The workplace has been shifting dramatically over the last several years. While it used to be rare to see remote or even hybrid work, now many organizations are including those models in their day-to-day work models. But no matter how or where employees are working, there remains the age-old problem: how do employers keep employees engaged?
If it’s always been a problem to keep engaged employees, it’s now a bigger problem than ever. The Great Resignation has been on the mind of most employers, and it’s not over yet. Recently, researchers found that 73% of employees are considering quitting their jobs. That’s a lot of people who are considering looking for new work opportunities. On top of that, our latest State of Work-Life Wellness report shows that 25% of US employees are not happy in their jobs. Losing employees hurts your company—especially financially. Training new employees to fill the ones you lose can cost around $1,250 an employee. But employees who are engaged, they want to stay.
Long story short, it’s not worth losing employees, and employees want to stay where they feel engaged. The problem is only 36% of employees in the US feel engaged with their work. And 15% of employees actually feel actively disengaged from their work. Employee engagement is a big problem for employers, and figuring out how to engage employees matters.
That’s why we have this guide for employee engagement strategies to help you keep your workforce engaged and motivated in an employment climate that seems to be actively working against you. We’ll walk you through the ins and outs of employee engagement.
What Is Employee Engagement?
To start, what even is employee engagement? Employee engagement is the connection they feel toward the work they do. It’s the employee’s motivation, drive and enthusiasm to perform the work they are assigned to do. Engagement helps employees see their purpose behind the work, and it’s what gets them going in the morning to get it done.
Employee engagement is different from job satisfaction, though the two do share similarities. Employee satisfaction is a one-way street where it’s more about what the employee is getting from the job—and can go beyond just work to include things like pay and working conditions. An employee can be satisfied with their job if they get a good length lunch break and get to leave early on Fridays. But engagement is a two-way street that’s more about partnership—what you and the employee are accomplishing together. Employee engagement includes more about the company mission and goals. The employee who is engaged cares more about just a project; they care about achieving the goals of the company and moving the mission forward.
So an employee can be engaged and satisfied, but an employee can be satisfied but not engaged. That’s why it’s important to distinguish between these two metrics, so we can focus on improving engagement specifically. Besides, engagement is longer lasting and can take care of satisfaction while you’re at it.
Why Is Workforce Engagement Important?
We know employee engagement matters. But in what ways does engagement really help employees and help the company? These are some of the best ways your company and employees can benefit from focusing on employee engagement.
Increased employee productivity
Engaged employees are more productive employees. In fact, engaged employees are 17% more productive than their less engaged counterparts, and that’s a huge number to be working with for productivity. Productivity at your company gives your company a competitive edge against the competition and can potentially increase sales—all great consequences for your business. And one way to boost that crucial productivity metric is to improve employee engagement.
Higher employee retention
Employees are leaving their jobs more than ever before in recent years. Employers know this. Being unengaged is a reason employees might leave their jobs. In a survey, 33% of employees leaving their jobs said one of their main reasons for leaving was boredom and a need for a challenge. In addition, employees need to be recognized, and if they’re not, they’re more likely to leave. Employee engagement stops boredom and lack of recognition in its tracks. Engaged employees are already feeling interested in their work and like they’re being challenged. They’re also feeling recognized and appreciated as they go because that’s how employee engagement works.
Higher retention saves your company money. Instead of training up new employees regularly, you can instead focus your efforts on the employees you already have and helping them find engagement and motivation in their work. Everyone benefits when that happens.
Absenteeism costs your company big time. Companies lose $225.8 billion annually or $1,685 per employee due to absenteeism. The good news is that highly engaged workplaces see 41% less absenteeism. Keeping your workforce engaged also keeps them coming to work, which keeps productivity up and loss low.
Increased customer satisfaction
Engaged employees not only perform better, they also help your customers more. Increased employee engagement has a direct link to increased customer satisfaction. Employees that are engaged go the extra mile, take personal satisfaction in helping a customer, take ownership of their work, deliver, meet their commitments and do everything that helps your customers find more satisfaction with their experience with your company.
Better employee health
Employee engagement isn’t just good for your company: it’s good for your employees in their personal lives as well. Research shows that more engaged employees are more likely to exercise—meaning engagement can lower their risk for obesity and chronic disease. Engaged workplaces also reduce risk of employee injury. There are 70% less incidents at workplaces where employees are engaged. Engagement helps make your company work, your customers happiers and your employees happier and healthier.
Three Types of Employees
So employee engagement is important and greatly impacts your business. But who are the employees behind these metrics? There’s a simple way to think about where your employees are falling when it comes to engagement. These are the three main types of employees when it comes to employee engagement:
- Engaged employees. These are the 36% who are actively engaged with their work. They like their jobs and the company they work for. Some may see room for improvement with the company, but in general, they believe in the mission and are excited to do their part to move it forward. They also typically encourage other employees to also strive toward achievement. Only about 30% of all engaged employees are looking for new employment opportunities, and it’s less about you than their own needs.
- Not engaged employees. Not engaged employees aren’t engaged, but they’re also not actively checking out of the workplace. These employees will do whatever they have to and complete the bare minimum of what they’re asked to do. Sometimes they’ll do less and end up underperforming. About 55% of these employees are looking for new employment opportunities, so the turnover rate in this group can be high. This group also stands to gain the most from increased engagement initiatives because they’re not actively avoiding engagement; they just need the right stimulation to become engaged.
- Disengaged employees. Disengaged employees have actively checked out of the work environment, and they typically don’t like the place they’re employed. They sometimes have a negative attitude toward the company mission or goals. They’re not committed to their work and often underperform. About 74% of disengaged employees are looking for new employment opportunities.
Overall, most employees in America are not engaged employees. But luckily, not engaged employees can easily become engaged employees with the right emphasis on your part.
What Motivates Employee Engagement?
So if most employees are in a position to be engaged, where do you start? To start, you need to know what motivates employees and what gets them moving in the right direction. These are some of the key factors that motivates engagement:
- Purpose. Employees need a purpose to thrive, and purpose can keep them engaged. It’s much easier to stay focused and motivated with work if the employee sees how their work plays a role and that the company they work for is working toward something they value.
- Ongoing conversations. Employees need stimulation to stay engaged, and they need opportunities to discuss engagement. Employees need to know they can have ongoing conversations with their management teams, and management needs to continue having conversations with employees about what they need to stay engaged.
- Development. Professional development is important to employee engagement, but employees aren’t feeling like they aren’t getting enough. Only 29% of employees are satisfied with the current level of development they’re getting at work. Employees aren’t getting enough development, but they need it to stay engaged.
- A caring manager. The manager an employee reports to is key for motivating engagement. Leaders who listen to their employees help their employees stay more engaged and motivated. Employees want their managers to recognize their work—37% of employees cite that as the most important way to support employees—and to care about them and their achievements. Employees at all levels need this support to stay engaged.
- A focus on strengths. Employees who know what they do well—and know that their employers know what they do well—are more likely to stay engaged. Again, giving support to employees at all levels and recognizing what they do and what they do well encourages engagement. Every employee has superpowers in the workplace, and it’s always worth cultivating those.
Improving Employee Engagement
Now that we understand what motivates employee engagement, how do we actually improve employee engagement? What actual steps can employers take to cultivate a workplace culture of engagement? Here are some of our best practices and tips to improve employee engagement in your organization.
Ongoing conversations are important to motivate engagement, so it’s time to make sure there’s an easy way to communicate regularly with employees and to communicate regularly about engagement. Providing easy communication avenues for employees helps them feel involved in the organization, which in turn can help them feel more engaged with your company and their work. Consider engagement meetings, check-ins, thought boards, brainstorming sessions, surveys, activities and more as ways to add more communication to improve engagement.
Leadership teams should also be communicating regularly about how efforts to improve engagement are going. If you aren’t checking in on how your efforts are going to improve engagement, how can you be sure anything is happening?
All in all, communication is always key, and that rule definitely applies to improving employee engagement.
Managers are the top of the organization and leaders in their own right. But managers who aren’t equipped with tools to help engage their teams won’t be able to support engagement. That’s why improving engagement starts with training your managers. Train your managers on how to support engagement within their teams. Since we know that caring managers motivates engagement, teaching your managers to be those types of leaders will help boost your teams’ engagement.
Hold performance reviews and one-on-one meetings
Employees that don’t know how they’re performing don’t know how to improve and grow. As we discussed earlier, one reason employees aren’t feeling engaged is that they aren’t experiencing enough development opportunities. Performance reviews provide you with ample opportunities to help your employees see where they can develop, and these meetings provide you a chance to create a plan for improvement and development that keeps employees challenged but motivated.
One-on-one meetings are another great way to discuss opportunities for development and challenges. Employees don’t want to be bored. They want challenges to overcome. Work with them one-on-one to see where they could be pushed and in what ways they could grow. Regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings provide that opportunity—plus they increase regular communication, another bonus.
Engage remote workers
Remote workers want to be engaged but often feel left out of the loop. Research shows that some of the best ways to engage your remote workers are to prioritize communication with them (and never forget that they’re there), set clear expectations, recognize all of their accomplishments and encourage life balance. Remote workers can be engaged; they just need management that makes an effort to include them and give them as many opportunities as they might have in the office.
Reaffirm employee strengths
A focus on employee strengths motivates engagement, right? So a great way to improve employee engagement is to reaffirm strengths regularly. This can take the form of regular check-ins, compliments after a project, recognition in meetings, thank-you notes and so many more ideas. The idea is that when you see employees using their strengths, let them know that you notice that and appreciate that.
Have employees set goals and check in on performance
Employees can do a lot on their own to stay engaged. Goals can motivate employees and keep them working toward something they care about. But sometimes they need a little help setting goals and checking in on them. To help improve engagement, create a goal-minded culture by regularly having employees set goals. Maybe your employees set goals in meetings, during a brief scheduled time on their own or as teams in team meetings.
Whatever your goals look like, employees need to be regularly touching base with how their goals are going. Accountability is important with any goal, including engagement goals. Keep yourselves and employees accountable by checking in on goals. Again, that could be done in meetings or even on much smaller scales.
Form meaningful connections and groups within large companies
Large companies are easy to get lost in sometimes. So it’s more important than ever to form meaningful connections in a large company environment. Connections can help employees feel like they belong, which can help them want to move the company forward with their own individual work. Plus employees feel more engaged when they work in teams, so connections can help employees stay engaged in more than one way.
Use activities, team building exercises, break room set-up, employee newsletter spotlights and more to keep your employees focused on building connection—which then builds engagement.
Recognize employee achievements
Employees need to be recognized for their hard work. Make sure they know that you see what they’re doing. 69% of employees say that they’d work harder if their work was recognized. Recognize achievements in newsletters, during meetings and on one-on-one levels. Provide rewards or simply put up names of stellar employees as you go along. However it looks, make sure employees know that their work is worthwhile.
Obviously compensation can go a long way in helping employees want to be more engaged. But it doesn’t necessarily fix everything. Employees will consider taking a pay cut to have a position that engages them. Still, compensation is a tool you have when you use it strategically. Compensate your employees who are working hard in ways that reflect their work as a way to recognize their achievements. Bonuses, raises and even gift cards can all help compensate strategically.
Employees who feel like their company takes care of them will be more likely to want to take care of their company. And benefits are how a company takes care of their employees and keeps them healthy and happy. Including quality benefits can help your employees stay more engaged.
Measuring Employee Engagement
To really see how employee engagement is going, you need to be able to measure it. But how can you measure something like that? There are a few ways to measure employee engagement, but engagement surveys are a common way for your employees to respond honestly about how they feel about the organization and company and feel like their responses are heard. As you measure engagement, make sure you’re looking across three key areas:
- Organizational workforce engagement
- Team engagement
- Individual engagement
Each one of these levels is important to the overall engagement levels at your company, and if a problem is happening, it’s crucial to know where, and three levels of measurement can help you pinpoint the source.
The Bottom Line of Employee Engagement
Employee engagement keeps employees coming back to work and loving their job. More than that, it keeps your organization moving forward and keeps you from having to deal with constant turnover. At the end of the day, engagement matters, and that’s why we’re always working to improve engagement.
As you look for more ways you can engage your employees, you will probably need great benefits and ways to help take care of your employees—so they, in turn, help take care of you. To get started with great benefits to boost employee engagement, talk to a wellbeing specialist today.
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The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.