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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.

Two women looking at an employee engagement activity on the computer.

02 Why Is Employee Engagement Important?

Employees make decisions and take actions every day that can affect your workforce and organization.

A team ideating on important employee engagement activities at the office.

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?

03 Drivers of Employee Engagement: What People 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 employee engagement. But it's not that simple.

People want purpose and meaning from their work. They want to be known for what they're good at.

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.

Drivers of employee engagement: The past is my paycheck, satisfaction, boss, annual review, weaknesses, job.
Drivers of employee engagement: Our future is my purpose, development, coach, ongoing conversations, strengths, life.

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 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.

Four ladies discussing employee engagement survey results at a large table.

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:

Too complicated.

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.

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 employee engagement 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 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:

The 4 Levels of the Q12

The Q12 survey is based on four types -- or levels -- of employees' performance development needs:

A green pyramid with 4 levels, basic, individual, teamwork and growth at the top (Four levels of employee engagement).

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.

A man in a casual denim shirt working at his computer and answering Gallup Q12 survey questions.

Managers should, with their team members, identify needs and obstacles on an ongoing basis and ideally take action before challenges inhibit their employees' performance.

Interested in using our Q12 employee engagement tool with your company or team? Get started today with the Gallup Access employee engagement software.

Learn More

Survey reports featured in the Gallup Access platform.

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 high performance and innovation, and move the organization forward.

Not Engaged

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

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.

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 employee engagement statistics accumulated over the past three decades.

The study covers more than 112,000 teams -- over 2.7 million employees -- in 276 organizations across 54 industries and in 96 countries.

When Gallup analyzed the differences in performance among business/work units, the benefits of employee engagement were clear. Those in the top quartile on employee engagement significantly outperformed those in the bottom quartile on these crucial performance outcomes:

patient safety
(in high-turnover
(in low-turnover
shrinkage (theft)
safety incidents
quality (defects)
customer loyalty/engagement
productivity (sales)

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.

Engagement Influence on 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?

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.

Employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are 3X more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less.

So, it's not enough for leaders to simply tell managers to own engagement and coach their teams.

Leaders must:

A report cover for the high-development and employee engagement perspective paper.

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 workforce engagement issues in an authentic and meaningful way, there are lots of ideas in the framework to help you build your team up.

For example:

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.

Some additional team building ideas you can start on today:

Discover your own and your team's strengths

You can increase employee engagement and the relationships on your team simply by knowing what makes them unique.

Learn how to coach your team

Managers can increase engagement and performance by helping their team develop as individuals and achieve their purpose.

Read about Gallup's approach to teamwork

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.

A woman in a red jacket clapping for engaged workplace winners.
A team of four people working on their employee engagement activities.

What's their secret?

They are committed to development-focused engagement programs -- 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.