A CHRO’s Guide to Understanding and Increasing Employee Engagement

A CHRO’s Guide to Understanding and Increasing Employee Engagement

Table of Contents

Employee engagement is one of the best markers of a thriving workforce. During this time of unprecedented remote work, ensuring healthy engagement is more important than ever. This CHROs guide advises HR executives on how to best understand and improve employee engagement. 

This is the Chief Human Resources Officer’s (CHRO’s) guide to increasing employee engagement. Your motivation for being here could be any one (or more) of the following three reasons.

  1. You recognize that the role of the CHRO has shifted from that of a policymaker to a change driver

    Truthfully, the same can be said of any C-suite role, but  HR’s top person  has a unique responsibility in guiding successful changes related to people and culture.

    With the 4th industrial revolution taking place right now, there’s a lot to think about. Jobs are at risk of being automated and existing jobs need significant re-skilling. A survey by Gartner showed that building critical skills and competencies was the number 1 priority in 2021 among 800 HR leaders.

    Employee engagement doesn’t belong to HR only, but the CHRO is often expected to lead the charge in such matters, given their influence in the organization. 

  1. You understand why employee engagement is key to maximizing performance, among many other things…

    You’re well versed in all the reports that link engagement to greater profitability, higher employee retention, lower absenteeism, etc. You wouldn’t be here otherwise.

  1. You give greater priority to relevance given the times we’re in

    You understand that given the rate of change in culture and technology, best practices vary from year to year. There’s an edge to be gained in staying well versed on the latest.

We’ve written this CHRO’s guide for you and other HR leaders to give you a blueprint for action. We won’t expound on the need for transformation, the importance of employee engagement, or the value of relevance.  

Rather, we’ll get right to the heart of the matter: how to increase employee engagement. So, let’s begin… 

Define Employee Engagement 

First– a word about words. It would be easy to say “I already know what employee engagement is.” But the fact is that there’s no one universally recognized definition of employee engagement. It’s important to create a definition that fits your own unique organization and its culture. Why? Because what you can define, you can measure. And what you can measure, you can improve.   

How do you define employee engagement?

Employee Engagement Survey providers tend to have their own definitions for employee engagement.  

Considering a few examples may help you refine your own.  So, here are three definitions of employee engagement from non-solution provider sources. For the sake of this CHRO’s guide, we’re choosing non-solution providers so we can avoid bias for any methodology of reporting engagement.  

The first source is an HR publication, the second is a business dictionary, and the last  is the biggest HR association in North America.  

Each definition is distinct.  Each demonstrates a different aspect of  employee engagement that you should keep in mind as you  define that term for your particular  context.

HR Zone defines employee engagement as “the emotional attachment employees feel towards their place of work, job role, position within the company, colleagues, and culture, and the effect this attachment has on well-being and productivity”.  

What it demonstrates: Employee engagement is separated into workplace engagement, specific role engagement, and engagement with the rest of the company. Such attachment is also tied to employee well-being (which is of paramount importance in the current work world) and productivity. 

We can observe:

  1. Engagement is multidimensional. It is not restricted to a physical location or job duties. It’s about the attachment one feels to both the whole of the organization and each of its parts. (How will you know if employees feel a sense of emotional connection, by the way? Ask them.)
  2. Engagement has an effect. Its definition is causal– it must cause productivity and well-being if it is to be considered real engagement at all. (Bonus: well-being and productivity are trackable markers.)

Investopedia defines employee engagement as “the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward their job. Engaged employees care about their work and the performance of the company and feel that their efforts make a difference”. 

What it demonstrates: Employee engagement is a degree of effort, as indicated by the word “level”. The words enthusiasm and dedication are purposefully picked, and are taken to be the biggest engagement factors. In this definition, they’re akin to employee engagement itself.  

There’s also a sense of purpose involved– – the employee must feel that they are making a difference to the organization’s goals.  

We can infer:

  1. Engagement is about attitudes and perceptions.  It is not only about what the employee does, but how interested and committed they are. Do they feel their work has meaning? (How do you show them that it does, by the way? By recognizing them and tying their work to its big-picture impact.)  
  2. Engagement once again has an intended effect. It should uplift the performance of the company or it’s really not true engagement. 

Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) defines employee engagement as “the lifecycle employees experience physically, emotionally, psychologically and behaviorally with their organization.” 

What it demonstrates: Employee engagement is a matter of the whole employee lifecycle. From initial hiring to departure or retirement, their overall experience with the company shapes  engagement. 

Unlike the previous two definitions, it doesn’t state what engagement should lead to, but it captures the widest possible array of engagement aspects. 

Physical – Deals with the body. What does being physically present in the workspace feel like?

For example: Is the temperature comfortable? Is the lighting optimum? 

Emotional – Deals with the heart. What does someone feel when they think of their work experience?  

For example: How is the person’s daily interaction with colleagues? What is their feeling coming into work every morning? 

Psychological – Deals with the mind. What do they really think of their work experience with the company?  

For example: Do they perceive there’s room for growth in the existing work environment? What are their opinions about the different HR initiatives? 

Behavioral – Deals with actions. How do they behave?  For example: Do they show up on time? Do they give detailed feedback or adequately voice concerns?

Pause for a moment to consider your options– wording matters. Every facet of engagement in the above definitions provides a different data point that you could track. By including a breadth of factors, you get a very complete picture of the ongoing state of employee engagement at your organization. 

Remember –what you define now is what you’ll measure later. So, how does your organization define engagement currently? Are there aspects that are missing or that need to be further developed?  

Measure Employee Engagement 

Now that your definition has provided you with clear points to track, let’s look at the steps you’ll need to follow to measure employee engagement.

Measurement Steps

1. Consider the length of time you’ll be measuring employee engagement.

Is this a one-time thing? (We hope not.) If you take one big picture instead of a flipbook of smaller ones to catch movement over time, you’re likely to miss critical nuances. And remember, timing influences employee responses too. A new employee may have a different take on engagement compared to a tenured employee. An employee hired after a certain initiative rollout may have a different experience than someone who was hired before and has seen the same initiative many times before. So, determine when you’ll start, and how often you’ll survey.

2. Choose the sample. Make sure to survey every employee. 

It’s wise to segment the data on attributes like tenure and department. Those will serve as useful filters if you want to compare engagement between groups or ascertain whether  overall engagement is skewed by any one group.  

While we are on the subject, this is a reason why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs have soared in popularity in recent years. Organizations want to safeguard themselves against unconscious bias and make sure everyone has equal opportunities to belong and to succeed.   

But it all begins with accounting for all differences in your sample before surveying. The same logic applies to employee engagement surveys. To know if you’re successful, you’ll need to consider if there are any engagement disparities between groups.

3. Design the survey. Consider as many data points as you can when thinking of factors that constitute employee engagement.  

Ask how they feel. Ask what they think.  

But on what? (This is where you consult your definition.) 

Items include: Duties, interactions, workspace, colleagues, supervisors, teammates, company initiatives, their own contributions, etc. 

Tip: Be mindful of the number of questions you are asking. Based on your culture, levels of trust, and frequency of surveying, questionnaire length should follow the right approach for you, not necessarily the most popular “best practice”.. 

Ask what they do.  

See if there is a causality between engagement and things like productivity, well-being, and company performance. If there is a correlation, you should also measure the things that high engagement should theoretically lead to.

Ask how they feel. 

From working with many different organizations, we know it is best to measure both the behavior and attitude of employees to measure their level of engagement. We have measures for each in our Surveys & Insights solution.  

As we saw in the definitions above, engagement is not a static concept. We must see if employees truly have greater well-being and productivity as a result of their engagement. For this, we need to measure the factors that drive engagement in the first place.   

If you have been reading along and asking how each action item applies to your company, here’s your punch-list so far:

  • Come up with the best definition of employee engagement for your organization.
  • Identify the markers of employee engagement you’ll track.
  • Plan to  survey routinely, so you can assess the health of employee engagement over a period of time.

If the continuous aspect of this sounds daunting, know that you don’t have to start from scratch. We offer annual surveys, pulse surveys, and lifecycle survey options within our Surveys & Insights solution. And when it comes to interpreting data, it’s not all-on-you there either. You get easy to read reports that are customizable and offer targeted recommendations for learning and action. They go straight to the leaders who need them. You can easily compare results by region, team, level in the organization, etc.. .  

Defining engagement and then designing your plan for measuring it is no small feat. The better you’ve done that work, though,  the better your improvement efforts will be. The next section is dedicated to that.

Improving Employee Engagement

If you are delighting your employees to the extent that they’re engaged all the time, that’s an ideal scenario. But, given the fact that you’re reading this CHRO’s guide, let’s assume that it’s not the case yet.

What do you do to improve the survey results if the engagement scores are unsatisfactory?

Start by Asking

If you really want to change those lower scores, you’ll dig deeper.  Ask your employees for further input.  Give them room to express their thoughts and feelings beyond simple rating questions.

Some people may be hesitant by nature, so make sure to explicitly ask: what is good, what can be done better, and what needs to change?

Tip: Include such open-ended questions in the employee engagement survey itself. AI and natural language processing helps you not only measure the concept, but also get a deeper level of insight through the answers and common themes of respondents.

Action Plan for Effective Employee Engagement 

Asking for input alone won’t be enough. You’ll need an action plan. 

Step 1: Obtain Baseline Measurements, so you can Notice Improvement Areas

Let’s talk about making meaning out of data. 

Start with obtaining a baseline measurement. You can do this by running driver analysis, which as the name implies, identifies the  independent variables that drive  dependent variables– in this case,  your employee engagement measures.

We recommend multiple regression because it accounts for the effect of more than one driver on an engagement measure. It’s more realistic. Drivers and results are almost never in a one-to-one relationship –it’s a many-to-one relationship.

The number of units an ice cream truck sells does not depend on any one thing. It depends on the neighborhood, the timing, the temperature that day, etc. But ideally, we would want to isolate each driver and see the effect it has on the sales, with everything else being the same.

Similarly, we understand that there could be many reasons for low employee engagement, but we want to understand the strength of each one’s effect on engagement, while also considering every other effect.

Remember, we started this section of the CHRO’s guide with a talk about unsatisfactory engagement scores. Now would be the time to see which drivers have those poor engagement scores and if those drivers have a high correlation with negative scores on the engagement index. If they do, then they’re what we call low score-high impact drivers.

These are your key improvement areas to focus on.

Step 2: Identify Initiatives to Improve

You’ve asked your employees for their thoughts. You’ve also looked at the scores that came back. You now have both qualitative and quantitative data which you can cross-reference to identify the most important areas that are causing low engagement.

Initiatives to improve such areas may be suggested by the employees themselves in the answers to the open-ended questions. Other initiatives will require some brainstorming.

Whatever initiatives you settle on, ensure that some can be implemented rapidly for quick wins. This lets employees know that you’re serious about improving engagement. It’s a way of achieving employee buy-in that promotes acceptance and minimizes resistance.

After all, engagement requires the cooperation of many. If employees see you making immediate changes on feedback, that puts the onus on them  to consider their own attitudes and behaviors in response…

Tip: Use other formats besides the survey for identifying initiatives. In the engagement measurement stage, the qualitative section in the employee engagement survey is a great space for employees to make their voices heard regarding what’s working and what is not.

In the solution identification stage, you can turn to ideation workshops, quick pulse surveys, focus groups, etc. 

Initiative-generating exercises can be professionally facilitated but should be employee-driven, so that the ideas come from the very people who will benefit from them. This grass-roots approach often produces effective solutions very quickly, provided that the discussion is facilitated well. 

Step 3: Communicate & Implement Action

Here’s your top priority for this phase: keep employees  in the loop at all times. After all, the efforts to improve engagement are to serve them, based on their own recommendations for improvements. Share the data that led to the chosen initiatives at all levels of the organization. And clearly explain the actions and changes that are about to occur to implement those initiatives. 

Make sure you provide the company and team leaders real-time access to the data. It could be that they need to be upskilled to address areas of deficiency.  

Communicate loudly and proudly about actions that have been taken – if employees don’t know that action has happened, the action doesn’t matter. 

Post-survey communication is so critical because:

  1. It involves everyone in the process and gives value and purpose to their opinions and insights. It provides an opportunity to remind everyone why the engagement improvement initiative was started in the first place– for the benefit of the people in the organization.  
  2. It highlights what’s  currently being done based on the received feedback. It starts promoting the idea of active listening (which is crucial for company culture, as we will see in the next step). 

Step 4: Active Listening through Real-Time InsightsThe Baseline Engagement Survey is just the beginning. To see the impact of actions in real-time, you need to do many more follow-up surveys. They allow you to get feedback on implemented initiatives. Short pulse surveys allow you to regularly measure the identified factors (improvement areas) that you are working on and run additional diagnostics. At WorkTango, this is what we call Active Listening

It is a two-way dialogue that offers frequent insight into employee engagement but also supports the ability to modify questions, diagnose emergent issues, and see the outcome of implemented actions in real-time. 

When leaders and managers are aware of the initiatives that have been implemented , they can track the impact of their actions in real-time via active listening.  

Similarly, when employees are aware that change came because  their voices were heard, they too get to see that they have a direct bearing on company-wide engagement.  

The realization also sets in that it all begins with them. The organization is serious about listening and doing whatever it takes  to bring about change.

Step 5: Wash, Rinse and Repeat 

Ultimately, you’ll begin to see if your efforts are moving the employee engagement needle. If certain key improvement areas you identified still have low engagement scores, it is a matter of reiterating the process outlined in this CHRO’s guide. 

What is important is that you create the right company culture, where there is a routine baseline measurement of employee engagement, identification of low-scoring drivers, and improvement on those drivers via active listening. Actions and feedback perpetually inform each other.

Acceptance and Dealing with Change

You can measure and improve engagement as a part of your employee engagement strategy. Measuring gives you areas to improve. Improving leads you to measure, to confirm that improvement.

Even if you’ve built a well-oiled machine when it comes to measuring and improving, be prepared for disruptions.  Times are changing. The whole transition to remote work itself is a massive shift in how things are done. It’s normal that not everyone in your organization will have the same reaction to changes.

Even if scores and opinions reveal something unpleasant or unexpected, you’ll have a pulse on it. You’re ready to respond. Heads up here: engagement and retention are linked.  As a general principle, if you stay on top of building greater engagement, you’ll usually see greater retention too. Of course, there are exceptions.

While engagement can’t be held solely responsible for  the level of performance or the quality of end results, it certainly should have some measurable outcomes.  Among them are the employee’s well-being, safety, and productivity. They should be maximized while a person is with the company in all their various roles. Promoting well-being and resilience for employees was identified as one of the top trends by a forum of CHROs.

To march ahead with the evolution of the workspace, here are some things HR should focus on as they seek to promote engagement: 

Safety and Wellness

Put safety and wellness first. Create a safe environment for everyone to work. Protect employees from internal and external threats.

Internal threats include: harassment from other employees, abuse of power, bullying, etc. External threats include: natural calamities, virus outbreaks, economic downturn, work-related toxins and hazardous materials, etc.

When people feel safe and are physically and mentally well, it automatically boosts their capacity for engagement.

Promote Collaboration

More than ever, we’re working in teams. As the pandemic has forced everyone to work virtually, the importance of team-building is at an all-time high. Virtual team-building activities– like virtual games– can be very effective.

Since successful collaboration and engagement are connected,  it’s important that people feel comfortable working with their colleagues. It’s true that lone wolf employees can be highly engaged. But for most people, having great relationships with others on their team leads to greater levels of success and enjoyment.

Embrace Digital Transformation

While there is a component of up-skilling involved, almost all industries are having to adapt to the latest trends. It is a good time to embrace digital change.

Tools save time. In the HR space, software companies claim to do many things at once. It is important you find the best-in-class solution for each HR function. As it relates to engagement, different areas to seek solutions include: employee surveys, recognition and rewards, communication, and goals and feedback.

WorkTango’s Employee Experience platform delivers a number of key solutions in one place.

Recognition & Rewards allows any member of the organization to give real-time appreciation to any other, at any time, from anywhere, in the public recognition feed. The Incentives function allows you to build workplace culture by encouraging (and gamifying) desired behaviors. Maximize the ROI of your rewards program by using our points-based rewards solution. Team members exchange their points for an item or experience of their choice in the custom rewards catalog.

Surveys & Insights allows you to facilitate your active listening program. Employee engagement surveys, onboarding and exit, pulse, wellness, workplace safety, DE&I, and more. Results are instant and easy to understand. Reports go straight to the people who need them. No more spreadsheets. No more pre-filtering before you send results to leaders.

Goals & Feedback lightens the load for managers as they carry out their employee success practices  (like 1-on-1 Sync-Ups and quarterly performance Check-Ins). The solution provides reminders for scheduling, offers a shared agenda to guide conversations, and keeps records of previous performance conversations for better continuity and accuracy. The full waterfall of goals from company to team to individual is only a click away for every employee–always. Feedback can be requested from any other member of the organization–anytime. When goals are visible and feedback is instant, alignment improves. Management becomes more effective.

Improving Employee Engagement by Improving Everything Else

Ultimately, employee engagement comes down to management.. Managers translate the organization’s high-level initiatives, culture, priorities, news, goals, and more to their individual team members. They ensure alignment, keep watch over employee well-being, provide coaching, and offer personal connection. If you’re looking to drive improvement in engagement, make sure managers are empowered to succeed. Give them the right tools and knowledge. Offer a scheduling, feedback, and goal tracking solution so they’re prepared for weekly 1-on-1 conversations (Sync-Ups) and quarterly performance Check-ins.

Supply them with great questions to get conversations rolling. When you strengthen management, you improve almost everything else–including employee engagement. If existing practices are not up to par for producing engagement, then sometimes it’s the leaders that have to be the ones to drive top-down change, and that’s why resources like this CHRO’s guide are so important. After all, leaders are employees too, whether at the managerial level, directorial level, or in the C-suite.


 We’ve approached this guide from the vantage point that– just like customers–  employees are always right. That’s the correct approach because you’re more receptive to their concerns and issues when you’re making zero assumptions about their motives. 

Giving employees  the benefit of the doubt, though, doesn’t mean you avoid  identifying actively disengaged behaviors. Tracking tools like surveys can reveal disengaged behavior via lower ratings or response rates.  

The first move on your part is to fix the elements that are in your control and see if disengagement can be reversed. But sometimes it may be that employees still feel no connection to work, and show it in their behavior and actions by complaining to others, focusing on the bare minimum, and essentially “quiet quitting”. 

It is important to keep tracking such trends because it may reveal that a deeper issue is in play. Especially if survey results indicate that every group in the company has a substantial percentage of folks feeling this way.

Parting Words

We hope you found this CHRO’s guide to be insightful when it comes to increasing employee engagement. CHROs guide the workforce and are seen as “future of work” experts. Workforce planning for the future is a tough task with so many things shifting.

But whatever the new norm is, investing in employee engagement is a safe bet. With an engaged workforce, no one person is alone is responsible for navigating problems and exploring opportunities. It is a collective effort built on mutual respect. 

At WorkTango, we’re revolutionizing how the world’s most forward-thinking companies engage and inspire their people. We offer the only Employee Experience Platform that enables meaningful recognition and rewards, offers actionable insights through employee surveys, and supports alignment through goal setting and feedback.

WorkTango is built for the workplace we all want to be a part of – where priorities become clear, achievements are celebrated, and employees have a voice. So if you’re ready to make work lives better, schedule a demo today.