A CHRO’s Guide to Improving Employee Engagement

A CHRO’s Guide to Improving 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 best understanding and improving 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 is uniquely responsible for guiding successful changes related to people and culture. With the fourth 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 one 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. An edge can 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, employee engagement’s importance, or relevance’s value.

We’ll get right to the heart of the matter: increasing employee engagement.

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 to 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 and demonstrates a different aspect of employee engagement that you should keep in mind as you define that term for your particular context.

HR Zone

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 divided 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 paramount in the current work world) and productivity.

We can observe:

  1. Engagement is multi-dimensional. It is not restricted to a physical location or job duties. It’s about the attachment one feels to both the organization as a whole and each of its parts. (By the way, how will you know if employees feel a sense of emotional connection? 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. (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 chosen as 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 contributing to the organization’s goals.

We can observe:

  1. Engagement is about attitudes and perceptions. It is not only about what the employee does but also about how interested and committed they are. Do they feel their work has meaning? (By the way, how do you show them that it does? By recognizing them and tying their work to its big-picture impact.)
  2. Once again, engagement has an intended effect. It should uplift the company’s performance, or it’s 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 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 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 you could track. By including a breadth of factors, you get a complete picture of your organization’s ongoing state of employee engagement.

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 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. You’ll likely miss critical nuances if you take one big picture instead of a flipbook of smaller ones to catch movement over time. And remember, timing influences employee responses, too. A new employee may have a different take on engagement than a tenured employee. An employee hired after a certain initiative rollout may have a different experience than someone hired before and has seen the same initiative many times. So, determine when you’ll start and how often you’ll survey.

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

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 why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs have soared in popularity recently. Organizations want to safeguard themselves against unconscious bias and ensure everyone has equal opportunities to belong and succeed.

But it 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. When considering factors that constitute employee engagement, consider as many data points as possible.

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, and their own contributions.

Pro 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 productivity, well-being, and company performance. If there is a correlation, you should also measure the things that high engagement theoretically leads to.
  • Ask how they feel.
    From working with many different organizations, we know it is best to measure both employees’ behavior and attitude to determine their level of engagement. Our Surveys & Insights solution has measures for each.

As we saw in the definitions above, engagement is not a static concept. We must see if employees have greater well-being and productivity due to 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 sounds daunting, know you don’t have to start from scratch. Within our Surveys & Insights solution, we offer annual surveys, pulse surveys, and lifecycle survey options. 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 designing your plan for measuring it is no small feat. The better you’ve done that work, the better your improvement efforts will be. The next section is dedicated to that.

Improving Employee Engagement

If you delight your employees to the extent that they’re engaged all the time, that’s an ideal scenario. But given that you’re reading this CHRO’s guide, let’s assume it’s not the case yet. How do you improve the survey results if the engagement scores are unsatisfactory?

Start by Asking

If you really want to improve those lower scores, you’ll dig deeper. Ask your employees for further input, and 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?

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

Action Plan for Effective Employee Engagement

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

Here are 5 steps to building effective employee engagement:

  1. Capture baseline measurements to observe areas of improvement
  2. Identify initiatives to improve
  3. Communicate & implement action
  4. Active listening through real-time insights
  5. Wash, rinse and repeat

Step 1: Capture baseline measurements to observe areas of improvement

Let’s talk about making meaning out of data.

Start by obtaining a baseline measurement. You can do this by running driver analysis, which, as the name implies, identifies the independent variables that drive the 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—they are often many-to-one relationships.

The number of units an ice cream truck sells does not depend on 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. Still, 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 by discussing unsatisfactory engagement scores. Now would be the time to see which drivers have poor engagement scores and whether those drivers have a high correlation with negative engagement index scores. 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 and 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 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, they must consider their own attitudes and behaviors in response.

Pro Tip:   Use other formats besides the survey for identifying initiatives. In the engagement measurement stage, the qualitative section of 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 attend 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 people who will benefit from them. This grass-roots approach often produces effective solutions quickly, provided the discussion is facilitated well.

Step 3: Communicate & Implement Action

Here’s your top priority for this phase: always keep employees in the loop. 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 with real-time access to the data. They may need to be upskilled to address areas of deficiency.

Communicate loudly and proudly about actions 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 Insights

The 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) 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. It 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 through active listening.

Similarly, when employees are aware that change came because their voices were heard, they also 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 see if your efforts are improving employee engagement. If certain key improvement areas you identified still have low engagement scores, reiterating the process outlined in this CHRO’s guide is a matter of course.

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 for measuring and improving, be prepared for disruptions.  Times are changing. The transition to remote work is a massive shift in how things are done. Normally, 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 and be 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 various roles.

Embrace Digital Transformation

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

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

Recognition & Rewards allows any employee 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 system. Team members exchange their points for an item or experience in the custom rewards marketplace.

Surveys & Insights allows you to facilitate your active listening program. It includes 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. There are no more spreadsheets, and there is no more pre-filtering before you send results to leaders.

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, watch employee well-being, provide coaching, and offer a personal connection. If you want to drive engagement improvement, ensure 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 and quarterly performance check-ins.

Supply them with great questions to get conversations rolling. When you strengthen management, you improve almost everything, including employee engagement. If existing practices are not up to par for producing engagement, then sometimes it’s the leaders who 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, directorial, or C-suite levels.


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 make 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 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 they may reveal a deeper issue, especially if survey results indicate that a substantial percentage of people in every group in the company feel 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 many things shifting.

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