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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 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.

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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 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.

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