Let’s get to the bottom of employee engagement — what it means, where the concept began and how increased engagement levels can impact business performance.
Employee engagement continues to be a key priority for human resources professionals and business leaders. This concept is crucial to driving performance and leading a successful organisation. Research from Harvard Business Review shows that 81% of business executives strongly agree that highly engaged employees perform better.
To understand how we can improve levels of employee engagement, we will look at the definition of employee engagement, the drivers of engagement and how elevated levels of engagement improve business outcomes.
What is employee engagement?
There is no one universal definition for employee engagement, perhaps because the concept is multifaceted. However, we can start simple and build up to explore the more complex areas of the topic.
Put very simply, employee engagement is about the trust, and emotional commitment employees have towards their roles, work, managers, and overall organisation. When the right conditions are in place, an employee becomes engaged with their work, understands the company’s purpose — and is motivated to play their part in the organisation’s success.
Employee engagement is reliant on authentic communication, trust and respect. It’s more than just an employee’s commitment toward their organisation — it’s also the result of an organisation’s commitment to its people.
To understand the concept further, read about why employee engagement is important
Who coined the term, employee engagement?
Though it might feel like employee engagement is a relatively new concept, it was first coined in a 1990 paper titled Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work by Professor William Kahn of Boston University. In a 2015 interview with Workforce, Kahn described how he ended up using this particular phraseology:
“I used ‘engagement’ and ‘disengagement’ because those words evoke very clearly the movements that people make toward and away from their work, other people and the roles they had. Engagement is a word that suggests betrothal — the decision to commit to a role, an identity and a relationship that offers fulfilment.”
Although discussion surrounding employee engagement has evolved over the years, we must bring it back to its fundamentals when considering employee engagement strategies.
Signs of an engaged employee
So what does an engaged employee look like? Below are a few signs:
Positivity and enthusiasm — An engaged employee is enthusiastic about their work and expresses positivity about their job.
Confidence — Engaged employees are generally confident. This can present itself in different ways — confidence in their skill set or ability to achieve their goals, the courage to speak up and contribute during meetings and the belief that their input is valued.
Inquisitiveness — Engaged employees don’t just want a nine-to-five. They are interested in their role and are keen to learn about company progression.
Fulfilment — Engaged employees enjoy a sense of fulfilment from doing their job and doing it well. This sense of fulfilment should come across loud and clear in performance discussions with their line managers.
Open communication — Engaged employees seek feedback and want to know how they are performing. On top of that, they are also keen to deliver feedback. They let managers and coworkers know how their work is going and discuss potential roadblocks and how they can resolve them.
Collaboration — Engaged employees have a collaborative outlook. They aren’t just interested in their work; they want their coworkers to succeed, too.
Ambition — As well as being interested in and committed to their work, engaged employees have aspirations. They are eager to learn and advance within the company.
Involvement in goal setting — When an employee engages with their work, they will show more interest in their objectives and want to take ownership over these through a collaborative process with their line manager.
The key to employee engagement
Learn more about employee engagement from our collection of free resources. You'll discover how you can boost performance and productivity through improving employee engagement.
The business benefits of employee engagement
Employee engagement initiatives aren’t easy to implement — they will take time to roll out and perfect.
This effort is worth the time, however, as engaged employees will:
Go the extra mile. They put in overtime when needed, often without being asked or prompted.
Boost profits. According to research from Gallup, companies with a highly engaged workforce have 21% higher profitability.
Another source suggests companies with engaged employees enjoy five times higher stakeholder returns over five years.
Contribute to the company’s success, achieving higher levels of customer satisfaction, increased sales and higher profit levels.
Be proud of their organisation and become advocates. Engaged employees are more likely to speak positively about their company on social media or to other talented potential employees, which can do wonders for your recruitment efforts.
Be linked to lower levels of staff turnover, which will save your company substantial amounts of money over the years.
Be more confident to speak up at work, leading to greater levels of innovation. This will help you improve your products, services and processes to remain competitive.
This results in lower absenteeism levels or behavioural issues such as leaving work too early or arriving later than expected.
If you want to benefit from an engaged workforce, but you don’t know where your company is going wrong, check out these common barriers to employee engagement.
Misconceptions about employee engagement
When defining employee engagement, it’s crucial to address common misconceptions and misunderstandings. One area of confusion relates to morale, as many business leaders believe that being happy at work is the same as being engaged. These two things are not the same, and an employee may be happy with their role without being productive or engaged with their work.
Your company may also offer benefits that you feel will improve engagement, but this isn’t always the case. Just because your company has a great games room and lets staff finish early on Fridays doesn’t necessarily mean that employees will feel engaged. However, engaged employees are generally happier due to the enthusiasm they have for their roles.
Equally, employee engagement is not the same as employee satisfaction. Employee satisfaction sets the bar too low — it means an employee will do their job and do it without much complaint, but this doesn’t mean the employee will put in any discretionary effort. A satisfied employee wouldn’t think twice about jumping ship for a competitor if they were offered an increase in pay or added perks.
The most important thing to remember is employee engagement goes beyond perks such as games, activities, events — even pay. You can’t buy employee engagement, and employees will see through such attempts.
Components of employee engagement
To improve employee engagement, it’s necessary to look at its components. Three environments affect employee experience and engagement:
The physical environment
The office environment can play a significant role in employee engagement levels, so what can be done to improve the layout?
Is the desk set-up comfortable?
Are there features in place for disabled employees?
Is your office layout ergonomically designed and conducive to employee engagement?
Is there enough natural light?
Do your employees get enough fresh air?
Do employees benefit from a hybrid or remote working policy, and are their home set-ups suitable?
The technical environment
What is the state of your hardware? Is it regularly updated or difficult to operate?
Is the software intuitive and easy to navigate, or is it overly complicated? (At Advanced Clear Review, we have made great efforts to ensure our performance management software is simple to use).
The cultural environment
Are your employees aligned with company values and culture?
What is communication like at your organisation? Is there transparency between employees and managers?
Are your company’s processes streamlined?
Are employees getting enough feedback?
Do you do all you can to ensure a healthy work-life balance?
Does the workplace insist employees have downtime to avoid burnout?
Do you reward and recognise effort and achievements?
Are there healthy social connections and bonds within your organisation?
What are the levels of psychological safety like at your organisation?
Do your employees feel challenged?
Do they have agile objectives to work toward? Collaborative goal setting is something that can drive employee engagement.
Do employees understand how their goals support organisational objectives and direction?
Do they have scope for progression or development?
How can we effectively and accurately measure employee engagement?
Employee engagement isn’t a one-off endeavour — it requires ongoing monitoring and support. Below are a few techniques and tools you can use to measure employee engagement:
1. One to one meetings between employee and manager — Regular performance discussions allow an employee and their manager to build relationships. They also allow managers to ask for feedback on how the employee is doing or give employees what they need in support and recognition. Regular meetings enable you to measure engagement over time.
2. Employee engagement surveys — Employee engagement surveys are excellent for examining and tackling particular issues within your organisation. Surveys can quantifiably measure how engaged employees are at a given time on a specific topic.
3. Pulse surveys — This method of measurement is used periodically and reasonably frequently. Pulse surveys are short, sweet and incredibly helpful for tracking engagement over time.
4. Joiners surveys — Employee engagement begins before an employee is hired. Joiners surveys allow you to measure and determine how engaged your candidates are during the recruitment process and where you can improve.
5. Leavers surveys — Like the exit interview, leavers surveys can help you determine how engaged your exiting employees are while exploring reasons for leaving. The results of such studies can be used to improve the employee experience for your current employees.
6. Focus groups — Sometimes, employees are more empowered to speak up as part of a group. Focus groups allow you to deep dive into core topics.
How to improve employee engagement
When discussing methods of improving employee engagement, we can look to William Kahn, who says:
“Approach employees as true partners, involving them in continuous dialogues and processes about how to design and alter their roles, tasks and working relationships — which means that leaders need to make it safe enough for employees to speak openly of their experiences at work.
It all begins with communication — something we’re passionate about here at Clear Review. By enabling conversations, you can build relationships, trust, and commitment, which inevitably results in a deeply engaged workforce.
If you are looking for performance management software to boost employee engagement within your organisation, book an Employee Engagement Software demo today.