What Does "Employee Engagement" Look Like?
Building a team is not about finding engaged employees, it’s the effort of proactively creating them.
68% of employees are disengaged and costs companies up to 34% of an employee’s salary, according to Gallup. As companies transition to permanent work-from-home models, burnout, mental health, and turnover have become ever-increasing challenges for organizations to overcome. There is no question that engaged employees are more effective, with benefits ranging from lower turnover, fewer mistakes, stronger customer loyalty, and better productivity. If organizations don’t have a benchmark, definition, or ability to measure engagement, how can they improve it?
What is employee engagement?
Engagement isn't a question of whether or not an employee likes their job, it's a measure of how much they care about their work and the company. It’s the intangible link between how an employee perceives their contributions and interacts with their work, team and organization.
Attempting to definitively measure engagement through surveys with mundane questions like "Are you satisfied?" or "How happy are you with your job?" fails to ask “Why?” and “What values do we share that makes you enthusiastic?” Generic questions receive generic answers and only provide a collective glimpse into what's going on in the mind of your employees. Annual surveys are simply not enough. We are all human (I think) and our answers to infrequent answers can change from day to day due to countless factors that may or may not be within the control of a leader.
What does an engaged employee look like?
Highly engaged employees are more productive, happier, and healthier than those who are not engaged. This can be shown through high-quality work, alignment with company values, and an enthusiastic desire for continuous growth. They are also more likely to remain with the organization over time and seek out internal opportunities to progress in their career.
One way to understand someone's level of engagement is to observe them at work - but don't be creepy about it. How do they interact with their coworkers? Are they enjoying themselves? Do they appear bored, sad, or stressed out? Do they communicate their thoughts with enthusiasm or dread? Do they communicate at all? It’s difficult to define exactly what an engaged employee looks like due to the complexity of human nature, so it’s up to management and leaders to understand their staff. Body language, habits, and communication can provide insight into an employee's engagement and satisfaction, especially when the employee-manager relationship is healthy.
“Fun is not the same as fulfillment.”
- George Berkowski (How to Build a Billion Dollar App)
Employees who are fulfilled in their role will display enthusiasm in their work. As we mentioned in our guide to Becoming a Positive Energizer, this creates a positively contagious environment. It’s important to understand that an outwardly positive employee should not come with the assumption that they are absolutely content with their work, but it can be a good indicator to management that this employee should be nurtured. This is where the importance of building a culture of psychological safety, quick feedback, and supported growth is most effective.
How can managers support engagement?
Start right away. Microsoft reports that “...new hires whose manager was actively involved in their onboarding were substantially more satisfied with their onboarding experience.” If managers in your organization are on the sidelines of onboarding or hiring, encourage them to get in touch with a new employee before their first day. All it takes is one email or LinkedIn message to make a lasting impression.
Provide a light at the end of the tunnel by making sure employees understand how their work contributes towards the overall objectives of your team and organization. With a clear understanding of business goals, you can help them find meaning in their work and stay motivated over time. Setting clear goals with defined outcomes or results will also support autonomy and confidence in their work.
Be accountable and timely. We totally understand that you’re busy, but being accountable and timely with employee requests or your commitments sets an important standard in how your team views your reliability. Employee’s won’t voice concerns or opinions if they believe nothing will come of it, and this could ultimately lead to lower team satisfaction and engagement.
If you’re particularly forgetful or busy, be sure to use a tool that tracks action items. If your employees have visibility into this list, even better!
Provide goal clarity and include personal development in 1-on-1’s. Set clear goals and priorities to help your team understand what success looks like and what tasks are up next. This gives employees a clear direction and can also support autonomy.
Disengaged employees are less productive and are at risk to produce lower quality work. Disengagement can result from many different factors that vary from personal to professional. They often lack motivation because they don't feel valued by management or rewarded for their work and are unlikely to go out of their way for their team or for customers. Widespread disengagement within a team or organization risks frequent turnover or toxic disengagement if issues are not acknowledged.
It's important that a disengaged employee is not viewed as a burden to bear, but rather an opportunity to reassess how you have managed that employee and consider any changes that can help them reengage.
If disengagement is an issue on your remote team, this Forbes article accurately describes the reengagement of disengaged remote employees.
Simply stating that the satisfaction and engagement of your staff are a high priority is not enough. Consistent action must be taken to maintain a healthy working environment in order for employees to become engaged. It’s not a hot-take when we say that engaged employees are “good” for business and disengaged employees are “bad” but building a team is not about finding engaged employees, it’s the effort of proactively creating them.