What is Employee Engagement? What, Why, and How to Improve It

employee engagement

Employees who feel connected to their organization work harder, stay longer, and motivate others to do the same.

Employee engagement affects just about every important aspect of your organization, including profitability, revenue, customer experience, employee turnover, and more.

Research shows that 92% of business executives believe that engaged employees perform better, boosting the success of their teams and the outcomes of their organizations.

There's a lot of information out there about how to improve employee engagement—some credible, some not. And HR leaders have heard a wide variety of employee engagement definitions. But what exactly is employee engagement? To truly drive employee engagement in your organization, you first need to define it and understand what it looks like.

Discover six trends driving employee success in 2023



What is employee engagement?


Employee engagement definition

Employee engagement is the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward the work they do, their teams, and their organization.

employee engagement definition

Levels of employee engagement

Employee engagement measures how employee feel about their organization. Based on their perceptions of their workplace, employees are categorized into four main groups.

employee engagement profiles

Highly engaged employees

Highly engaged employees hold very favorable opinions of their place of work. When employees feel connected to their teams, love their jobs, and have positive feelings about your organization, they're going to want to stay and put in extra effort to help the organization succeed. These "brand advocates" speak highly of their company to family and friends. They encourage other employees around them to do their best.


Moderately engaged employees

Moderately engaged employees see their organization in a moderately favorable light. They like their company but see opportunities for improvement. These employees are less likely to ask for more responsibilities and may underperform. There is something about the organization or their job that holds them back from full engagement.


Barely engaged employees

Barely engaged employees feel indifferent toward their place of employment. They usually lack motivation for their position and will only do as much as they can to get by—sometimes less. Barely engaged employees may be researching other jobs and are a high turnover risk.


Disengaged employees

Disengaged employees have a negative opinion of their place of work. They are disconnected from the mission, goals, and future of the organization. They lack commitment to their position and responsibilities. It’s important to understand how to handle disengaged employees so that their negative perceptions don’t impact the productivity of employees around them.


What employee engagement is not

Employee engagement often is confused are used interchangeably with similar concepts like happiness, satisfaction, or wellbeing. But there are some clear differences among these concepts that are important to understand.


Employee happiness

Some leaders may wonder how to keep employees happy. While important, happiness is not the same as engagement. It says nothing about how invested employees are in the company, nor how hard they’re working on behalf of the organization’s mission. Happiness is a short-term, rapidly changing measurement. For example, an employee may feel temporary happiness from a raise and then sink back into disengagement.

Employee engagement is a deep, long-term connection to the organization.


Employee satisfaction

Employee satisfaction can only be measured at surface level. An employee who is satisfied may not be engaged. Generally speaking, satisfied employees will not take steps to go above and beyond. They usually stick around, but they aren’t driven to go the extra mile.

Engaged employees are productive, while satisfied employees tend to coast through their work and experience.


Employee wellbeing

Employee wellbeing evaluates many areas of an employee’s life, such as how well they cope with stress or if they’re fulfilling their potential. Providing resources to increase employee wellbeing can increase employee engagement.

Employee engagement focuses on an employee’s connection with their company—not on their own wellbeing.



Why is employee engagement important?


Employee engagement is appealing to HR because of its immediate benefits in employee retention, recruitment, job satisfaction, and happiness. But the benefits of employee engagement span much further than HR.


The business case for employee engagement

Talent-minded organizations know that their people are their greatest lever for business success. And 92% of executives believe that engaged employees perform better. This is just one of many employee engagement statistics that prove the value of employee engagement in an organization.



How employee engagement impacts employee, team, and business success

When employees are engaged, discretionary effort goes up. Employees want to go above and beyond the basic requirements of their job. When leaders and managers channel that energy and effort in the right direction, employee engagement impacts a host of business outcomes.

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Benefits of employee engagement


Increased employee productivity

Research shows engaged employees are 17% more productive than their peers. They’re more likely to work diligently and expend discretionary effort in their jobs.


Higher employee retention

Engaged employees don’t have a reason to look elsewhere for work. Engaged employees turn over less often because:

  • They know they will be recognized for their contributions 
  • They see opportunities for professional growth and career development
  • They understand when organizational change happens and why
These three pillars enable employees to connect to the present and the future.


Increased customer satisfaction

72% of executives strongly agree that organizations with highly engaged employees have happy customers. Engaged employees care deeply about their jobs, and thus, customers.


Lower absenteeism

When employees are committed to your mission, they’re going to show up. Highly engaged workplaces see 41% lower absenteeism.


Better employee health

Engaged employees are less likely to be obese, less likely to suffer from chronic disease, more likely to eat healthier, and more likely to exercise. Having healthier employees positively impacts your bottom line.


Decreased workplace injury

Engaged employees are more aware of their surroundings and can focus on the task at hand. Research has shown that 70% fewer safety incidents occur in highly engaged workplaces.

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What are the top drivers of employee engagement?


Employee engagement drivers are items that have a large impact on employee engagement outcomes. They are the items you should take action on when driving employee engagement.

All drivers will impact engagement—the key is to identify and act on the drivers that will make the biggest difference in your organization. And implement strategic employee engagement activities that support those drivers.

Here are the top 10 drivers of employee engagement, based on our employee engagement trends research: 

  1. My job allows me to utilize my strengths.
  2. I trust our senior leaders to lead the company to future success.
  3. I believe this organization will be successful in the future.
  4. I find my job interesting and challenging.
  5. The senior leaders of this organization value people as their most important resource.
  6. My opinions seem to count at work.
  7. If I contribute to the organization’s success, I know I will be recognized.
  8. I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself here.
  9. The senior leaders of this organization demonstrate integrity.
  10. I have the information I need to do my job well.

From this list, there are a few key themes that are powerful indicators of employee engagement. They describe what is core to connection and engagement in your workplace.


Motivating work

Employees want their jobs to be challenging. They want to own tasks that use their strengths and have access to opportunities to develop in their roles and career. It’s important for organizational leaders and HR teams to match talent to roles that supply these aspects of an engaging job.


Inspiring teams and leaders

Leadership and team relationships are extremely important for engagement. Employees want to work for leaders and teams that put people first, value employee contributions, and show integrity.


Commitment to organization

Employees want to work for organizations that have a strategy built for success. They want to believe that they can contribute to that success in their role. Individuals want to successfully contribute to winning teams and organizations. 

Our scientifically validated e9 employee engagement model examines how employees view the strength of the connection they have toward their work, team, and organization.

Discover six trends driving employee success in 2023



Who drives employee engagement?


Every person in your organization impacts employee engagement—in the quality of relationships they build, their approach to teamwork, and general attitudes they bring to the workplace. Here is a breakdown of employee engagement roles.


The role of leadership in employee engagement

Organizational leaders are employee engagement advocates. They are the influential campaigners and top promoters of an engaged culture. Leadership buy-in is critical when it comes to employee engagement. Depend on leaders to:

  • Set the tone
  • Cast a vision
  • Communicate changes made
  • Update the organization on progress


The role of HR in employee engagement

HR should take ownership of employee engagement initiatives and hold teams accountable. This team is behind the scenes making sure everything runs smoothly. Depend on HR to:

  • Select the right employee engagement partner
  • Implement tools and processes
  • Support and develop managers
  • Manage day-to-day needs and happenings related to engagement efforts


The role of managers in employee engagement

Managers interact with employees more than anyone else. They must create an environment where every individual can thrive and truly be engaged. Depend on managers to:

  • Build good relationships with each employee
  • Serve as a sounding board for employee feedback and suggestions
  • Recognize and celebrate individual and team performance
  • Provide continuous performance feedback
  • Help employees develop and grow


The role of employees in employee engagement 

Employees are your voices on the front lines and your main line of sight into the employee experience. Rely on employees to:

  • Provide honest, candid, and actionable feedback about what is and isn’t working
  • Brainstorm new and creative solutions that address their concerns
  • Own their performance and development
  • Engage in meaningful relationships with their teams and managers



How do you measure employee engagement?


Before you can improve employee engagement, you have to know where you stand. How do you measure employee engagement? One of the most accurate and efficient ways to gain understanding is with employee surveys.

3 types of employee surveys for measuring employee engagement


1. Employee engagement surveys

A comprehensive employee engagement survey helps leaders understand engagement at the organizational level. These surveys should include questions that are scientifically proven to measure employee engagement.


2. Pulse surveys

Pulse surveys are designed to help organizations gather real-time feedback on any topic at any time. This is especially important during times of transition—such as acquisitions and mergers, mission or focus changes, and executive or management changes.


3. Employee lifecycle surveys

Employee lifecycle surveys allow you to collect feedback from employees during key moments in their tenure at your organization. Examples include:

  • New Hire Survey: What do new hires think of your onboarding process? What was their perception at the 30-, 60-, and 180-day marks? What’s their outlook on the future? With the right questions, you can gain the insight that helps you engage new hires now and in the future. 
  • Stay Survey: Why are employees still working at your company? What could drive them to leave? What can be done to prevent it? Questions like these help prevent unwanted talent loss by keeping tenured employees engaged
  • Exit SurveyWhy did an employee leave your organization? How did the turnover impact remaining employees? What can you do to prevent others from leaving? The insight you'll gain from exit surveys will help you be more strategic in your engagement initiatives.  


Developing a measurement strategy

No matter which type of survey you use to measure employee engagement, you must keep your end goal in mind. Decide on the impact you want the survey to have, and then work backward from there. Ask yourself:

  • Who will be accountable for following up on these results?
  • Who will be acting on these results?
  • What does that action look like?



3 Approaches to Measuring Culture and Engagement


1. Measure across the organization.

Use a company-wide engagement survey to establish a baseline. This will give you a 30,000-foot view of strengths and opportunities. You’ll have a benchmark for groups and teams within your organization, as well as future engagement surveys.


2. Measure across groups and teams.

Once you have organizational data, you can slice and dice it to understand nuances in engagement across teams, groups, and demographics. Identify areas where you need to dig deeper and deploy tactics to help you get that information like employee focus groups and pulse surveys.


3. Measure among individuals.

Surveys shouldn’t be the only tool in your toolbox for measuring employee engagement. Use one-on-one meetings, feedback, recognition and more to understand engagement at the individual level. Your managers play a critical role in this effort.

In addition to measuring across groups and demographics, you'll also want to measure employee engagement across key stages of the employee lifecycle

The Relationship-Driven Workplace ebook



How to create an employee engagement action plan

employee engagement action plan is where the magic happens. Action plans help you:

  • Identify and discuss key engagement drivers 
  • Commit to changes that will have the most impact 
  • Hold everyone accountable for the results of your employee engagement strategies



Here are 5 steps in creating an effective employee engagement action plan.


1. Review survey results.

Once your survey results come in, take some time to dig in. Look for strengths and opportunities for improvement and pay attention to any themes and patterns in the results. Encourage managers to review results with their teams.


2. Choose focus areas. 

After reviewing the data, decide on 2-3 key focus areas to explore further. Prioritize focus areas based on the level of impact of that driver and how much effort it will take to move the needle.


3. Brainstorm solutions.

Next, create focus groups and assign them to each target area for further discussion and brainstorming. Focus groups should discuss the data, identify possible challenges, and brainstorm solutions. Then, translate employee engagement ideas into takeaways.


4. Make commitments. 

Once you’ve settled on key takeaways and actions, it’s time to build out your action plan. Be sure to include commitments, owners, timelines, and measurable goals. By clearly outlining these areas, you can ensure your plan won’t fall through the cracks.


5. Communicate progress.

The work isn’t done once you’ve developed your action plan. As the weeks and months go by, be sure to follow up on progress. You’ll want to keep these commitments top of mind throughout the year in order to drive the most impact.



Employee engagement best practices

In the modern workplace, employee engagement is so much more than a survey. Here are a few employee engagement best practices to help you maximize your efforts. These employee engagement ideas will make all the difference in the employee experience. 


Reaffirm areas of strength.

Yes, there is always room to improve. But don’t be afraid to highlight your strengths as well. Celebrate engagement wins and socialize successes with current and prospective employees. When employees see meaningful action and improvement, they’re more likely to be engaged.


Tie engagement efforts to business outcomes.

You need everyone on board to make your engagement plan a success—and that means proving real impact. Connect your engagement efforts to tangible business results such as turnover rates, sales, customer satisfaction, financial performance, and more. When leaders and employees see the impact of engagement, they’re more likely to be invested in the process.


Make engagement a strategy, not an activity.

If you want to move the needle on engagement, it must be a continuous strategy—not a one-off project you set and forget. When engagement is only addressed every once and awhile, employees don’t feel heard or supported, and managers don’t take it seriously. If you listen to your employee and prioritize engagement throughout the year, you’ll see greater engagement and a better return on the investment of your time, energy, and dollars.


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Employee engagement tools

Engaging your talent is key to employee, team, and business success. Help your leaders focus on what matters, your managers become better coaches, and your employees do their best work with the right employee engagement tools.


Employee surveys

Your employees can tell you a lot about what’s working and what isn’t. Surveys are important for all types of employees—they can give insight into how to engage retail employees to c-suite leaders. Employee surveys help you make sense of what is happening deep within your organization so you can understand, take action, and grow.

Employee engagement surveys

Company-wide employee engagement surveys help you understand the big picture. They encourage all employees to voice their thoughts and feelings about their work experience and provide leaders with invaluable data and insight on how to move forward.


Pulse surveys

Pulse surveys help you collect quick feedback on any topic, any time. These flexible survey tools help increase communication and transparency, build trust, and continuously improve culture.


Employee lifecycle surveys

Employee lifecycle surveys help you understand what’s happening at key milestones within the employee journey. This enables leaders to optimize the employee experience and keep employees engagedno matter where they are in their tenure.


Learn how our employee engagement platform can help you uncover obstacles to  growth. See Quantum Workplace Engagement >>> 


Continuous performance management tools

When your employees succeed, your business succeeds. Your teams need systems and tools that motivate employees to do their best work and empower managers as coaches.


Performance Reviews and One on One Meetings

Gone are the days of the annual performance review—ongoing performance conversations are here to stay. Use one on one meeting software to facilitate two-way performance conversations, goal updates, weekly check-ins, and more.


Employee Goals

Goals help ensure every employee and every team understand their contributions to organizational success. Empower your teams to set, track, and accomplish goals with goal management software.


Employee Recognition

Your employees want recognition for their contributions. In fact, recognition is consistently a top driver of employee engagement. Unearth great work and share success stories across your organization with employee recognition software.


Employee Feedback 

A culture of continuous feedback can accelerate individual, team, and organizational growth. Use two-way employee feedback tools to increase trust, boost performance, and help your managers be better coaches.


Talent Reviews 

In order to nurture and develop talent, leaders and managers need clear visibility into the organization’s talent pool so they can make informed decisions on how to keep and develop key talent. Use talent review tools that make this process agile, collaborative, and data driven.


Learn how our performance management platform can help you align & empower your  teams. See Quantum Workplace Performance >>>


People analytics and intelligence

No matter what you’re trying to accomplish with your employee engagement strategies, it’s imperative that you have access to intelligence and insights that help you make the right decisions at the right time.

Invest in a people analytics and intelligence platform that helps you understand risk, obstacles, and opportunities and dig deeper into the context of your employee engagement trends and performance data.


Learn how our people analytics and intelligence can help you make data-driven  people decisions. See Quantum Workplace Intelligence >>>



Choosing the right employee engagement software


We've been hearing "the future of the workplace is digital" for years—and that time is here. 61% of CEOs say their business will be more digital in the future and 50% of HR professionals expect to invest more money in technology this year. To be successful at employee engagement, you need the right employee engagement platform.

HR leaders need to be strategic about the technology they choose to put in place. Here are a few tips to consider when it comes to choosing the right employee engagement software for your organization.


Start with the business problem. 

Make sure you have a solid understanding of the business problem(s) you're trying to solve before you consider investing in employee engagement software. Your tech should align with your key strategic HR objectives—and those objectives should support the goals of your business.


Involve the right stakeholders at the right time.

Implementing an employee engagement platform is a big change. Make change easier by getting participation and buy-in from the right stakeholders early on in your process. Who is invested in the problem you're trying to solve? Who will play a part in the success or failure of your employee engagement program? Who are your advocates and resisters?


Understand time to ROI.

Employee engagement software is a big investment of time, finances, and energy. Your leaders will want to see a strong business case, so you'll need to plan for that during your process. Be clear about what you're trying to achieve and tie everything back to meaningful business outcomes.


employee engagement software buyer's guide



How do you build employee engagement?


You can’t improve employee engagement with one simple solution. Creating an engaged workplace requires a multi-pronged approach that is fueled by continuous improvement. Here are some proven ways you can increase employee engagement:

  • Prioritize company culture.
  • Inspire employees through mission, vision, and values.
  • Develop and equip your managers as coaches.
  • Build great communication habits.
  • Create a robust feedback culture.
  • Share employee feedback and always follow up.
  • Paint a clear picture of success at organization, team, and employee levels.
  • Recognize employees for their contributions.
  • Provide access to employee development opportunities.
  • Prioritize flexibility and employee wellbeing.
  • Invest in technology that helps you do all of the above!



Now that you know what employee engagement is, why it’s important, and how you can make a difference – it’s time to get to work. Download our 2023 Employee Engagement Trends Report for insights into trends and best practices for 2023.

Discover six trends driving employee success in 2023

Published March 2, 2021 | Written By Kristin Ryba