Gallup’s 2020 study on employee engagement and performance found a substantial reduction in adverse outcomes and an increase in positive impacts with an engaged workforce.
Engaged employees led to:
- 23% increase in profitability
- 18% increase in sales
- 10% increase in customer loyalty
- 81% decrease in absenteeism
- 64% decrease in accidents and injuries
- 28% reduction in theft
- 18% reduction in turnover (high turnover organizations)
- 43% reduction in turnover (low turnover organizations)
What is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is the involvement and enthusiasm an employee has for their organization as a whole and for their work within that company. Engaged employees care about their contribution to the company’s mission and their team and see work as more than just a place to earn a paycheck.
When people find meaning and purpose in their work, they are more likely to use discretionary effort or go the extra mile even if no one is watching. These employees may recommend the organization and stay longer. Even if it means spending more time at work, they may still help their coworker finish the project and treat the last customer of the day with the same energy and professionalism as they did the first.
“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”– Simon Sinek
Why is Employee Engagement Important?
When employees feel excited and committed to their organization, their engagement is high, which leads to better performance and productivity.
What is an Employee Engagement Strategy (and Why Do You Need One)?
An employee engagement strategy intentionally focuses on creating an environment that promotes a positive emotional connection between an employee and the organization. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that employees perform better, stay longer, sell more, and increase the company’s profits.
A Forbes poll found 90% of managers believe employee engagement is a crucial factor in a company’s success, but 75% of them didn’t have an employee engagement plan.
Additional research from Zenefits showed that 63.3% of companies surveyed find it harder to retain employees than to hire them, which is why having an employee engagement plan is critical to a company’s long-term success.
Common plan elements include:
- How engagement will be measured. Will it be an employee engagement survey, interviews with a third-party consultant, or another tool?
- Specific and measurable goals. These might include metrics such as how often engagement activities occur, an increase in employee retention, or some other quantifiable approach to evaluating the success of your efforts.
- A budget for engagement-related initiatives. While many of the components of employee engagement revolve around attitudes and actions, it’s nice to include funding for activities as well.
- Tactics for improving engagement. Will they be the same for each person, team, or department? How will managers be supported in their efforts?
7 Engagement Builders For an Effective Employee Engagement Strategy
Jack Zenger, CEO of Zenger/Folkman, says that specific behaviors differentiate good leaders from bad ones. And because managers have such a significant impact on an employee’s job satisfaction and engagement, it’s critical that leaders know these eight engagement-killers and how to transform them into engagement-builders.
Engagement Builder #1: Connect employees to the story
Every inspiring company has a story, and the more employees hear the stories and understand the impact the organization has on customers, the more connected they will feel. By understanding the company’s core values and influence, they can become some of your best ambassadors and advocates for acquiring new customers and recruiting stellar employees.
For example, if the company manufactures infrared chips and your technology saved the life of a firefighter or helped law enforcement catch drug smugglers, share those stories with your employees. These connect the product to a purpose, which then helps deepen engagement.
To further highlight the company’s purpose, consider adding your mission statement to your email signature, print it on vibrant posters in the break room, and write about it in the employee newsletter. Or try one of these 23 free (or nearly free ways) to share it widely.
Engagement Builder #2: Create trust
According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, 58% of people say they trust strangers more than their own boss, which has a significant effect on employee engagement. Unfortunately, one rotten apple can poison the team’s dynamic.
Managers can spend time one-on-one to understand each employee and work to build relationships. A work culture with regular touchpoints gives employees the sense that their manager knows what’s going on and cares about them as individuals. This can be as simple as checking in regularly and following up on topics an employee has referenced previously.
For example, if they mentioned an idea or new approach to a problem, ask them about it in a non-threatening way. Hey [insert name]. I remember you mentioned implementing a new approach and was curious if you had a chance to try it. How did it go?
Managers can find it difficult to allocate time to build trust with every direct report individually. You might incorporate trust-building activities, like games, projects, and icebreakers, into your meetings. Our 12 Non-Awkward Team Building Activities That Build Trust will help get you started.
With a small investment of time–from a few minutes to an hour–you can improve these important relationships, which are vital to the overall health of the company.
Engagement Builder #3: Develop community
People leave work environments where each day feels like a round of the Hunger Games. It’s just not enjoyable to compete with your coworkers. Instead of pushing people to that level of stress, create an environment where the outcomes are seen as joint efforts, and when the organization succeeds, it’s because of the team’s efforts.
Here’s one activity that builds community rather than competition within the workplace. It’s called Start, Stop, Continue. It’s an exercise that can be done annually, bi-annually, or monthly to have a team check-in. It encourages everyone to contribute and can be done in person or virtually. Start, Stop, Continue also serves as a reminder of the business goals and how each team member’s tasks support those goals.
Check out the full video on Start, Stop, Continue to learn more:
When employees feel seen and heard and hear from those around them, they are much more engaged and invested in the company’s success.
Engagement Builder #4: Model engagement
If you give lip service to the virtues of engagement, but your heart is not really in it, your employees lose respect for you, and your lackluster attitude will be cancer to your organization.
The best managers are the ones who genuinely believe in the company’s mission and model the behaviors they want their employees to emulate. If you are passionate about your work, you will inspire passion in others.
Also, managers who know their employees and their strengths and opportunities for growth are more effective at their jobs and build highly-productive teams. Learn more about How to Be a Good Manager.
Engagement Builder #5: Develop team members’ strengths
People like to feel good about what they are doing at work, and they enjoy continual opportunities for growth. They want to be challenged without feeling overwhelmed. Research found that when people feel they get to use their talents, skills, and knowledge, they are more likely to stay at a job, and when they don’t have growth opportunities, they look for a new job.
Managers can seek ways to understand the core strengths of their employees and align the work with these attributes as much as possible. Additionally, managers can provide opportunities for skill development and growth, leading toward professional confidence.
Practical ways for organizations to support professional development:
- Educational stipends
- Pay for industry conferences
- Encourage (and fund!) soft skill development
- Create a mentorship program within the organization
- Bring in speakers to teach new skills or inspire diverse thinking
- Create additional positions in the corporate structure to keep employees while they grow in their careers
- Help employees from feeling burned out
Get Unstuck And Beat Burnout
Do you need to recharge? Are you burnt out? It’s not your fault!
Learn the science behind your burnout and use my framework for getting unstuck, increasing your energy, and preventing burnout from happening again.
Engagement Builder #6: Communicate clearly and often
Lack of clarity can be frustrating for most people, and when at work, clear expectations lead to more satisfaction and engagement. Morale increases and the overall work environment is more productive. It’s an obvious way to improve the company without spending a dime.
Gallup workplace research explored 12 different needs of employees, and knowing what is expected of them at work topped the list. More specifically, the study found that only one in two employees strongly agreed that they knew what was expected of them at work. They went on to say that by increasing that ratio to eight in ten, organizations could realize a 22% reduction in turnover, a 29% reduction in safety incidents, and a 10% increase in productivity.
Help colleagues get excited about their roles in the workplace by explaining how their work fits into the larger company. Knowing how they contribute to the bigger picture creates meaning and inspires better performance. Additionally, setting clear expectations provides structure and clarity.
Engagement Builder #7: Embrace team differences
There is often more than one way to solve a problem. Ask people for their thoughts and opinions. It doesn’t mean you need to act on them, but it does help people feel heard and that their input is respected.
When bringing your team together, look for people who can sharpen each other through creative and diverse thinking. By having individuals with varied life experiences, cultures, and backgrounds, your team can be more innovative, effective, and dynamic in problem-solving.
Make it easy for team members to share without being chastised or attacked by others with different thoughts.
Learn more about managing cultural differences in the workplace.
13 Effective Employee Engagement Tactics for Increasing Engagement with Burned-Out Employees
According to a 2022-2023 Aflac WorkForces Report, more than half (59%) of American workers are experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout, a notable increase over 2021 (52%) and on par with the levels reported in 2020.
But while only 32% of U.S. employees overall are engaged, the encouraging news is that there are companies that have increased their engagement to an average of 70%, and they are Gallup’s Exceptional Workplace Award Winners. This is how they are working to engage their teams with outstanding success:
Plan trust-building activities
When your employees like each other, they are more likely to be invested in the team’s success. But to get there, they have to trust each other first. Activities help teams establish and maintain connections and can boost employee engagement by as much as 50%.
Trust-building activities might include:
- Teaching each other a skill such as knitting, origami, and how to roll sushi
- Playing a game–anyone up for Trivial Pursuit, Uno, or Chess?
- Watching professional development video
- Visiting an escape room together
- Taking a class for fun
Try our 12 Non-Awkward Team Building Activities That Build Trust guide to move your team to the next level.
Support flexible communication
Push out information to your employees in ways that are easy for them to access based on diverse schedules. Look to a variety of creative forms of communication—e.g., virtual team meetings, video messages, podcasts, a company app, text, or phone messages to reach the entire company but use local managers to keep teams informed about critical information and organizational changes.
Icebreakers at every meeting
Plan activities and icebreakers for teams working remotely and in-person to encourage collegiality and boost employee engagement. Rotate who is in charge of providing the icebreakers at each meeting to get everyone involved.
Find 35 Fun Meeting Icebreakers to Warm Up Any Meeting for your workplace, as well as icebreakers specifically for virtual work environments.
Support overall well-being as part of workplace happiness
Contrary to the popular phrase “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…”, what happens at work affects individuals outside of the office, and what happens at home affects the workplace.
By recognizing employees as whole people with diverse social, financial, physical, emotional, and career needs, companies can provide resources to maintain and increase well-being in these areas.
Start by encouraging wellness breaks with these 22 Must-Try Techniques To Ground Yourself (That Work!)
As with icebreakers, riddles get peers talking. But this form of collaboration can be less intimidating for those who prefer not to answer personal questions. Consider these two examples to get you going.
They look like twin brothers, both sturdy and tall. They work together and go everywhere together. But they only go near solid food and do not care for soup. Who are they?
George, Helen, and Steve are drinking coffee. Bert, Karen, and Dave are drinking soda. Using logic, is Elizabeth drinking coffee or soda?
Elizabeth is drinking coffee. The letter E appears twice in her name, as it does in the names of the others that are drinking coffee.
If you want to find other great ideas, try one of 150 Icebreaker Riddles To Energize Your Next Group Meeting.
Start a book group
Reading a book about teamwork, collaboration, communication strategies, and other professional development topics is a great way to open a discussion about new strategies and expectations among your team. Try one of these 11 team-building books.
If you need to build the interpersonal side of the team, consider having each person pick a book, fiction or non-fiction, to read and discuss over a team lunch. This will encourage individual personalities to shine through by their choices and thoughts about each book.
Discover your personality
Everyone has a unique style, and knowing about each other can improve collaboration, productivity, and general satisfaction. Consider taking our free personality test to understand where fall on the big five personality traits—openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
Sharing this information can help managers motivate their employees in powerful and effective ways and can help teams with collaboration and connection.
Plan an internal retreat
Set aside a chunk of time for several activities for your team. Consider incorporating different types of activities—physical, creative, listening & processing, speaking—and, of course, always have something to eat or drink.
Be intentional about the purpose of the gathering and let people know ahead of time what to expect. What should they wear? Where will it be? Is there any preparation material? Will someone take notes?
Priya Parker’s Rules of Gathering Guide offers some brilliant suggestions on how to structure your meeting for purpose and intentionality.
Appreciate your employees
Employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback annually. But top performers who don’t receive regular feedback are 2-3 times more likely to leave the organization within a year.
Take time to appreciate your employees and peers with regular gratitude. Catch people doing things right. A simple verbal thank you or email offering a specific appreciation can be very effective in maintaining a positive work environment where people feel valued. Here are 30 Fun Ways to Make Employees Feel Valued & Appreciated.
Promote whole-person wellness
When employees feel good—mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally—and their responsibilities at home are taken care of, they are more likely to do their best in the office. Along with recognizing each employee as an individual, companies can provide additional perks or benefits:
- Flexible work schedule to accommodate school drop-offs and workouts
- Casual work attire to encourage movement throughout the workday
- A wellness class stipend
- Discounted healthy food delivery options
- Yoga classes during lunch
- Meditation spaces
- Flexible schedules
- Healthy break-room options
- Annual health checkups
- Free on-site massage therapists
- Community-supported agriculture food discounts
- Employee assistance plan
- Continuing education assistance
Be transparent about business decisions
When employees see the company’s values at the center of the decision-making, they are more likely to trust the leadership. During the height of the pandemic, some companies built employee engagement by doing what was good for their people, even if it meant unbudgeted short-term expenditures or flexible work arrangements.
Consider putting your organizational culture and values front and center.
- Ask people to share their interpretation of these values
- Have teams work together to create an art piece around these values
- Create a meal using these values
- Suggest accountability partners for maintaining the culture
Learn more about the science of being a good leader at work.
Familiarize yourself with ESG
Employees, customers, and shareholders are becoming increasingly interested in how sustainable organizations are, and this could affect how engaged your employees are. They may ask how your company ranks on environmental, social, and governance standards (ESG).
Gallup is monitoring and providing research on ESG and employee engagement. Specifically, they’re tracking responses to these five statements:
- If I raised a concern about ethics and integrity, I am confident my employer would do what is right.
- At work, I am treated with respect.
- There is someone at work who encourages my development.
- My organization cares about my overall wellbeing.
- My organization makes a positive impact on people and the planet.
They eventually plan to offer a database of responses that will let organizations compare how they are doing compared to other companies through the lens of ESG.
For now, this is an emerging area to watch and be aware of. Read more about ESG and employee engagement here.
Three Simple Things to Remember About Employee Engagement
It starts with you. Regardless of your position in the organization, your actions and attitudes matter.
Connect the dots. Work without meaning and impact is just work—a paycheck to be earned and a place to spend time. But work with purpose is engaging, exciting, and impactful. Help others understand the impact your company has on real lives.
See the individual. Whether you work at a large organization or a smaller one, companies are made up of individuals with unique skills, talents, experience, and situations outside the office. Get to know your coworkers personally so you can appreciate them for who they are and the unique perspective they bring.
If you loved this article, you might enjoy these 40+ Statistics on Burnout in the Workplace You Can’t Ignore.