The Definitive Guide to Employee Engagement: Whats, whys, and hows to improve the workplace

Employee engagement has become a key area of focus for HR departments in recent years. Companies recognize the importance of an engaged workforce, and are investing in initiatives to ensure their employees are engaged and productive. This article will explore what employee engagement is, what it is not, and walk you through everything you need to know about employee engagement.
Table of contents
Sharing options

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is describes how connected and motivated employees are to their work and the organization. It is often measured in terms of how committed an employee is to the company’s mission, how content they are with their job and how motivated they are to contribute to the organization’s success.

An engaged employee is one who is actively involved in their work and the organization. They are passionate about the work they do, and they strive to contribute to the success of the organization. They are also highly motivated to do their best, and are willing to go above and beyond to achieve results.

Employee engagement can be measured in a variety of ways, but the most popular method is the use of employee surveys. These surveys can provide valuable insights into how employees feel about their job, the organization, and their colleagues.

Employee engagement in HR

Employee engagement is an important area of focus for HR departments, as it helps to ensure that employees are happy and productive at work. Engaged employees are more likely to be loyal to the organization, perform better, and stay with the company for longer.

Levels of employee engagement

There are three types of engagement levels:
  • Actively engaged: Employees that feel part of the company. Not only do they feel valued members of the team, but they also align with the company’s mission. They believe their work has a meaningful and positive impact on achieving the company's goals. These employees are creative and positive, have initiative and exceed expectations. As a result, they are star performers with strong work ethics, eager to contribute.
  • Not engaged: Employees that turn up at work to do their job during the agreed hours and for a paycheck. They are not invested in their work nor do they have any connection with their company. Furthermore, they may not even know the company's mission, as they only do the bare minimum to avoid getting fired. They show no ambition to grow within the organization.
  • Actively disengaged: Employees that actively and openly dislike the company and the work they doThey usually create a negative work environment or even try to undermine the company's goals by underperforming. They pose a risk to productivity and culture.

What are the drivers of employee engagement?

Understanding what keeps employees motivated and engaged is key to implementing strategies aimed to reduce burnout and to retain talent. As every individual is different, there are many ways of motivating employees in order for them to stay engaged, but the following ten are widely valued by employees across companies of all sizes and industries:
  1. Psychological and physical safety
  2. Purposeful work
  3. Resources
  4. Empowerment
  5. Career growth
  6. Leadership
  7. Transparency
  8. Work-life balance
  9. Recognition
  10. A positive workplace culture meaningful relationships

What employee engagement is not

Employee engagement goes beyond just happiness or satisfaction and encompasses an employee's overall sense of purpose and connection to their work.

Happiness vs. Engagement

Employee happiness is often seen as a fleeting emotion and can be influenced by a wide range of factors, both inside and outside of the workplace. On the other hand, employee engagement is a more enduring and holistic state that reflects an employee's sense of purpose and connection to their work.

Satisfaction vs. Engagement

Employee satisfaction is related to an employee's perception of their job and working conditions, and can be influenced by factors such as pay, benefits, and opportunities for advancement. While employee satisfaction is important, it is not the same as employee engagement. An employee can be satisfied with their job but still not fully invested in the organization or their work.

Wellbeing vs. Engagement

Employee wellbeing is a broad term that refers to an employee's overall physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. While employee wellbeing is important for overall productivity and performance, it is not the same as employee engagement. An employee can have good wellbeing but still not be fully committed or invested in their work or the organization.

Why is it important?

Employee engagement is an important area of focus for any organization. By investing in employee engagement initiatives, companies can create an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated, and are motivated to do their best work.

Benefits of employee engagement

There are numerous benefits to improving employee engagement and building a work environment that people are happy to be a part of.
  1. Increased Productivity: Engaged employees are more likely to be productive and motivated to do their best work. This can lead to improved performance and increased profitability for the organization.
  2. Improved Retention: Engaged employees are more likely to stay with the organization for longer. This can lead to improved continuity and consistency within the organization.
  3. Improved Customer Service: Engaged employees are more likely to provide excellent customer service, as they are motivated to do their best work and make sure the customer is satisfied.
  4. Increased Innovation: Engaged employees are more likely to take initiative, think outside the box, and come up with creative solutions to problems. This can lead to increased innovation and new ideas for the organization.
  5. Improved Morale: Engaged employees are more likely to be positive and enthusiastic about their work. This can lead to improved morale and a more positive work environment.
  6. Lower absenteeism: Engaged employees are more likely to be present and reliable, leading to lower absenteeism rates.
  7. Better employee health: Engaged employees are more likely to take care of their physical and mental health, leading to improved overall health and well-being.

Basic concepts to keep in mind to improve engagement

‍Keeping in mind the various dimensions of organizational culture can help HR teams pinpoint areas of improvement to drive engagement levels up, plus improve culture and the overall employee experience.
  1. Autonomy: Employees who have control over their own job and performance are more likely to be engaged in their work.
  2. Alignment: When employees understand and adhere to the company's goals, values, and practices, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their work.
  3. Meaningful work: Employees who perceive their work as significant and contributing to their personal and professional development are more likely to have a higher engagement level.
  4. Organizational support: Employees who perceive they have support from management, colleagues, and the organization are more likely to be engaged.
  5. Peer relationships: Positive, collaborative, and rewarding relationships with colleagues can contribute to employee engagement.
  6. Physical environment: A physical or virtual environment that is conducive to work and productivity can improve employee engagement.
  7. Professional growth: Opportunities for career development and learning can lead to increased employee engagement.
  8. Reward and recognition: Fair compensation and acknowledgement and appreciation from the organization can contribute to employee engagement.
  9. Satisfaction: When employees' needs are fulfilled and they find pleasure in performing their job, they are more likely to be engaged in their work.
  10. Workload: Employees who feel ready and able to handle their workload are more likely to be engaged in their work.

Best employee engagement models

The Zinger model

Named after its creator, this engagement model focuses on the importance of meaningful connections for employees to reach their full potential. It does not only refer to human connections with managers and coworkers, but also to their relationship to the work they are performing and to their position within the organization. It offers an outline of ten areas to focus on, structured like a pyramid.

Bottom row: The necessities
The foundation of the pyramid covers four essential individual needs that every employee has:
  1. Enhance well-being: Ensure physical and psychological safety of employees. Offer enough time off to recharge, provide access to good healthcare, implement policies aiming to foster environments that respect their mental health.
  2. Enliven energy: Energy levels should be monitored to get our employees to stay in the long run. Work should not be energy-draining. Employees should also feel that they are also getting energy from their work.
  3. Make meaning: Employees should feel that their work has meaning, that they are valued. It is essential that they see that there is room for growth within the organization, through training programs, internal promotions, etc.
  4. Leverage strengths: Create spaces for employees to develop their strengths and grow from them.

Second row: Uniting the company
This level is about connecting individuals by building relationships, fostering recognition and mastering moments.
  1. Build relationships: Create spaces for employees to interact, so that they can build meaningful relationships at work.
  2. Foster recognition: Don’t leave employee recognition to specific one-off moments coming from direct management. Establish recognition programs covering actions throughout the year that make recognition part of the company culture.
  3. Master moments: Seize every occasion to boost engagement. Finding recurring times to enhance connections and provide feedback makes employees stay present and engaged with their work.

Third row: Boosting performance
  1. Maximize performance: Provide your employees with well-defined objectives and the tools to achieve them.
  2. Mark progress: Implement a system to keep track of and communicate employees’ progress.

Top of the pyramid: Achieving results
Employees are proven to be more productive when they feel safe and valued in the workplace, when they find purpose in their work and are connected to their colleagues and feel a valued part of the organization. Therefore, designing strategies that develop every block of each row will lead to better company results.

The Deloitte model

This model was launched by Deloitte with the goal of making workplaces irresistible. In this model, culture is paramount as it is held together by these five pillars:
  1. Meaningful work: It starts with finding the right people for the job and then providing them with the tools to be able to do the work autonomously and in small teams. Small teams make employees feel more empowered as everyone has an input into decision making. They are more likely to bond as a group and to help each other. Finally, as part of this pillar, Deloitte’s research demonstrated that giving employees time to rest and to recharge during the week has a positive impact on their engagement, as it prevents burnout and exhaustion.
  2. Hands-on management: True managers do not manage work, but people. They do so by setting specific, transparent, and achievable goals that are revisited regularly. In addition, they can coach their teams to maximize their strengths. Leading companies invest in their managers' development to develop great leaders, as well as provide them with support. Finally, the model suggests reinventing annual performance appraisals, as they are focused on rating and ranking rather than on the development of the employee.
  3. Positive work environment: They are flexible workplaces, respectful of employees’ lives, with humanistic approaches that allow employees to balance work with personal life (gym, in-house day-care, etc.). They are filled with diverse teams where everyone feels valued and included. Another key driver is promoting a culture of recognition where everyone feels praised for the job they do, not only by managers, but also by peers.
  4. Growth opportunity: People need to feel they can grow and progress in their careers, and companies that provide these opportunities have less turnover risk. Organizations should offer cross-training and new learning opportunities, as a strong learning culture fuels innovation. They should also facilitate talent mobility by offering the chance to take on new assignments with the right support.
  5. Trust in leadership: This is achieved through four practices: Firstly, by creating a strong sense of purpose, by setting and communicating a company’s mission that benefits all stakeholders (employees, investors, partners and customers). The second practice is transparency, as it is a strong loyalty driver. This means ensuring rapid, open and honest communication with employees. The third key element is continuously investing in people, both through their training and time dedicated to checking on their wellbeing. Finally, leaders need to focus on inspiring their teams.

The Q12 Gallup Employee Engagement model

Gallup built its model after surveying millions of people for 50 years, and it consists of twelve employee engagement questions, phrased as statements, that tackle twelve employees’ needs that must be met for them to perform and stay engaged with their work and the company. These statements are:
  • I know what is expected of me at work.
  • I have the materials and equipment to do my work right.
  • At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • In the last 7 days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  • At work, my opinion seems to count.
  • The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel like my job is meaningful.
  • My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  • I have a best friend at work.
  • In the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  • This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow. As if they formed a pyramid, these statements aim to assess four types of needs: basic, individual, teamwork and growth. Through these actionable statements, organizations can accurately assess their employees’ engagement levels and put in place strategies to improve them.

The AON Hewitt model

This model aims to achieve three outcomes through an engaged workforce:
  • Say: Engaged employees become ambassadors for the company, before peers, promoting positive work environments, and also before prospective employees and customers.
  • Stay: Engaged employees feel part of the organization and choose to remain there, after developing strong ties, reducing the costs of turnover.
  • Strive: Engaged employees feel they play a role in the company’s mission, boosting their motivation to excel in their work.
The model proposes six engagement drivers to achieve these outcomes, classified into two categories:
  1. Foundational engagement drivers:
       - Basic needs: benefits, job security, safety, a positive work environment, work-life balance.
       - Company practices: Communication, customer focus, diversity and inclusion, enabling infrastructure.
       - The work: Tasks, accomplishments, empowerment, autonomy, collaboration.1. Foundational engagement drivers:
  2. Differentiating engagement drivers:
       - Brand: Reputation, corporate social responsibility, employee value proposition.
       - Leadership: Accessibility, direction.
       - Performance: Career opportunities, learning and development, performance management, people management, rewards and recognition.

The JD-R model

This model, designed by Arnold Bakker and Evangelia Demerouti, aims to address the limitations of other models. According to the researchers, other models cannot be applied to all industries and only address a limited number of variables. It is based on two pillars:
  1. Job demands: Physical and psychological stressors placed on employees, such as excessive workload, tight deadlines, toxic workplace relationships, etc.
  2. Job resources: The tools the company provides employees with to achieve their goals and reduce stress: Autonomy, growth opportunities, development, fluent communication with management and peers, etc.The model suggests that when job demands outweigh the resources, employees start to feel burnout and less engaged with the organization. However, higher engagement rates are achieved when companies find a balance between these two pillars, allowing employees to feel challenged but also supported and valued.

How to measure Employee Engagement

Employee engagement can be measured in a variety of ways, primarily through employee feedback. This can be done through regular feedback sessions and surveys. Surveys are the most common way to measure engagement. These surveys can include questions about job satisfaction, motivation, and commitment.

Apart from surveys, companies can measure engagement through employee performance. This includes measures such as productivity, attendance, and retention. Companies can also track employee engagement through employee turnover rates and absenteeism.

Tools for measuring employee engagement

Employee engagement surveys are designed to assess the level of engagement of employees within an organization. These surveys typically include questions about employees' attitudes towards their job, their level of commitment to the organization, and their overall satisfaction with their work. Employee engagement surveys are typically administered on a regular basis, such as annually or semi-annually.

Pulse surveys are shorter and more frequent surveys that are used to measure employee engagement, satisfaction, and other aspects of the employee experience. These surveys are typically administered on a weekly or monthly basis and are used to identify and address issues in real-time.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the way employee engagement is measured. In addition to enhancing traditional survey tools, Erudit's team of machine learning engineers, data scientists, and psychologists have developed AI technology that can measure engagement levels directly from organic team communications. This innovative approach allows organizations to more accurately assess the level of engagement of their employees in real-time, helping them to identify and address any issues as they arise.

Are surveys a reliable tool to measure engagement?

To better understand employees, not much has changed in terms of data collection. While we’ve seen surveys automated and digitized, leaders and HR departments still depend on these “self-report methods” as the primary quantitative data collection method to learn about the sentiments, needs, fears, and motivations of their workforce.

However, surveys may not be the most reliable method to measure engagement and employee sentiment in general due to the lack of frequency, the social desirability bias, low response rates, and the lag in reporting insights.

How to start developing a strategy to improve employee engagement?

Employee engagement strategies involve activities and initiatives that motivate and inspire employees to be involved in their work and contribute to the success of the organization. These strategies involve creating a positive work environment; providing employees with opportunities to develop their skills and advance their careers; encouraging collaboration; and creating a culture of recognition and appreciation.

But how do you start designing the strategy that’s right for you? Check the data first! Try to understand the reasons behind spikes and drops and engagement so you can think up initiatives that are right for your unique organization.

Employee engagement trends

These are the five key trends you should take into account when designing strategies aimed at boosting employee engagement within your organization:

1. Flexible hours and remote/hybrid work models

Offering flexibility both in time and place is a very effective way to attract and retain talent. Most employees seek to achieve a balance between their personal and work lives and companies can facilitate this by offering flexible working hours and remote and hybrid work models. These models have proven to increase employee productivity and to attract more candidates looking for new roles, as many consider the lack of these options a deal-breaker.

2. Focus on wellness and well-being

The times when stress and anxiety were considered part of the job are over. Mental and physical health are top priorities for most employees now. Companies that implement wellness programs and put mental health resources at employees’ disposal address these priorities and promote healthy and safe workspaces. Caring about your employees’ overall health not only impacts employee engagement, it also boosts loyalty and improves employee morale.

3. Employees first

Employees need to feel that their time invested in their work is worth their while, that their work has meaning. For this to happen, employers need to set clear and achievable goals and facilitate a transparent and continuous communication flow, both between leaders and employees and among peers. Leaders must acknowledge and recognise employees’ efforts and achievements, but it should also come from peers, even from different teams. Therefore, companies should implement recognition programs and ensure that employees are connected, even if working remotely, to integrate them in the company’s culture and mission.On the other hand, employers should ensure career programs for all employees, as they need to know there are opportunities to take on new challenges, to learn and to grow within the company.

4. Foster a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

Having employees from different nationalities, races, cultures, ages, sexual orientations, genders, and gender identities helps companies gain a broader perspective, promote creativity, increase productivity and improve organizational culture. Companies need to ensure that not only all sorts of backgrounds are represented. They also need to establish policies directed at promoting inclusion, which means getting everyone involved and empowered at all company levels and making everyone feel comfortable being themselves.

5. Technology as an ally

The above trends are the basis for constructing strategies and tactics designed to increase and maintain employee engagement levels that contribute to building the company culture of today. Since culture is shaped for and by people, new forms of remote and hybrid working would be an obstacle to building strong company cultures if it were not for technology.

In order to create successful employee engagement strategies, companies must invest in communication technologies that allow employees living in different cities and even countries to stay connected to each other and to the organization's leaders. There are plenty of software programs and other technological tools that facilitate this, and many others directed at implementing recognition programs.
In addition, there are software programs that automate and simplify tasks, ensure employee autonomy and allow them to focus on other areas of their work that require special attention. They minimize the need for multitasking and, as a consequence, reduce stress levels.

Finally, there are numerous tools that provide diverse and vast training programs remotely. These tools allow companies to implement strategies that ensure employee growth, and they are a great opportunity to boost engagement from this perspective for companies where there are no possibilities for employee promotion.

Choosing the right employee engagement software

Employee engagement software tools help companies identify areas to implement engagement strategies that drive productivity and growth. This is what you need to consider in order to pick the most suitable employee engagement software:
  1. Identify your company's needs and set goals based on those needs. Establish what strategies you are planning to implement to achieve your objectives.
  2. Consider the features of the software and determine if they are aligned with your objectives and if they can add value to the business.
  3. Request demos and free trials so that you can make an informed decision.
  4. Be sure to check the technology behind the service to see if it is reliable and consistent in providing data analytics.
  5. Analyze the level of integration between the software and your current communication technology and other tools that are relevant to your business.
  6. Ensure that the software you choose is user-friendly, since they should be able to simplify employees' day-to-day work activities rather than becoming something they find difficult to manage once they are up and running.

Learn how we can help you improve employee engagement!

Learn more
Sharing options

Related resources on Employee Engagement