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What Is Employee Engagement?

What is employee engagement

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 top­ic often dis­cussed by human resources pro­fes­sion­als and busi­ness lead­ers. Employ­ee engage­ment is the key to dri­ving per­for­mance and lead­ing a suc­cess­ful organ­i­sa­tion — at least, it is accord­ing to employ­ee engage­ment research.

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 uni­ver­sal, stan­dard def­i­n­i­tion for employ­ee engage­ment — per­haps because the con­cept is so 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, their work and their organ­i­sa­tion. When the right con­di­tions are in place, an employ­ee becomes engaged with their work, under­stands (and is pas­sion­ate about) the pur­pose of the com­pa­ny — and is moti­vat­ed to play their part in the organ­i­sa­tion’s success. 

Employ­ee engage­ment rests upon authen­tic com­mu­ni­ca­tion, trust and respect. It’s more than just an employee’s com­mit­ment toward their organ­i­sa­tion — it’s also a result of an organisation’s com­mit­ment towards its peo­ple. An engaged employ­ee works because they are enthu­si­as­tic about their work — and they work at your organ­i­sa­tion because they care about your par­tic­u­lar organ­i­sa­tion and they want it to suc­ceed. This results in increased dis­cre­tionary effort and an improved com­mit­ment to organ­i­sa­tion­al goals.

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 back 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 that they had. Engage­ment is a word that sug­gests betrothal — the deci­sion to com­mit to a role, an iden­ti­ty and a rela­tion­ship that offers fulfilment.”

So although dis­cus­sion sur­round­ing employ­ee engage­ment has evolved over the years, we must bring it back to its fun­da­men­tals when we con­sid­er employ­ee engage­ment strate­gies — that being a com­mit­ment between the organ­i­sa­tion and its employees.

Signs of an Engaged Employee

So what does an engaged employ­ee look like? Below are a few signs:

  • Pos­i­tiv­i­ty and enthu­si­asm — An engaged employ­ee goes to work know­ing what they are meant to be doing. They are excit­ed to get their job done and they are hap­py to be there. 
  • Con­fi­dence — Engaged employ­ees are gen­er­al­ly con­fi­dent. This can present itself in dif­fer­ent ways — con­fi­dence in their skill set or abil­i­ty to get their goals achieved, the courage to speak up and con­tribute dur­ing meet­ings and the belief that their input is val­ued. Engaged employ­ees are also con­fi­dent they either have — or can get — all the tools and train­ing they need to per­form their job well.
  • Inquis­i­tive­ness — Engaged employ­ees don’t just want a nine-to-five. They are inter­est­ed in their role and the com­pa­ny in gen­er­al. They want to know every­thing about the func­tion of their role and how the com­pa­ny is run­ning, how it is pro­gress­ing towards organ­i­sa­tion­al objec­tives and what obsta­cles it may be up against.
  • 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. They 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 be resolved.
  • Col­lab­o­ra­tion — Engaged employ­ees have a col­lab­o­ra­tive out­look. They aren’t just inter­est­ed in their work; they want their cowork­ers to suc­ceed, too.
  • Ambi­tion — Just because an employ­ee engages with their work doesn’t mean they don’t have aspi­ra­tions. Engaged employ­ees are eager to learn and advance with­in the company.
  • Involve­ment in goal set­ting — When an employ­ee engages with their work, they will show more of an inter­est in their objec­tives and want to take own­er­ship over these objec­tives, through a col­lab­o­ra­tive process with their line manager.

The Busi­ness Ben­e­fits of Employ­ee Engagement

Employ­ee engage­ment ini­tia­tives aren’t easy to imple­ment. They will take time to roll out and time to per­fect. Below are a few rea­sons as to why this effort is worth the time in terms of your bot­tom line:

  • Engaged employ­ees go that extra mile. They put in over­time when need­ed, often with­out being asked or prompt­ed. They are com­mit­ted to excel­lent work.
  • Accord­ing to Tow­ers Per­rin, com­pa­nies with engaged employ­ees have 6% high­er net mar­gins.
  • Anoth­er source sug­gests engaged com­pa­nies enjoy five times high­er stake­hold­er returns over five years.
  • Engaged employ­ees lead to a high­er qual­i­ty of ser­vice for your com­pa­ny, which leads to high­er lev­els of cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion, increased sales and high­er lev­els of profit.
  • Engaged employ­ees are proud of their organ­i­sa­tion, mean­ing they become advo­cates. They 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.
  • Engaged employ­ees are linked to low­er lev­els of staff turnover, which will save your com­pa­ny sub­stan­tial amounts of mon­ey over the years.
  • Engaged employ­ees are more con­fi­dent to speak up at work, lead­ing to greater lev­els of inno­va­tion and allow­ing you to improve your prod­ucts, ser­vices and process­es to remain competitive.
  • Employ­ee engage­ment also links to low­er lev­els of absen­teeism 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 impor­tant to address com­mon mis­con­cep­tions and mis­un­der­stand­ings. One area of con­fu­sion relates to morale. An engaged employ­ee is not the same as a hap­py employ­ee. An employ­ee might be hap­py at work with­out being at all engaged with their work. Some­one can be hap­py with­out work­ing hard or being pro­duc­tive. Your com­pa­ny might have a great games room; it might offer great perks and ear­ly end times on Fri­days. Although employ­ees might be hap­py in this kind of envi­ron­ment, that doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean they engage with their work. That being said, engaged employ­ees are gen­er­al­ly hap­pi­er as a result, 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 also prob­a­bly 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 so sim­ply and your employ­ees will see through these attempts.

Com­po­nents of Employ­ee Engagement

To improve lev­els of employ­ee engage­ment, it’s impor­tant to look at its com­po­nents. There are three envi­ron­ments which affect and build the employ­ee expe­ri­ence, and these envi­ron­ments will also play a role in how engaged an employ­ee is:

The Phys­i­cal Environment


  • Are the chairs comfortable?
  • What kind of office is it, and is this con­ducive to employ­ee engage­ment? Is it an open-plan office? Do you have cubi­cles, or is every­one in their sep­a­rate office? Office lay­out can play a major role in terms of employ­ee engage­ment.
  • Is there enough nat­ur­al light?
  • Do your employ­ees get enough fresh air?

The Tech­ni­cal Environment


  • What is the state of your hard­ware? Is it reg­u­lar­ly updat­ed or is your hard­ware hard to oper­ate? Clunky hard­ware, such as com­put­ers, can be frus­trat­ing for employ­ee and add time to employ­ee tasks.
  • Is soft­ware easy to use and intu­itive, or is it over­ly-com­pli­cat­ed? (at Clear Review, we have gone to great efforts to ensure our per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware is sim­ple to use)
  • Is the soft­ware hold­ing up work or facil­i­tat­ing it?

The Cul­tur­al Environment


  • Are your employ­ees aligned with com­pa­ny val­ues and culture?
  • What is com­mu­ni­ca­tion like at your organ­i­sa­tion? Do you require trans­paren­cy from your employ­ees and your man­agers? Are there one-on-ones ongo­ing between employ­ee and man­ag­er and are there var­i­ous chan­nels for communication?
  • Are your company’s process­es streamlined?
  • Is there unnec­es­sary red tape?
  • 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? Are employ­ees empow­ered to own up to, and dis­cuss their slip-ups?
  • Are efforts put in place to moti­vate your employees?
  • Are your employ­ees challenged?
  • Do your employ­ees have autonomy?
  • Do they have rea­son­able SMART objec­tives? 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?
  • What are rela­tion­ships like between cowork­ers? Are employ­ees sup­port­ive of one anoth­er or are there ele­ments of a tox­ic work envi­ron­ment — bul­ly­ing, etc.

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 that can be used to mea­sure employ­ee engagement:

  1. One on ones between employ­ee and man­ag­er — Reg­u­lar per­for­mance dis­cus­sions allow employ­ee and 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 terms of sup­port and recog­ni­tion. Reg­u­lar meet­ings enable you to mea­sure engage­ment over time.
  2. Employ­ee engage­ment sur­veys — Employ­ee engage­ment sur­veys are great if you want to exam­ine and tack­le a par­tic­u­lar issue with­in your organ­i­sa­tion. Sur­veys can quan­tifi­ably mea­sure how engaged employ­ees are at a giv­en time, on a par­tic­u­lar topic. 
  3. Pulse sur­veys — This method of mea­sure­ment is used peri­od­i­cal­ly and fair­ly fre­quent­ly. Pulse sur­veys are short, sweet and incred­i­bly help­ful when it comes to 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 — Sim­i­lar to 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 lev­els of engage­ment in your organ­i­sa­tion, book a free employ­ee engage­ment soft­ware demo today.

To dis­cov­er how we’re trans­form­ing engage­ment in the work­place, check out our new eBook.