Employee Engagement, a Guide (Updated 2020)
The Definition of Employee Engagement is the emotional commitment an employee has to the organisation and its goals. When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort.
The Engagement Series
This is the first in a series of posts that will cover the broad topic of building a culture of high engagement.
- Employee Engagement, A Comprehensive Series
- Employee Survey Questions and how to create your own
- How to run an Engagement Survey
“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.” - Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos
What is Employee Engagement?
Employee Engagement does not mean employee happiness. Someone might be happy at work, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are working hard, productively on behalf of the organisation. While company game rooms, free massages, and Friday keg parties are fun--and may be beneficial for other reasons--making employees happy is different from making them engaged.
Many companies have "employee satisfaction" surveys and executives talk about "employee satisfaction", but the bar is set too low. A satisfied employee might show up for her daily 9-to-5 without complaint. But that same "satisfied" employee might not go the extra effort on her own, and she'll probably take the headhunter's call luring her away with a 10% bump in pay. Satisfied isn't enough.
"Employee engagement is the emotional commitment an employee has to the organisation and its goals."
This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don't work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organisation's goals. When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort.
This means the engaged computer programmer works overtime when needed, without being asked. This means the engaged retail clerk picks up the trash on the store floor, even if the boss isn't watching. This means the TSA agent will pull a bag suspicious bag to be searched, even if it's the last bag on their shift.
Improving Employee Engagement
When you have an Employee Engagement problem, there may be some quick fixes in that you can deal with the issues that staff is facing. Generally speaking, culture improvement is about consistency and long-term proactive actions from the management team.
You have to think about Employee Engagement like you would think about your health. There are best practices that you should typically follow but you also need to factor in your own genetic makeup. Similarly, if you experience illness, you first need to diagnose the issue before taking the appropriate action.
The steps to measuring engagement
- Measure your current level with a framework that aligns with the culture that you are building. This means it should be asking the questions that correspond to the culture that you're building. This typically involves a survey.
- Digest the feedback amongst the management team and compare it to other data like Employee Performance and Business Results.
- Determine Action Plans to address the key issues.
- Communicate the plan back to the team and deliver on the created expectation.
Measuring Employee Engagement
The easiest way to measure engagement is by asking your staff a variety of questions with a survey. There are many considerations here and we've written an article on choosing the right questions as well as an article on how to run an effective survey.
We'd recommend a broad set of questions at the outset to scan for issues and establish a baseline and then follow up a month (or a least a quarter) later. You can always drill-down into specific themes from there.
The Drivers of Engagement
In establishing what questions to ask, it's best to take a step back and ask yourself what aspects of your organisation you want data for. Based on the research of best practices, Roslin uses the following Engagement Drivers:
- Management Support
- Trust in Senior Leadership
- Meaningful Work
- Peer Relationships
Each driver has 2-4 related questions that are rotated through with each survey so that the surveys are fresh and staff don't get bored quickly.
It's important to see Employee Engagement and Culture as something that must be continually nurtured instead of a once-off project. The payoff is huge in that a strong company culture with high engagement and a good company strategy are clear precursors to business success.
Take a look at the next articles in this series: