyond
One of the biggest reasons people seek a job change is “career growth opportunities.” Creating a clear path for employee development will help to improve employee recruitment and retention. Encourage employees to grow within your company instead of giving them reasons to seek growth opportunities elsewhere. As we mentioned earlier, Commitment is one of the three pillars of employee engagement.
Employees want to feel cared for and supported by their managers and leaders. It’s one of the essential qualities of a good manager. After all, mutual respect creates genuine connections that reveal a path to shared success. High-performing companies know that unleashing employee potential depends on manager support for development.
Focus on building a relationship where employees feel safe to share their unique motivations, skills, and interests. Here are some additional ways:
- Encourage managers to learn and care about their employees’ career goals.
- Help managers watch for cross-training or development opportunities with interdepartmental manager meetings.
- Ensure new job opportunities are publicized within the organization and celebrate employee development.
- Incentivize managers for the growth of their employees, even if it results in transitions across teams.
Learn more: Benefits of Employee Training and Development
4. Recognize and reward your employees
Employees need to know that peers, managers, and leaders genuinely appreciate their work to feel fully engaged in the organization. Recognition is also what makes them enjoy their work and feel motivated to perform at their best.
American Integrity Insurance is a multi-year regional and national Top Workplaces winner that is intentional about employee recognition:
“We have a ‘Gratitude Tree,’ and we ask our newest leaders to read every gratitude leaf. It’s a meaningful opportunity to share how much we mean to each other, and it reminds us how fortunate we are to work in a culture that encourages us to value each other,” said Michael Goodman, HR Manager.
Here are some simple suggestions for recognizing your employees:
- Celebrate completed projects, significant milestones, and innovative ideas.
- Avoid celebrating things that only benefit a few while others struggle.
- Celebrate each success at the highest level it applies.
- Give specific credit to the individual or team involved.
- If feedback inspired the action, be sure to make that loud and clear.
And remember: Rewards and appreciation aren’t one-size-fits-all. Understanding how your employees prefer to receive recognition to maximize your efforts and consider their personal preferences is essential.
Read more: Suggestions for recognizing your employees
5. Communicate feedback the right way
Employees at companies with great internal communications feel good at work. They’re well informed, recognized, and heard and work well with other teams. Encouraging a culture of consistent, two-way communication makes this possible.
- Create a safe channel for employees to share honest feedback and hear their opinions.
- Ensure employees are well-informed about important decisions.
- Show you, as a leader, really understand what’s happening within the organization.
- Express genuine care for your employees and their concerns.
When your organization establishes open communication as a company value and models it from the top down, your employees will seek regular feedback and provide transparent communication in return.
6. Promote healthy work habits
Encourage healthy habits within the workplace. Promoting taking breaks during work is one strategy to prevent workplace burnout. will help employees feel more cared about, minimizes overworking and burnout, and leads to more productive work time. Ensuring your office is a comfortable workspace for all employees, creating a flexible work schedule, and encouraging work-life balance are all ways to show your employees you care about their well-being.
7. Volunteer as a team and other team activities
Volunteering as a team or participating in other team-building activities is a great way to build stronger relationships within your organization while potentially helping your community. Activities with team members provide employees with an environment and situation where relationship building is encouraged and can be harbored.
Use your company mission or values to create a team bonding activity such as volunteering for local causes, and showing employees that you genuinely care about the causes you promote as an organization. Actions could be as simple as a team lunch or as creative as a trip to a local amusement park.
While COVID-19 continues to present challenges with in-person gatherings, consider virtual meet-ups to play games or even host a virtual happy hour. If you’re struggling to connect with remote employees, consider learning more about remote employee engagement strategies.
Learn more: Preventing Burnout in Work-From-Home Employees
8. Make sure your employees have the right tools
A lack of resources and inefficient processes can frustrate employees and impact engagement. Take the time to ensure employees have the right tools to do the job. When employees feel connected and the barriers to doing things efficiently and well are eliminated, they are more likely to be engaged.
9. Evaluate processes and address inefficiencies
Ask employees about their daily challenges. In addition to identifying inefficiencies and improvements, it is an opportunity to hear employee concerns, build trust, and encourage new ideas. After all, employees are most often the closest to the work — and the solution.
10. Assign employees to the right role
Employees want to use their talents to make the biggest contribution they can. Ensuring the right people are in the right roles enables employees to work at their full potential. This should be communicated clearly as part of the hiring process — and then continue to meet the expectations you set.
11. Task employees with meaningful work
Because people spend most of their waking hours at their job,
finding meaningful work is something employees want. When employees find meaning in their work, they’re more productive, committed, happy, and engaged. And when employees clearly understand how their contributions benefit the organization — and the people it serves — they’re motivated by much more than a paycheck or perks.
12. Discuss engagement openly and often
Talking openly about employee engagement and incorporating it into your culture is one way to show employees that you take it seriously. Being transparent and living your company values boosts employee trust and alignment across the organization.
13. Conduct employee engagement surveys
Measuring employee engagement is the first step toward improving employee engagement. The research-backed Top Workplaces survey delivers valuable employee survey insights, including a view of the current state of employee engagement as well as the areas where your company could improve and where it excels.
Employee engagement surveys also allow employees to give feedback and feel heard safely. They’re also highly beneficial because they are fully anonymous, allowing employees to offer genuine feedback without fear of backlash.
Premier Medical Associates, an eight-time Top Workplaces winner, uses employee engagement survey feedback to make informed people decisions, offer an anonymous communication channel, and stay ahead in a highly competitive market.
“For our culture to be strong, we need to listen to our employees,” said Kelly Schaeffer, director of human resources at Premier Medical Associates. “With Energage, we can issue one employee engagement survey to give every team member a seat at the table, equip leadership with in-depth analysis of where to focus our efforts, and earn recognition through Top Workplaces. I see the positive impact this has on our employees, business outcomes, and patients. It truly is a win-win.”
Kraus-Anderson, a three-time Top Workplaces winner, collects employee feedback throughout the year to spark change and inspire their teams. By combining the annual employee engagement survey with short pulse surveys, the construction and real estate firm can track progress and see trends.
“We have been able to take a deeper dive into the employee experience, which has led to better engagement, improved efficiencies, and ultimately our position as a Top Workplace,” said Diane Toll, director of human resources at Kraus-Anderson. “We look forward to leveraging Pulse even more going forward to keep the lines of communication open throughout the year and ensure our efforts are focused, on track, and impactful.”
Learn More: How to Interpret and Analyze Employee Engagement Surveys
In addition to measuring employee engagement, surveying your employees through Top Workplaces program participation also provides valuable opportunities for credible employer recognition that has been proven to attract new talent, limit unwanted turnover, and boost employee morale.
Nominate your workplace to see how engaged your employees are and showcase your company culture.