What is Employee Engagement?

What is Employee Engagement?

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Depending on who you ask, employee engagement might mean different things. It’s also easy to confuse engagement with other important HR employee health metrics.

What isn’t employee engagement?

To get to the heart of employee engagement, let’s start with what it isn’t.

  1. Employee satisfaction. An employee can be satisfied in their job without being engaged. Employees are satisfied when they’re simply able to avoid unhappiness in their jobs; they’re engaged when they’re committed, interested, and highly attached to the outcome of their work.
  2. Employee retention. Don’t get us wrong, employee retention is also critically important. You can’t have engaged employees if they’ve left for other opportunities. The good news here? There is a correlation. Engaged employees tend to stick around.
  3. The employee experience. Much like job satisfaction, the employee experience must precede engagement, but they’re different. Great employee experience is a gift from the employer to the employee; engagement is the gift the employee gives back.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the quality of an employee’s feelings and connection to your organization, as well as the energy and effort they bring to the job daily.

Wikipedia‘s broad definition of employee engagement is “a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees.”

That’s an acceptable enough blanket interpretation. But like most everything, one size doesn’t fit all.

Defining employee engagement at your organization

Organizations are as unique as the different weights and shapes of human bodies. That “one-of-a-kind” narrative makes sense, given that the nucleus of any organization is the variety of people that shape it. And those very people at your organization’s core have individual reasons for doing their job.

You might like to think it’s more than just collecting a paycheck. You might like to believe your employees are passionate about what they do and are fulfilled by their work. But are they? Really? Why or why not?

Hence why it’s essential to define employee engagement on your terms as it relates to your organization and workforce. Your definition of employee engagement determines the outcome of your efforts. By adding or exchanging survey questions with ones that influence the desired outcome for your organization, the chances of achieving better business results become much higher.

Note: This will impact the relevance of any external benchmarks you’re looking to compare. But we’d argue that business results trump benchmarks any day of the week.

Considerations to guide your definition of employee engagement

To arrive at a definition that suits your organization and guides the questions you need to ask, you have to have a pretty clear idea of what you’re looking to know.

  • Are attrition rates concerning? What’s causing people to leave?
  • Do your management and senior leadership teams reflect the diversity of your customers and the communities where you operate? Where are the gaps, and what can be done about them?
  • Does one department excel at hiring, developing, and promoting diverse talent while another lags behind? What are these departments doing differently?

Designing effective surveys to measure employee engagement and then making sense of feedback can become mind-bendingly intricate, thanks to how multidimensional employee engagement really is.

To help organizations measure and understand what matters to their people and how to positively impact engagement levels, WorkTango’s employee engagement model breaks all this complexity down into three major components.

1. Employee Engagement Index

The employee engagement index is, by definition, an indicator of sentiment. It’s formed by a collection of survey statements that ask employees to rate feelings such as loyalty, pride, and enthusiasm.

  • Would your employees recommend their organization as a great place to work?
  • Are they inspired to give their very best at work?
  • Do they expect to work at your organization in 12 months?
  • Are they proud to work for your organization?

Responses measure intellectual and emotional connections to your organization, work ethic behaviors, and attitudes.

The index is revealing in and of itself. But when you look at it in correlation with other workplace “factors, ” your organization’s engagement story starts to get really interesting. A high or low engagement index score needs context. Other influential measurements add that perspective.

2. Employee Engagement Factors

While the engagement index focuses on understanding overall employee sentiment, engagement factors unearth what  influences employee engagement and to what extent.

Knowing what it is you want to learn gives shape to your organization’s definition of employee engagement. It points decision-making and actions in the right direction.

For example, how are your employees adjusting to an unfamiliar hybrid workplace? A new policy? A change of leadership?

Should you find yourself in a merger, what’s your employees’ state of mind? What factors are impacting people?

Multiple factors drive employees to retreat in frustration or strive to do their best.

  • Leadership: Direct Manager; Senior Leadership
  • Work Environment: Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion; Trust And Safety; Enablement
  • Goals And Alignment
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Growth: Learning And Development; Career Growth
  • Total Rewards: Compensation And Benefits; Recognition
  • Teamwork And Collaboration
  • Company Outlook

How are Employee Responses Evaluated?

Effective employee engagement strategies involve examining different factors within your organization that influence and have the greatest impact on your employees, their engagement levels, and overall workplace experiences.

Of course, because personal views are as varied as body shapes and sizes, certain factors impact individual engagement levels differently.

What factors surface organization-wide or by region, division, function, or leader? What are the scores saying? How do these factors correlate with your organization’s employee engagement index and are separated by the geographic, demographic, or other groupings of your choice? WorkTango helps you calculate and understand these multi-dimensional insights.

Naturally, feedback will sometimes reinforce what you suspect. Sometimes, feedback will come at you from out of the blue. At other times, some insights leave you wondering what respondents are trying to say. More clarity comes by asking open-ended questions that tap directly into the voice of employees.

3. Employee Voice

The third major component in WorkTango’s methodology is consulting the voice of employees by asking open-ended survey questions.

Employee comments add color. The reasons behind responses offer a richer understanding of employee sentiment and levels of engagement. They help pinpoint factors of importance, such as an unsupportive direct manager, limited career growth opportunities, teamwork and collaboration concerns, and so on.

By voicing suggested actions, employee comments also become a participative management tool. Acknowledgment and follow-up actions demonstrate how much your organization values this feedback.

How to improve employee engagement

Most business leaders have come to understand the importance of engagement, but they don’t always know why or what to do about it.

Dedicating resources to engagement initiatives can seem vague at best and frivolous at worst. To help you get started, check out our CHRO’s Guide to Improving Employee Engagement.