What is Employee Engagement?
Your guide to defining what employee engagement is and how it can improve your organization’s bottom line.
Employee Engagement Definition
Employee Engagement is an emotional state where employees feel passionate, energetic, and committed to their work. Engaged employees invest their best selves — their hearts, spirits, minds, and hands — in the work they do. An engaged employee willingly gives extra effort, and they go above and beyond the bare minimum that is required. Some leaders refer to engaged employees as thriving employees.
To be engaged, employees must first feel something and then take action on that emotional response. Take either the feeling or the action away and you won’t find engagement. You might think of feelings and actions as two oars in a rowboat. They are complementary opposites. Both are necessary. Row with one and you’ll travel in circles. You might work up a sweat and feel as though you should be getting somewhere, but you won’t. Pull with both at the same time and you’ll make progress.
How Does Employee Engagement Differ From the Employee Experience? Where does Employee Engagement Come From?
Employee engagement and the Employee Experience are not one and the same. Employee engagement is an outcome of a winning Employee Experience. When your Employee Experience is aligned with your core values, mission, and purpose then you far more likely to find engaged employees at every level in your organization.
To tap into the power of engagement, leaders need to understand the elements that drive engagement so they can create an experience that supports these elements. The first, and most important, driver of engagement is sense of belonging. Humans have a fundamental and profound need to belong – to belong to something larger than themselves. In addition, employee engagement is also enhanced by other foundational elements such as: meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection (with connection essentially being the same thing as belonging).
As leaders, we crate a sense of belonging through culture and experience. First, we start with culture. Culture is the way things work and feel at a certain place, whether that place is virtual or physical. Culture can be deliberate or organic, but either way, every place has a culture. The Employee Experience is the impact your culture has on your employees. In other words, an organization’s culture through the eyes of its employees.
Culture-building has historically been viewed as an organizational activity led by senior leaders. Yet, our research clearly shows that the most important place for establishing a strong Employee Experience is at the core relationship between manager and employee. Inside this key intersection is what we call the Leader Driven Experience (LDX). Effective Leader Driven Experiences are established when managers and leaders ensure that each employee or associate has a purpose, a path, and a place within the larger organization.
Our mission here at DecisionWise is to arm leaders with employee feedback data so they can create cultures and experiences where employees can bring their authentic and best selves to work.
How Does Employee Engagement Differ from Employee Satisfaction?
Sometimes we mistake employee satisfaction for employee engagement, and leaders believe that increasing employee satisfaction will increase employee engagement and motivation. There is a clear difference, however, between a satisfied employee and an engaged employee. Job satisfaction is transactional and contractual. In return for work, you promise to provide employees with the basics: compensations, tools and resources, physical safety, communication, dignity, and respect. Both the organization and the worker must continue to make constant deposits into this relationship “bank account.”
Satisfied employees, however, only deliver as much effort as they are compensated for, and no more. They do what is asked of them, as long as you deliver on your part of the deal. They show up and do their work, but high job satisfaction, while it might do something to improve employee retention and decrease employee turnover, doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to say no to other offers. While employee satisfaction efforts may leave them feeling happy, empowered, and sometimes even motivated, they may not be truly engaged.
What Are the Core Elements that Drive Employee Engagement
Our research of over 50 million employee survey responses helped us discover five keys for great employee experiences. In developing a winning employee experience, leaders should take care to ensure that these elements are part of the experience. These five keys are known as ENGAGEMENT MAGIC, with the last element being connection or the ever-important sense of belonging.
Meaning: Your work has purpose beyond the job itself.
For many people, a job is just that, a job. But those that create meaning in the workplace understand that what they do matters. They find purpose in what they do. They understand that their efforts and productivity contribute to a greater cause-one that is important to them.
Autonomy: The power to shape your work and environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best.
Some people feel stifled in their jobs. In fact, 34 percent of employees say they can’t speak up for fear of negative consequences from the leadership above them. Autonomy doesn’t mean “no rules and free reign.” We all work under guidelines. But when we understand our parameters, and have the freedom to do our best work, we are more creative, innovative, passionate and, ultimately, demonstrate an increase in productivity.
Growth: Being stretched and challenged in ways that result in personal and professional progress.
Growing in our jobs doesn’t always mean getting a promotion or a raise; these are components of satisfaction. Growth is about mastering new skills, taking on challenges, and pushing to be better-both professionally and personally.
Impact: Seeing positive, effective, and worthwhile outcomes and results from your work.
Impact is about results. It’s incremental progress toward a goal, and small wins that lead to big outcomes. We all need to see that the work we do is contributing to our own goals, the success of our team, those whom we serve, and the organization we are a part of. It’s the difference between simply showing up for work and knowing that we’re an integral part of the day’s operations.
Connection: The sense of belonging to something beyond yourself.
We connect with our organizations through the people with whom we work, the mission and values of the organization, and the work that we perform. Our work and our company are a part of who we are. The job, then, becomes more than just a set of tasks we perform to earn a paycheck.
These five keys form the acronym ENGAGEMENT MAGIC, which is a convenient way to keep these keys on the forefront of a leader’s mind. For a detailed look into how these elements can help support a winning employee experience, please see Our book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC ® : Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations, which shows how managers can leverage these five keys.
How To Measure Employee Engagement?
Engagement, in essence, is the outcome or by-product of all of the organizational and work factors that an individual experiences day-to-day; it’s an outcome of their Employee Experience. Therefore, survey items that measure engagement must also measure outcomes, perceptions, attitude, and beliefs. Our Best Practice Guide can help you choose the best method to measure engagement at your organization. The guide breaks down four types of employee engagement surveys you might consider using which we classify as: always-on, pulse, spot/ad-hoc, and anchor. Each have a different scope and frequency for how they are traditionally administered.
Employee Engagement Survey Questions
Actionable survey questions provide us with data and insights that a manager can easily interpret and take action to improve. Our survey questions must also be valid and reliable. Valid employee survey items simply measure what they are supposed to measure. Reliable employee engagement questions produce similar results each time they are used. In addition to the notion of validity and reliability, there are two types of questions on a DecisionWise engagement survey. The first type measures the overall level of employee engagement. We call these anchor questions. Anchor questions measure the current state of employee engagement that an employee feels. The average score of these anchor questions produce an overall employee engagement survey score.
The second type measures the drivers of engagement inside an organization. These questions make up the bulk of the survey and measure things like leadership, organization policies, teamwork, and the job experience. Comparing scores from the driver questions to those of employees who are fully engaged based on the anchor question scores, shows which items influence employee engagement in the organization.
How to Analyze Employee Engagement Data
Employee survey results should be rolled out to all levels in the organization in a way that allows managers to work with their employees to brainstorm solutions and develop action plans. The amount of detail provided to each manager will likely vary. Executives will have results for the entire organization including breakouts by demographic categories such as tenure, gender, and department. Front-line managers normally only receive results for their respective group. In addition, we apply confidentiality thresholds to ensure that managers can only view results when there are five or more responses. In addition, our manager report tool delivers data and insights directly to the manager’s email with no need to login into another piece of software.
Creating an Action Plan
Action plans are normally created at the executive level for the organization and by each manger for his or her team. The executive team will need time to process the results and decide on the two or three main themes that are most important to the organization. Executive team action plans are best created during committee-led meetings and rolled out to the organization as a whole. Individual managers are responsible for creating action plans with their teams to address areas within their control. Action plans are more than just a few boxes. It takes human investment and problem solving efforts: time, energy, and follow-up to ensure that real change is being made as result of an organization’s employee listening program.
Ideas For Improving Employee Engagement
The first step in improving anything is to understand the current state. We suggest using a variety of employee surveys to gain insights and understanding into the experience your employees are having. Use a listening program to help you answer this fundamental question: What experience am I creating right now for my team, department, or organization?
Have a clear understanding of what your culture should look like and how it will help you attract, retain, and engage the talent you need to win.
Listening is the starting point, the endpoint, and vital for everything in between. Continue to listen to what your employees have to say about the experience they are having. Use continuous listening programs to provide leaders with data insights to help them improve experiences at levels within the organization.
Your gut is great, but it’s not all-knowing. Enhance your decision-making through people data and data analytics. Invest in the tools and resources you need to make better decisions that are grounded in evidence and data.
Ground your employee experience in competencies by helping your people develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities that will drive success and fuel growth. Be clear on what competencies are needed for success and what behaviors will be observed and prevalent when those competencies are operating at full force.
Employee Engagement Benchmarks
Our employee engagement surveys include benchmarks and other normative data, which allow you to get a clear view of the playing field, identify the high-performing companies in your industry, understand how you compare, and set goals to improve your Employee Experience. While benchmarks can be useful, it’s important to not become so fixated on industry benchmarks that you end up imitating instead of innovating.