What Is Employee Engagement and How Do You Improve It?
- What Is Employee Engagement?
- Why Is Employee Engagement Important?
- Drivers of Engagement: What Employees Really Want and Need
- Why Current Programs Don't Improve Employee Engagement
- Gallup's Q12 Employee Engagement Survey Questions
- What Highly Engaged Employees Do Differently: The 3 Personas of Engagement
- Connecting Employee Engagement With Better Performance and Business Outcomes
- How to Improve Employee Engagement Now: Team Building Ideas
- Connecting Employee Engagement and the Employee Experience
- The Manager's Role in Employee Engagement
- Create a Culture of High Development Through Engagement
- Gallup's Top Employee Engagement Services and Content
01 What Is Employee Engagement?
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.
Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.
02 Why Is Employee Engagement Important?
Employees make decisions and take actions every day that can affect the productivity of your workforce and success of your organization.
The way your company treats employees and the way 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?
03 Drivers of Engagement: What Employees Really Want and Need
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 success. But it's not that simple.
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.
04 Why Current Programs Don't Improve 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 an 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 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.
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.
05 Gallup's Q12 Employee Engagement Survey
Questions: An Effective Framework
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 survey questions to create a framework for their interactions with employees -- casual conversations, meeting agendas, performance evaluations and team goal setting.
The 12 Elements
Some of the 12 elements might seem simple. But Gallup's research has found that only a small percentage of employees strongly agree their employer or manager delivers on them.
Here's 3 examples of how the best managers approach each element:
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.
"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.
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.
Recognition motivates, provides a sense of accomplishment and makes employees feel valued for the work they do. It also sends a message to other employees about what success looks like. The most effective leaders create a recognition-rich environment with praise coming from multiple sources at multiple times. The best managers learn how individuals like to be recognized, and they recognize them timely and often for achieving their goals and demonstrating high performance. They also explain why their performance matters.
Few managers take defined action to meet this employee need because caring about someone else cannot be manufactured. But the most successful managers know employees as individuals, acknowledge achievements, have performance conversations, conduct formal reviews and, above all, respect their employees. These behaviors build a work environment where employees feel safe experimenting with new ideas, sharing information, exploring opportunities for development, and supporting each other in their work and personal lives.
"Development" doesn't mean "promotion." A promotion is a one-time event. Development is a process of understanding each person's unique talents and strengths and finding roles, positions and projects that allow employees to apply them. Great managers coach employees by identifying wins and misses, motivating them to go beyond what they think they can do, connecting them with potential mentors, and holding them accountable for their performance.
Asking for and considering individuals' input leads to more informed decision-making and encourages new ideas that positively influence business results. The best managers promote open dialogue and provide honest feedback on employees' opinions and ideas -- supporting good ideas and addressing unfeasible ones. Great managers create feedback loops, so people feel like they are involved in the decision-making process.
Employees cannot energize themselves to do all they could do without knowing how their job fits into the grander scheme of things. People want to contribute to a higher purpose, beyond the practical needs of earning a living. Leaders must ensure that the organization's mission and purpose are clear and aligned with the employee experience. Managers play a significant role in helping employees understand how their role and daily tasks contribute to the organization's mission. Great managers create opportunities for employees to share mission moments and stories about the organization achieving its purpose.
As work becomes more interconnected, interdependent and project-based, employees' shared commitment to quality is vital to an organization. High performers can become resentful when a coworker is not contributing or being held accountable. Great managers do not stand by and watch their team erode. They establish clear standards of performance, hold employees accountable and foster an environment of excellence by recognizing and sharing examples of exceptional work.
This is the most controversial of the 12 elements, but the truth remains: It predicts performance. When employees have a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they take positive actions that benefit the business -- actions they may not otherwise even consider. Obviously, managers cannot manufacture friendships, but they can create situations for people to get to know each other and socialize without disrupting performance outcomes.
Employees need to know how they are doing, how their work is being perceived and what the future holds. "In the last six months" suggests that employees benefit from more than an annual performance review. When a manager regularly checks in on their employees' progress, team members are more likely to believe they get paid fairly, more likely to stay with the company and more than twice as likely to recommend the company to others as a great place to work. Great managers have frequent conversations -- formal and informal -- with employees about how they are doing. In short, they are coaches, providing immediate, constructive and motivating feedback to help employees achieve increasingly better results.
When employees do the same things every day without a chance to learn something new, they rarely stay enthusiastic about their jobs. In contrast, when people feel like they are learning and growing, they work harder and more efficiently. Successful managers challenge employees, create learning opportunities and frequently ask employees what they are learning. Beyond providing training, they encourage employees to learn new skills or find better ways to do a job. They talk with employees about short-term and long-term growth goals, and they are open to allowing their employees to take on new responsibilities and roles.
The 4 Levels of the Q12
The Q12 survey is based on four types -- or levels -- 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.
For example, employees may feel connected to their team members, but if, among other challenges, they don't know what's expected of them (a basic need), don't have the appropriate materials and equipment (a basic need), or are not able to do what they do best (an individual need), their comradery with their team members is unlikely to have a positive impact on their performance.
Instead, time spent with their peers may more closely resemble a gripe session than productive teamwork.
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.
The best way to sustain progress is to keep doing more of what works and using this hierarchy as a framework for understanding how to best support employees, determine barriers to success and then adjust accordingly.
Managers should, with their team members, identify needs and obstacles on an ongoing basis and ideally take action before challenges inhibit their employees' performance.
06 What Highly Engaged Employees Do Differently
Engaged employees are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological "owners," drive performance and innovation, and move the organization forward.
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.
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.
Jackie is an "engaged employee." On a Friday afternoon, Jackie's boss tells her that he has a high-stakes presentation on Tuesday that will require Jackie to pull some important data. Her boss genuinely respects Jackie's time and clarifies that he doesn't expect her to drop everything right away. Jackie knows she could easily pull the data on Monday, but since she feels respected and senses her boss' interest in preparing sooner rather than later, she chooses to shift her priorities and pull the data now instead of wrapping up for the day. Because Jackie chooses to be helpful, her boss is able to keep moving on his presentation and has available time on Monday to move other projects forward.
Marcello is "not engaged." On a normal day, he shows up to his barista job right on time and today is no different. He spends a few extra minutes in the back putting on his apron and checking the news on his phone. In the meantime, the line at the front register builds up. Marcello's manager shows her disappointment but doesn't say anything directly to him. In a hurry now, Marcello makes a mistake on his first order of the day -- he uses 2% milk instead of the soymilk the customer asked for. When the customer complains, Marcello gives an uninspiring apology that doesn't change how the customer feels about the situation. Marcello looks to his manager, but she again doesn't clarify her expectations for Marcello and how to handle it when something like this happens again.
Aaron is "actively disengaged." Aaron's boss asks him to take on a new project that will require him to shift his focus over the next few months. Aaron doesn't respond for a few days -- because the last time he took on a similar project he "didn't even get as much as a thank you." In reality, he did receive a few "thank you's" but not any specific, meaningful praise from his boss or his important project partners. He eventually says yes to the new project, but consistently holds everyone back and chooses to criticize what others are doing because he's not invested.
07 Connecting Employee Engagement With Performance and Better Business Outcomes
When companies use Gallup's Q12 as a framework -- one that's supported by executives as a primary management strategy -- they yield clear and better results.
Gallup's most recent meta-analysis -- a study of many studies -- on team engagement and performance includes data accumulated over the past two decades.
When Gallup analyzed the differences in performance between engaged and actively disengaged business/work units, those scoring in the top quartile on employee engagement significantly outperformed those in the bottom quartile on these crucial performance outcomes:
08 Connecting Employee Engagement to 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.
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?
09 From Boss to Coach: The Manager's Role in 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
10 How to Improve Employee Engagement:
Team Building 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 workplace 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.
See more scenarios in our Building a High-Development Culture Through Your Employee Engagement Strategy.Download Perspective
Some additional team building ideas you can start on today:
You can improve engagement and the relationships on your team simply by knowing what makes them unique.
Managers can improve engagement and performance by helping their team develop as individuals and achieve their purpose.
We've studied thousands of teams from around the world, find out what we know the best do.
11 Create a Culture of High Development Through Engagement
The ultimate goal of engagement is the growth and development of the individual.
In our studies of the world's most successful organizations, we've learned that a culture of high employee development is the most productive environment for both the business and the employees.
It also aligns with the expectations of the current workforce: The No. 1 reason people give for a job change is "career growth opportunities."
Gallup has partnered with 39 high-achieving organizations that have nearly doubled their percentage of engaged employees.
They have attained a ratio of 14 engaged employees to every actively disengaged employee.
What's their secret?
They are committed to a development-focused engagement program -- they meet their employees' needs, as defined by the 12 engagement elements, by transforming their organizations into engines of individual development.
As they have invested in unleashing human potential, they have seen their organizations become more productive, more competitive and more profitable.