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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 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.

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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.

Boost engage­ment in the workplace

To dis­cov­er how Clear Review is trans­form­ing engage­ment in the work­place, check out our new eBook.

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