Employee engagement: Definition, examples, and strategies
Engaged employees tend to have higher retention rates, provide better service, and increase company profitability.
By Court Bishop, Contributing Writer
Last updated June 16, 2023
Imagine what would happen if every employee in your organization was fully committed, motivated, and invested in their work. Just think of all the things your business could achieve.
When employee engagement is high, it’s more than likely your team will do their best work, which positively impacts the company as a whole with benefits such as improved customer retention, reduced employee turnover, and more revenue (to name a few).
For some business leaders, this concept of complete employee engagement seems unattainable—but it doesn’t have to be. Increasing workforce engagement often comes down to listening to your team’s ideas and complaints, celebrating their successes, helping them find meaning in mundane tasks, and enabling them to make the most of their personal and professional lives.
Now, we’ll admit that achieving complete engagement may seem like a tall order, but follow the best practices in this article, and you’re well on your way to making company-wide employee engagement a reality.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is the connection workers have with their job and workplace. It also measures team members’ commitment to their job and overall enthusiasm for contributing to the success of the company they work for.
An engaged workforce is highly self-motivated. These employees take pride in their work because they have mental and emotional investments in it.
For engaged employees, the “bare minimum” doesn’t apply—they will frequently go above and beyond their expectations for the job. This level of engagement often leads to positive business outcomes. Regarding customer service, employee engagement translates to thoughtful, helpful support and satisfied customers.
Unfortunately, as the numbers stand, most employees aren’t engaged and are more likely to spend their time watching the clock than taking initiative. According to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report, only 21 percent of employees feel engaged at work.
To ensure that your employees don’t become a part of that statistic, follow the five Cs to encourage engagement in the workplace.
What are the 5 Cs of employee engagement?
Business owners and management teams can use the 5 Cs of employee engagement—career, congratulate, connect, convey, credibility—as a memory aid to keep employees engaged.
Ideally, your employees will look for a career rather than just clocking in to pay the bills. While you can’t control someone else’s passions, drive, or reasons for working, you can create internal promotion opportunities to incentivize employees to stick around and put in effort.
When employees have something to look forward to and feel challenged professionally, it increases the chances they will continue to engage with your company.
Give credit where it’s due. Many employees feel that negative feedback is swift, but praise for a job well done is much less common. While prompt feedback on mistakes is crucial for growth and resolving issues, it can be easy for management to get busy and forget to congratulate employees on their wins. A little recognition can go a long way when working towards employee engagement.
If you expect employees to engage with the work and the team, you need to make an effort to connect with them, too. By helping your employees forge connections with their team, managers, and clients, you’re encouraging them to put down roots at the company.
When employees feel good about where they work, it can result in an increase in employee engagement and retention rates, as well as help team members stay focused on company goals and day-to-day tasks.
People want to know that their hard work matters. Another way you can motivate your employees to engage is by explaining how they impact your company’s success. You can do this through the following methods:
- Set clear goals for employees.
- Explain how you plan to measure their performance.
- Maintain ongoing conversations around performance to avoid confusion and dissatisfaction during formal performance reviews.
- Take the time to pull hard data that shows your employees’ successes.
- Provide actionable suggestions for improvement.
Build credibility with your employees to keep engagement high. For many people, working for an ethical company is a top priority. Otherwise, they may begin to:
- Experience problems in their professional lives
- Endure higher stress levels
- Feel badly about their continued contributions
While it’s recommended to run a respectable company, taking employee and customer feedback seriously is not only important for employee engagement but for good for company-wide improvements. For companies ready to boost their reputation even more, consider playing up your company’s values.
Hopefully, you defined your company’s core values prior to opening for business, or, at the very least, have started thinking about what they are. Rather than keeping these core values to yourself or confining them to the company handbook, think about how to show your values through your work and brainstorm ways to get your employees involved.
Common employee engagement misnomers
Employee engagement can manifest in several different ways, but there are some things it is not. And while the following terms may sound similar, they have distinct, interconnected meanings. Here are some common employee engagement misnomers:
- Employee experience (EX): EX refers to an employee’s overall journey at a company, from the moment they sign their employment contract and complete the onboarding process to their last day on the job. It includes how others at the organization treated them, their thoughts about the work culture, and their feelings about the company as a whole.
- Employee engagement: This is a byproduct of the larger employee experience. If the experience is positive, employees will likely feel invested in their work and the company’s mission.
- Employee satisfaction: This measures how happy or unhappy an employee is with their job and the company they work for, but it doesn’t account for how involved they are in business activities and outcomes.
Why is employee engagement important? 3 top benefits
Employee engagement has several benefits—the most important being the positive impact engaged employees have on business.
Not only are your employees responsible for the satisfaction of your customers, but they also play a critical role in the revenue-generating process. If you don’t care for your employees, your business will reflect it.
Luckily, prioritizing employee engagement is possible and can result in several added benefits to your business. Here are the top three:
- Higher employee retention rates: When employees are happy at a company, they tend to want to stay, reducing turnover and, ultimately, hiring costs.
- Better customer experiences: Create a workplace employees want to be a part of so they will be passionate about providing outstanding service. This boost in work quality may ultimately lead to higher customer satisfaction, brand advocacy, and repeat business.
- More efficient budget use: When employee engagement is high, team productivity typically is, too. As employees work more efficiently, your business may see better results for the same cost, which is great for profits.
1. Higher employee retention rates
Typically, engaged employees will stay with a company longer than those who feel disengaged.
Gallup research reveals that low engagement typically results in higher turnover rates—as much as 18 to 43 percent higher than teams with strong engagement.
An organization’s employee retention improves when:
- Team members are confident they’ll be recognized and appreciated for their work.
- Workers are aware of professional growth and career development opportunities.
- Staff understands when and why business changes may occur.
When employee engagement improves, it strengthens the trust between employees and their employers, often leading to decreased turnover.
2. Better customer experiences
As we discussed earlier, engaged employees are more likely to go beyond the call of duty and often translates to better customer experiences (CX). Some ways team members can provide better customer service include:
- Listening attentively to customer needs
- Empathizing with frustrated customers
- Brainstorming thoughtful and innovative solutions
- Learning from past mistakes
Understandably, companies that create good employee experiences for their teams tend to outperform competitors regarding customer service and the overall CX.
Customer service improves when frontline employees show up every day with positive energy, passion, and purpose. When employees believe in their company’s mission and enjoy what they do, they’ll be more committed to providing standout service and finding solutions.
3. More team productivity
According to a study by Gallup, engaged employees are 17 percent more productive than disengaged employees.
Engaged employees are often consistently productive because they are more invested in their work and take pride in their contributions to their organization.
To keep employees productive, set clear and attainable goals, and provide them with the materials, training, and equipment necessary to do their jobs well.
Who is responsible for employee engagement?
Executives and company leaders, human resources, management, and employees are all responsible for employee engagement. Employee engagement initiatives have many moving parts, and, typically, each is owned and executed by a different person within the organization.
Most times, leadership teams will assign roles based on core responsibilities and desired outcomes to ensure the most appropriate person takes on the job.
Executives and company leaders
Company leaders are the biggest advocates for employee engagement and the greatest influencers of workplace culture. They have the power to make changes and create a better work environment, enabling team members to thrive. Executive and company leaders are responsible for:
- Creating the long-term strategy for employee engagement
- Communicating any changes to the current engagement strategy
- Providing company-wide updates on employee engagement progress and goals
- Conducting employee engagement and employee satisfaction surveys
- Taking action to improve the employee experience based on feedback (from survey responses, for example) and data
- Setting the tone and building a company culture team members want to be a part of
Human resources typically functions as the “behind-the-scenes” team that puts a company’s employee engagement plan into action. HR oversees an organization’s engagement initiatives and handles any issues that may arise. This department is also responsible for:
- Holding employees and managers accountable for participating in engagement initiatives
- Serving as the point of contact for any problems
- Supporting managers and providing them with resources and tools, such as employee engagement software
When employee engagement efforts run smoothly, it’s likely because HR did its part to make them happen.
Managers tend to work closest with team members. Because of this, they have more opportunities to engage employees and uncover problems early. Several studies have found that team leaders and their management styles can drastically influence employee engagement and satisfaction levels.
To help keep employee engagement high, managers should focus on:
- Promoting diversity in the workplace with tactics like inclusive policies, mentorship programs, and implicit bias training sessions
- Fostering professional development by making continued employee education a core value and offering digital learning opportunities
- Implementing solutions that will elevate employee performance and boost productivity, such as setting SMART goals
- Communicating clearly so employees fully understand team expectations, company updates, and more
- Encouraging feedback and passing it along to company leaders to ensure employees feel heard and remain happy
Companies can provide coaching, development courses, additional learning opportunities, and more, but it’s up to the employee to take advantage of these benefits and engage with their work.
Employee responsibilities include:
- Providing feedback on what they do and don’t like so management can help resolve any issues
- Participating in focus groups and surveys
- Taking charge of their professional development to learn, grow, and prepare for future promotions
- Sharing updates about their personal goals within the company so their manager understands how best to support them
Employees are critical to the success of any engagement program, so they need to voice their ideas on how to improve EX.
How to encourage employee engagement in your organization
Organizations should take steps to understand employees’ needs and desires, and make meaningful changes in the workplace instead of opting for pizza parties and cliché team-building activities.
Since this is easier said than done, we’re going to tell you exactly how to improve employee engagement and share some insights about engagement drivers—the psychological reason why specific EX strategies are successful with employees.
Identify and document your business’s core values
Engagement driver: Working for an employer with shared values
When you first set out to write a business plan for your organization, think hard about your values and mission statement. Once you do, don’t forget them. It’s easy for those values to fall by the wayside when you’re tied up with operations, but those values can help entice your ideal customers and employees.
During the hiring process, your company’s values can help attract top talent that stands for the same things you do. This might not seem important in the grand scheme of things, but when you find the right people for the job (and your business), engaging employees will feel like less of a chore because new hires will want to be there and already take pride in the company.
Create an internal promotion plan
Engagement driver: Having internal career growth opportunities
It’s hard for employees to be invested in their work if there is a lack of professional opportunities or if they’re not challenged enough.
To help keep employees engaged, set clear goals for their role, explain what expectations they must meet to earn a raise or promotion, and check in with them about their professional goals to ensure they’re on their desired growth track.
Aside from offering promotions, you can also engage your employees by offering continuing education to ensure they have the training and coaching resources they need to succeed. Fostering skill development helps employees become better leaders and maximize their performance.
Development opportunities include:
- Leadership or management training
- Professional certifications
- Technical skills training
- Employer-funded college classes
- Webinars and workshops
Recognize and reward high achievers
Engagement driver: Receiving recognition for hard work and excellent performance
According to Workhuman, over 50 percent of employees don’t feel fully valued by their employers. This can lead to frustration for agents who work hard each day but feel their contributions go unnoticed. Alternatively, if they see others praised for doing the same work, or what they perceive as less, this can quickly demotivate agents and result in less effort.
If you’re giving public praise, you don’t want to make it seem like you’re playing favorites with certain team members. To avoid this:
- Explain why they deserve recognition
- Describe how the employee contributed to a concrete organizational goal
- Establish a gamification-driven standard to ensure all significant contributions are recognized
This kind of transparency helps everyone see the positive impact of that team member’s work, providing an extra dose of motivation. Remember that some employees may feel shy and reluctant to receive public recognition. For these team members, share positive feedback in a one-on-one setting.
Encourage transparent communication with management
Engagement driver: Receiving clear communication of goals, expectations, and instructions
Employees are engaged when they believe they’re making a difference. Employers who listen to workplace ideas and concerns can benefit greatly from it. Encourage transparent communication by:
- Actively listening to employees and asking follow-up questions
- Encouraging employees to elaborate on survey responses so you can gain a deeper understanding of their thoughts, concerns, and needs
- Collecting feedback through surveys and acting on employee input to show you listen to your workforce
Develop employee wellness programs and policies
Engagement driver: Enjoying proper work-life balance
Finally, a great way to get employees to engage with your business is to provide personal benefits that go beyond standard company offerings.
As the cost of living rises in the U.S., many people are working longer hours and retiring later in life. And with the advent of a larger remote and hybrid workforce, many employees are attempting to balance their work and home lives. Company policies that protect their time and health can go a long way.
While caring for your employees’ mental and physical well-being can boost engagement, it can also:
- Reduce absenteeism
- Improve physical health and abilities
- Increase morale
- Enhance job satisfaction
Some wellness benefits to consider include:
- Fitness programs: Hold fitness challenges for team members, host on-site classes, offer PTO for athletic events, or provide gym membership stipends.
- Shorter workweek: If employees succeed in completing their to-do list, consider letting them start the weekend early instead of giving them more work, or think about moving full-time employees to a four-day workweek.
- Generous PTO: On average, U.S. employees receive 11 days of PTO. (Some companies offer none, and others offer unlimited PTO.) For many employees, especially those in more taxing industries, a few paid days off aren’t enough to avoid burnout or job dissatisfaction, so be generous with PTO if you can.
- Mental health support: Help your employees manage their stress by creating moments for your team to meditate or decompress. Also consider getting an insurance plan that offers mental health resources and counseling services.
- Ergonomic programs: Provide free or discounted ergonomic equipment, like desks and chairs, to promote a safer working environment that helps your employees avoid overuse injuries.
Improve the employee experience
Learn how more than 90,000 companies across 175 countries are retaining top talent and harnessing the collective power of their people to get ahead.
How to measure your employee’s workplace engagement
Depending on company size and workplace culture, some employee engagement methods may be more effective than others.
Regardless of measurement methods, gather qualitative and quantitative feedback to get a well-rounded picture of your current engagement strategy.
Employee engagement and satisfaction surveys
Market researchers and business leaders often use employee engagement surveys to collect important information about an organization’s workforce.
Company leadership teams distribute surveys containing questions that gauge employees’ satisfaction with the organization.
Engagement surveys often include questions like:
- Do you feel your employer has your best interests at heart when making business decisions?
- Are you satisfied with your organization’s management style?
- Does your company maintain open communication with employees?
- Do your coworkers inspire you and help you do your best work?
- Do you feel you have adequate information to make the right work decisions?
- When something unexpected arises in your work, do you know who to go to for help?
Depending on the company and type of work, leadership may present these questions differently. The goal is to gather information on employees’ knowledge, confidence, and attitudes about the workplace.
Use the survey results to create an engagement action plan to help employees do their job with less stress and higher job engagement.
Team conversations and focus groups
Maintain ongoing communication with your employees by inviting them to:
- Team conversations: Allow employees to discuss any challenges they face and give them opportunities to share their ideas and receive immediate feedback.
- Company check-ins: Keep employees informed and discuss larger issues with everyone.
- Focus groups: Invite 10 to 15 employees at a time so you can keep the group manageable and on task.
Focus groups provide another way to crowdsource feedback, but typically have a defined purpose (e.g., answering a specific question) and intentionally selected invitees (rather than a random grouping).
Focus groups are especially beneficial for larger businesses where one-on-one meetings may be harder to arrange. They often help leadership teams determine what employees like and dislike, and what could be improved about their roles.
One-on-one meetings with employees
Meeting with employees one-on-one (in-person or virtually) allows you and other company leaders to gather detailed information and meaningful feedback while picking up on non-verbal cues.
One-on-one meetings are particularly helpful when meeting with employees who are:
- Nearing a promotion
- Onboarding or new to the organization
- Working on an improvement plan
- Dealing with a quickly evolving project
- Contributing to a project with several decision-makers
The most crucial element to successful individual meetings is making your team members feel seen, heard, and safe through active listening, open-mindedness, and empathy. When employees are in a comfortable environment for sharing, it’s to get qualitative feedback about their work experience.
Examples of employee engagement
Now, let’s take a look at some employee engagement examples. Here we will discuss two companies that excel at prioritizing employee engagement.
Google operates under the idea that happy employees are more productive and produce better results.
With this in mind, the company’s leaders show appreciation for each individual employee’s contributions and engagement by prioritizing their team’s physical, mental, and financial well-being.
Now, most companies can’t financially provide these benefits to their employees, no matter how much they want to. But we can still use Google’s strategies for employee engagement ideas.
Some employee engagement programs and benefits at Google are:
- Exclusive perks, like free food, dry cleaning, massage programs, and nap pods
- Health benefits, such as insurance, on-site wellness centers, dental checkups, and gym memberships
- Family support, like death benefits and 24 weeks of paid parental leave
- Work-life balance initiatives, including flexible scheduling and generous PTO
- Professional perks, such as career development, fun workstations, and the “Googler to Googler” skill-building program
- Workplace culture initiatives, like hiring innovative leaders, encouraging creativity, avoiding micromanagement, and using data from employee feedback to improve EX
Many consider Spotify to be an excellent workplace, which is a leading reason why people clamor to earn a spot on their payroll. Newsweek even declared Spotify “America’s Most Loved Workplace” in 2021.
To find engaged employees, the digital music service leads with its values. The company is innovative, sincere, passionate, collaborative, and playful. And when the right people join the organization, it uses employee programs for engagement to keep motivation high. These can include:
- Extensive learning opportunities
- Flexible stock options
- Six months of paid parental leave
- Employee assistance for self-care
These benefits and more keep employees engaged because team members are supported in professional development, financial wellness, family obligations, and mental health. When employees receive this form of attention and care from their employer, there’s a greater likelihood of individual creativity and dedication to company goals.
Employee experience and customer engagement go hand in hand
Your frontline workers directly represent your company, especially when they provide support to customers. Show employees the same or greater level of support behind the scenes, too.
While leaders are starting to pay more attention to agents’ workloads, less than 30 percent of support team members feel empowered to do their jobs well. When you don’t equip employees with the proper training, resources, or tools to succeed, they’ll likely burn out and disengage from their work.
Strengthen employee engagement by showing your staff how they contribute to the company and providing a flexible, health-conscious work environment.
Improve the employee experience
Learn how more than 90,000 companies across 175 countries are retaining top talent and harnessing the collective power of their people to get ahead.
Discover new insights and data from 1,200 IT leaders about AI, data privacy, and CX strategies.
In the seventh episode of Conversations with Zendesk, VirginPulse's Michael Pace talks about how his support organization scaled wisely by investing in self-service and the employee experience.
Learn how to conduct an employee engagement survey and what questions you should ask.
Improve the employee experience
Learn how more than 90,000 companies across 175 countries are retaining top talent and harnessing the collective power of their people to get ahead.Read the free report
There’s more where that came from.
Sign-up and get customer insights, trends, and more in your inbox.