What Is Employee Engagement, and Why Is It Important?

From retention and referrals to motivation and productivity, employee engagement can be a game-changer. That’s why more and more organizations are investing their time and resources into it. Top Workplaces is here to explain what employee engagement is, the right way to measure it, and how to make improvements. 

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is how strongly employees feel connected to their work and their employer. Although many people use terms such as employee engagement and employee satisfaction or job satisfaction interchangeably, employee engagement is broader than employee satisfaction. That’s because satisfaction is primarily about how happy the employee is in their role at the company. Employee engagement also considers the motivation, commitment, and connection employees have to their role and the organization.

Engaged employees and disengaged employees differ in many ways, from their demeanor and work output to their connection to their jobs, team, and the company as a whole. Engaged employees have a positive attitude towards the organization and play a large role in a company’s overall employee satisfaction and employee retention.

On the other hand, disengaged employees are a significant factor in higher employee turnover, lower productivity, and in worst-case scenarios — a negative company reputation that hurts its employer brand.

An employee retention plan is really an employee engagement plan. Here are 12 employee retention strategies to help get you started.

Why is employee engagement important?

Employee engagement is essential for a variety of reasons. Generally, employee engagement drives performance and retention. When employees are engaged, they want to stay with the company and give their best every day to help achieve company goals. They’re also willing to recommend and refer others to your organization. A lack of engagement can be one of the reasons why good employees leave or choose to “quiet quit.”

This focus on driving success for the organization can also help drive financial growth. Top Workplaces reach employee engagement levels that are more than double those found in average organizations. Research conducted by Irrational Capital and Energage reveals — for the first time — a direct link between corporate culture and business performance. This study shows Top Workplaces organizations outperformed the market when the COVID pandemic first hit and now during the recovery.

Top Workplaces Outperform the Market

Employee engagement for employees

For employees, employee engagement is important because it gives them a sense of connection and purpose that drives their work. As long as employee engagement is built and nurtured at the individual and company levels, employees can thrive and feel passionate about their contribution to the company’s mission. When employees are not engaged, they feel undervalued and underappreciated. And that’s when they often look for a better opportunity at a different organization.

Employee engagement for employers
For employers, employee engagement is crucial because it builds passionate company advocates who do their best work to help achieve the organization’s goals and mission. It’s also one of the 12 effective company reputation management strategies. When companies make business decisions that align with their mission, vision, and values, employees are engaged. They’re happy to come to work, they want to stay put, and they give their best each day. But when employees lack that sense of connection, the company runs the risk of poor performance – and even a bad reputation.

Good companies understand what employee engagement looks like and when it’s time to make a change.

How to measure employee engagement

The best way to measure employee engagement is by leveraging the right employee metrics at the right time. This information is critical to getting accurate, actionable insights to drive growth and change.

Top Workplaces, the program that offers regional and national employer recognition, utilizes a credible employee engagement survey to measure 15 culture drivers, employee engagement, and more. It captures feedback on factors such as alignment and connection that organizations can translate into business intelligence to make people-informed decisions. Knowing where you stand according to the metrics of what makes a great workplace helps you to make positive changes.

Leveraging a survey that has been statistically validated and benchmarked against other organizations is critical to ensuring that you know you’re starting with a trustworthy foundation. For example, Top Workplaces has surveyed over 27 million employees across more than 70,000 organizations in the last 16 years. The survey data is analyzed against 500 million data points, so you can see how your company stacks up against others in your industry. And repeating the same survey year over year helps you to understand your progress and see how change efforts have made an impact.

Anonymous engagement surveys enable you to collect and analyze candid responses at the individual and team levels throughout the organization. With this data, you can identify responses compare to others in the same role or demographics, such as tenure and role type. Leveraging this information at the granular level allows you to identify groups, teams, or departments with higher or lower than average responses to learn from them, help them grow, and reduce employee turnover.

So, how often should you be surveying your employees? Employee engagement is best nurtured through a combination of annual employee engagement surveys and other opportunities to capture employee feedback. Pulse surveys are shorter and address specific issues.

Learn More: How to Interpret and Analyze Employee Engagement Surveys

Employee engagement drivers

There are many different drivers of employee engagement, both organizational drivers and managerial drivers.

Connecting your employee survey results to organizational outcomes is the most powerful way to motivate lasting change. The engagement statements — including Retention, Referral, and Motivation — provide an approximation of business outcomes that can be measured and benchmarked across all industries.

  • This company motivates me to give my very best at work.
  • I have considered searching for a better job in the past month.
  • I would highly recommend working at this company to others.

Culture drivers based on ways employee skills are aligned with company goals include statements that target Potential, Concerns, Development, and Helpfulness:

  • This company enables me to work at my full potential.
  • My manager cares about my concerns.
  • My manager helps me learn and grow.
  • My manager makes it easier to do my job well.

These employee engagement statements measure how efficiently your company gets stuff done and an openness to new ideas:

  • At this company, we do things efficiently and well.
  • This company encourages different points of view.
  • New ideas are encouraged at this company.

The Top Workplaces employee engagement survey uses these statements to get a sense of how your organization is doing on your employee value proposition:

  • My pay is fair for the work I do.
  • I get the formal training I want for my career.
  • I have the flexibility I need to balance my work and personal life.
  • My benefits package is poor compared to others in this industry.

How to improve employee engagement

With intentional effort and leadership support, it is possible to positively impact employee engagement. Here are a few guidelines to follow.

Ensuring you prioritize transparent communication throughout the organization helps employees understand how decisions are made and how their contribution fits into the overall organizational strategy. Top Workplaces winners learn how to improve employee engagement by soliciting feedback from their employees and implementing that feedback across the organization.

There has been a significant shift toward remote work in recent years. While employees are working remotely, communication is essential to feel involved with the organization. Fostering remote employee engagement helps ensure you can identify concerns before becoming larger issues and nurturing relationships throughout the organization. It’s also one of the best practices for flexible workplaces.

HR teams play a major role in ensuring that employee engagement is a priority. HR teams should help disseminate information to employees in tandem with the management, discuss their value with each member of the group, how their role contributes to the organization beginning when they are hired, and how any organizational shifts affect that. Ensuring that employees understand their contribution helps keep them engaged within their role. HR is vital in disseminating employee engagement surveys, communicating their results, and creating an employee engagement strategy to improve company culture.

To improve employee engagement, you should go directly to the source: your employees. Employee engagement survey insights from the Top Workplaces survey have helped over 70,000 organizations receive feedback to help inform decisions that improve employee retention, improve employee engagement, and drive business outcomes.

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Energage and USA TODAY partner to publish Top Workplaces USA