What Is Employee Engagement and How Do You Improve It?
- Employee Engagement Definition
- Why Is Employee Engagement Important?
- Whose Job Is Employee Engagement?
- What Are the Drivers of Employee Engagement?
- Why Current Programs Aren't Improving Employee Engagement
- Measuring Employee Engagement: Gallup's Questions
- The Employee Engagement Model
- Employee Engagement Examples: The 3 Types of Employees You Have
- What's the Difference Between Employee Engagement and the Employee Experience?
- How to Improve Employee Engagement: Team Engagement Ideas
- Improving Employee Engagement Begins Here
01 Employee Engagement Definition
Gallup defines employee engagement as the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.
Employee engagement helps you measure and manage employees' perspectives on the crucial elements of your workplace culture.
You can find out if your employees are actively engaged with their work or if they're simply putting in their time. You can discover if your team building activities and human resources practices influence positive business outcomes or if there's room to grow.
And with the right approach, you can learn what to do to improve your employees' connection to their work and your company.
02 Why Is Employee Engagement Important?
Employees make decisions and take actions every day that can affect your workforce and organization.
The way your company treats employees and how employees treat one another can positively affect their actions -- or can place your organization at risk.
Based on over 50 years of employee engagement research, Gallup knows that engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees -- across industry, company size and nationality, and in good economic times and bad.
But only 15% of employees worldwide and 35% in the U.S. fall in the "engaged" category.
So, what can companies do better to engage employees?
When companies use Gallup's Q12 as a framework to improve employee engagement-- one that is supported by executives as a primary management strategy -- they yield clear and better results.
Asking, "Why is employee engagement important?" is a vital question for leaders to consider. Because without employee engagement, there's no team engagement, making it more difficult to improve business outcomes.
When Gallup analyzed the differences in performance among business/work units, the benefits of employee engagement were clear. When comparing employee engagement levels, Gallup found that top- and bottom-quartile business units and teams had the following differences in business outcomes*:
*The above figures are median percent differences across companies in Gallup's database. High-turnover organizations are those with more than 40% annualized turnover. Low-turnover organizations are those with 40% or lower annualized turnover.
03 Whose Job Is Employee Engagement?
70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.
Employee engagement should be a manager's primary role responsibility.
Managers are in charge of ensuring that employees know what work needs to be done, supporting and advocating for them when necessary, and explaining how their work connects to organizational success.
To succeed in that responsibility, managers need to be equipped to have ongoing coaching conversations with employees.
Unfortunately, most managers don't know how to make frequent conversations meaningful, so their actions are more likely to be interpreted as micromanaging without providing the right tools and direction.
So, it's not enough for leaders to simply tell managers to own engagement and coach their teams.
- redefine managers' roles and expectations
- provide the training tools, resources and development that managers need to coach and meet those expectations
- create evaluation practices that help managers accurately measure performance, hold employees accountable and coach to the future
Learn more about Gallup's five coaching conversations in our Building a High-Development Culture Through Your Employee Engagement Strategy perspective paper.Download Perspective
04 What Are the Drivers of Employee Engagement?
One of the most common mistakes companies make is to approach engagement as a sporadic exercise in making their employees feel happy -- usually around the time when a survey is coming up.
It's true that we describe engaged employees as "enthusiastic." And surveys play a big role in measuring staff engagement. But it's not that simple.
These are the key drivers of employee engagement:
a caring manager
a focus on strengths
Employees need more than a fleeting warm-fuzzy feeling and a good paycheck (even if it helps them respond positively on a survey) to invest in their work and achieve more for your company.
People want purpose and meaning from their work. They want to be known for what makes them unique. This is what drives employee engagement.
And they want relationships, particularly with a manager who can coach them to the next level. This is who drives employee engagement.
One of Gallup's biggest discoveries: the manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement.
05 Why Current Programs Aren't Improving Employee Engagement
Nearly 85% of employees worldwide are still not engaged or are actively disengaged at work, despite more effort from companies.
The greatest cause of a workplace engagement program's failure is this: Employee engagement is widely considered "an HR thing."
It is not owned by leaders, expected of managers nor understood by front-line employees.
The result is that some organizations believe they have exhausted "engagement" as a performance lever before they truly explore its full potential to change their business.
These leaders consistently experience low engagement, or they plateau and eventually decline -- despite repeated attempts to boost scores. Other times, they have high engagement numbers, but their business results tell a different story.
At a loss for explanations, leaders may blame the tool, the measurement, the philosophy or environmental factors that they believe make their problems unique.
But, the apparent failure of employee engagement efforts is likely due to the way workplace employee engagement programs are executed. Some common mistakes:
Leaders make engagement metrics far too complicated by focusing on predictors that often are outside of managers' control and typically don't relate to meeting employees' core psychological needs at work.
Incorrect engagement metrics.
They use a low-bar "percent favorable" metric that inflates scores and creates blind spots, resulting in the appearance of high engagement without strong business outcomes.
Overuse of surveys.
They overuse pulse surveys to get immediate feedback and rarely take action on the results.
In contrast, leaders who have integrated engagement into their corporate strategy using the framework we outline in the next section on this page see significant gains year after year.
06 Measuring Employee Engagement: Gallup's Questions
Gallup has identified 12 elements of employee engagement that predict high team performance.
Managers can take charge of engagement by asking and evaluating their employees' responses to these 12 employee engagement questions to create a structure for their interactions with employees -- casual conversations, meeting agendas, performance evaluations and team goal setting.
We've been measuring and reporting employee engagement trends for years and have used the 12 elements to determine how involved and enthusiastic employees are in their work and workplace.
The 12 Elements
Some of the 12 elements might seem simple. But Gallup's employee engagement research has found that only a small percentage of employees strongly agree their employer or manager delivers on them.
Here are three employee engagement ideas to help managers approach each element:
Q01. I know what is expected of me at work.
Helping employees understand what their organization, leaders and manager expect from them requires more than someone telling them what to do. The most effective managers define and discuss the explicit and implicit expectations for each employee. They paint a picture of outstanding performance and help employees recognize how their work leads to the success of their coworkers, their business area and the entire organization.
Q02. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
"Materials and equipment" is not just a checklist of tools. It includes both tangible and intangible resources -- office supplies, software, knowledge sharing and permissions, to name a few -- that employees need to do their job. The most effective managers don't assume what their team needs. They ask for and listen to their employees' needs and advocate for those needs when necessary. They also find ways to make the most of their team's ingenuity and talents when they cannot fully fund requests.
Q03. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
When people get to do what they do best every day at work, the organizations they work for get a boost in employee attraction, engagement and retention. Successful managers get to know their employees as individuals and give them opportunities to apply the best of their natural selves -- their talents. They talk to each employee about their unique value and make adjustments to align work, when possible, with team members' talents. The best managers know where their employees excel and position them so they are engaged and provide maximum value to the organization.
07 The Employee Engagement Model
There are four levels in the employee engagement model.
This four-level hierarchy is based on four types of employees' performance development needs:
Meeting the needs in the three foundational levels creates an environment of trust and support that enables managers and employees to get the most out of the top level, personal growth.
These levels provide a roadmap for managers to motivate and develop their team members and improve the team members' performance, with each one building on the previous.
The levels do not represent phases. Managers do not "finish" the first level and then move on to the second level. They must ensure that employees know what is expected of them and have the right materials and equipment to do their work while meeting needs on the second, third and fourth levels.
Managers should, with their team members, identify needs and obstacles on an ongoing basis and ideally take action before challenges inhibit their employees' performance.
08 Employee Engagement Examples: The 3 Types of Employees You Have
Engaged employees are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological "owners," drive high performance and innovation, and move the organization forward.
Example: An employee who logs in for a few hours longer to get a project over the finish line, or who spends more time on the phone with a client who needs help -- because they're committed to their organization's "client first" values. They build up their coworkers and have strong relationships within the organization.
Not engaged employees are psychologically unattached to their work and company. Because their engagement needs are not being fully met, they're putting time -- but not energy or passion -- into their work.
Example: An employee who completes their work but is fueled by duty rather than passion or personal interest. This employee may prefer to fly under the radar and might back down from more intense or high-profile work.
Actively disengaged employees aren't just unhappy at work -- they are resentful that their needs aren't being met and are acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.
Example: This employee spends their time talking negatively about coworkers, current projects, leaders, etc. They may be searching for other employment opportunities in their spare time and do not plan to stay at their current job much longer.
09 What's the Difference Between Employee Engagement and the Employee Experience?
A company's employee experience reflects the entire journey an employee takes with the organization.
It includes prehire experiences to post-exit interactions, as well as aspects of a job related to an employee's role, workspace, wellbeing, and relationships with their manager and team.
The employee life cycle is made of seven stages that capture the most significant employee-employer interactions that connect employees with the organization.
Naturally, each employee's engagement influences their employee experience during the engage stage of the employee life cycle. However, employee engagement also influences (and is influenced by) aspects of every other stage.
Therefore, the biggest difference between the employee experience and employee engagement isn't actually a difference -- it's more of a distinction. Developing employee engagement must be the main focus of managers within every single stage of the employee life cycle, all of which directly influences the employee experience.
Current employees' engagement influences the quality of potential job candidates -- 71% of employees use or have used referrals from an organization's current employees to learn about job opportunities.
Selecting employees based on fit to role increases the likelihood that they will do what they do best every day -- a key element of engagement.
Laying the foundation for engagement during onboarding requires thoughtfully planned conversations about what motivates employees and what development needs they have. Employees who strongly agree they have a clear plan for their professional development are 3.5 times more likely to strongly agree that their onboarding process was exceptional.
Work units in the top quartile of engagement see 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales and 21% higher profitability than those in the bottom quartile.
Employees who strongly agree they have had conversations with their manager in the last six months about their goals and successes are 2.8 times more likely than other employees to be engaged.
Engagement helps to decrease turnover -- 37% of engaged employees are looking for a new job, compared with 73% of actively disengaged employees -- and ensure that if employees do leave, they exit with positive experiences to share as they work elsewhere.
Making the Connection
Many organizations have engagement programs that are disconnected from various aspects of the employee experience.
They may see engagement purely in terms of retention, rather than as essential to a powerful recruitment strategy. Or, they may see the value in implementing an engaging onboarding process yet fail to see how a focus on engagement can transform performance conversations.
Organizations that make employee engagement a central part of their corporate strategy take a different approach. They incorporate aspects of engagement into all elements of their employee experience so that each feeds into and amplifies the other.
Applying Engagement to Every Stage: Questions to Ask
Are we leading with communications about our mission to attract talent who finds our purpose motivating?
Are we hiring for fit to role so that people do what do they do best every day?
Do we engage new hires from day one and make onboarding a long-term process that establishes clear expectations and a positive manager relationship?
Do our managers and their teams have regular discussions about the engagement of their team members and how to create an engaging culture?
Are discussions about engagement needs integrated with performance conversations?
Do managers infuse engagement topics into development discussions with their teams?
Does the organization recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of people when they leave?
10 How to Improve Employee Engagement: Team Engagement Ideas
There are no quick fixes when it comes to human relationships. Simple team engagement activities or staff engagement exercises won't transform your culture.
But since the value of the Q12 items is in helping managers and teams start conversations and approach workforce engagement issues in an authentic and meaningful way, there are lots of ideas in the framework to help you build your team up.
Addressing Diversity and Inclusion
A new manager has inherited a low-performing team with diverse ages, genders, cultures and personalities. After a few months of private conversations and tense team meetings, she can tell that a lack of cooperation and disunity are at the heart of the team's lack of collaboration and low performance outcomes.
Engagement areas for manager action:
Q04 Receiving frequent recognition:
Make recognition a regular agenda item to demonstrate appreciation for individuals' different contributions to the team and organization.
Q05 Someone cares about me:
Ask employees: What would make you feel like a valued member of this team? Individualize the approach to leading team members based on how they say they want to be treated.
Q07 My opinions count:
Become an advocate for employees' ideas. Solicit them during meetings and take action on them.
Start building team engagement today:
Learn about our employee engagement best practices and customized approaches to improving employee engagement in your workplace.
11 Improving Employee Engagement Begins Here
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