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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.