A Quick-Start Guide to Employee Engagement

Catherine Daly

8 minutes

Employee engagement positively affects organizational performance. Why is that, and what can leaders do to increase employee engagement?

Gallup’s 50-year employee engagement research has proven time and again that engaged employees produce better business outcomes than non-engaged employees. This is consistent across industry, company size, nationality, or economic trends. Yet, despite this empirical evidence, only 15% of employees worldwide and 35% of employees in North America fall into the "engaged" category.

This blog post describes the implications of employee engagement, the importance of measuring it, and ways leaders can improve it—even in our increasingly hybrid and remote work environments.

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is typically defined as an employee's commitment to the organization. For example, Forbes defines employee engagement as “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals,” Custom Insight defines it as “the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work,” Gallup defines it as “employees who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.”

The terms “employee engagement” and “employee satisfaction” are often used interchangeably. However, it is important to measure each one as a distinct metric because they are subtly different.

According to Quantum Workplace, engaged employees feel focused with a sense of urgency and concentrate on how they approach what they do each day. In contrast, satisfied employees feel pleasant, content, and gratified.

In other words, engaged employees are motivated to go above and beyond their roles to help their companies succeed. On the other hand, satisfied employees are simply happy doing their job, regardless of whether they’re engaged or not.

An engaged customer agent...

...will come to work every day, troubleshoot customer issues, come up with solutions to problems, contribute new ideas, and go beyond the scope of their job description.

An engaged and satisfied customer service agent...

...will come to work every day, troubleshoot customer issues, come up with solutions to problems, contribute new ideas, go beyond the scope of their job description, and be happy doing it.

A disengaged but satisfied customer service agent...

...will come to work, complete no more or no less than the extent of their job description, and be happy doing it.

Engaged employees typically feel connected to their teams, love their jobs, and have positive feelings about their employer organization. As a result, they’re more likely to remain loyal to their employer and put in extra effort to help the organization succeed. Conversely, disengaged employees feel disconnected from their organization’s mission and goals and lack commitment to their position and responsibilities.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) summarizes and contrasts the behaviors of engaged and disengaged employees:

Engaged behaviors

  • Optimistic
  • Team-oriented
  • Goes above and beyond
  • Solution-oriented
  • Selfless
  • Shows a passion for learning
  • Passes along credit but accepts blame

Disengaged behaviors

  • Pessimistic
  • Self-centered
  • High absenteeism
  • Negative attitude
  • Egocentric
  • Focuses on monetary worth
  • Takes credit but passes along blame

Why is Employee Engagement Important?

Organizations with high levels of employee engagement have double the success rate of organizations with less engaged employees, according to Harvard Business Review. That’s because when employees are engaged, they are more likely to work harder and deliver higher quality work than disengaged employees who only do the bare minimum.

Employee engagement is contagious. Positive, hard-working employees set good examples and encourage employees around them to do their best. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Disengaged employees’ negativity and low morale can also impact their peers’ productivity.

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By investing in employee engagement, organizations can increase productivity, work quality, and retain top talent. However, many companies invest in the wrong things—salary, benefits, and workplace perks like ping pong tables and free pizza. While these things can affect employee satisfaction, improving employee engagement takes a little more thought since engagement is related to the employee’s feelings.

Dale Carnegie and MSW conducted a study of 28 positive and negative emotions of 1,500 employees—five of which drove employee engagement and 12 of which provoked disengagement. Employees who feel valued, confident, inspired, enthused, and empowered are more engaged in their work.

5 Ways to Engage Hybrid and Remote Teams

Employee disengagement costs the United States upwards of $550 billion a year in lost productivity. In an era of post-COVID cost-cutting and hybrid and remote teams, this is a serious problem for most leaders and managers—and an excellent opportunity for those who can boost their engagement levels.

Here are five ways to do just that:

1. Build an inclusive culture

One surefire way to increase disengagement levels is to exclude people from contributing and developing new skills for any reason—including their choice of work location.

A recent HBR study found that many remote workers feel their in-office colleagues don’t treat them equally. Making hybrid and remote teams successful requires a complete shift in organizational behavior, so hybrid and remote workers never feel like second-class citizens.

To keep hybrid and remote teams engaged, adapt your organizational culture to be inclusive of all workers. For example, mandate that team meetings are not office-centric by making everyone—even in-office staff—attend virtually. It’s hard to get involved in side conversations and small talk when you’re dialled into a meeting room remotely. If everyone attends the meeting virtually, everyone is equally included and engaged in the pre-meeting small talk.

2. Develop or hire strong leaders

Leaders set the bar for performance through their own behaviors and actions—a leader who is engaged, has a positive attitude, and works hard to meet key performance indicators (KPIs) will inspire their employees to do the same.

Develop or hire leaders that empower their people to take ownership, make decisions, and get their job done without micro-management. These leaders should ensure employees have the necessary tools, knowledge, and skills to use good judgment when making decisions. Studies have shown that feeling empowered to take action when a problem or opportunity arises is critical to employee engagement.

3. Encourage transparency across the organization

Engaged employees are committed to your company’s mission and goals and they like to feel informed of what’s going on across the organization. Be transparent about progress and innovation — even if the news is not always positive.

However, keeping hybrid and remote teams in the loop requires a different approach to communications. While text, email, and Zoom calls are great for work, in-person connections are great for building emotional connections and fostering employee engagement. If possible, bring teams together in-person for “All Hands” meetings or annual “Kick Off” events. Face-to-face interactions create more opportunities for rich, informal conversations that can help build employee engagement.

In addition to in-person events, discussion management solutions encourage transparency and improve employee engagement by involving employees in company decisions and innovation strategies. Leaders can quickly check in with hybrid and remote teams, provide an unbiased space for innovation, and keep track of the conversations that matter. Unlike a survey tool or a poll, an Exchange begins with an open-ended question that your team submits responses to anonymously.

4. Trust your people

One of the biggest barriers to the success of hybrid and remote teams is lack of trust. Many managers still have an unconscious bias that the people they physically see in the office are more engaged than those at home.

Hybrid and remote employees keep different schedules to in-office employees—but that doesn’t mean they’re any less engaged in their work. Trust your people to get their work done on their time, within reason.

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Shift the focus from status quo, 9-to-5-type working hours to actual measurable results. Ask about the preferred times and work patterns of different members of your team and set expectations that are aligned with them.

Since hybrid and remote work models mean that work lives and personal lives are blended like never before, pay attention to your team and watch for signs of burnout—a key factor that is detrimental to employee engagement.

If you notice that someone is behaving differently—maybe an employee is quieter than usual or more irritable—it is probably a sign of stress. Talk to employees one-on-one and help them to prioritize their workload, introduce some playfulness into the workday, and encourage them to take time off when they need it to keep engagement high.

5. Encourage collaboration and discussion

When employees come together to collaborate or solve problems, they become more engaged and invested in the final outcome.

To collaborate at scale with hybrid and remote teams, enterprise discussion management is critical. It can help leaders connect with their teams and encourage information-sharing. For example, tools like ThoughtExchange allow you to ask open-ended questions so your team can share their thoughts and rate other ideas anonymously. The built-in, anti-bias technology ensures people’s ideas are rated on merit—not on who has shared them—and gives all employees a voice. See how ThoughtExchange works to facilitate collaboration and discussion.

Boosting employee engagement by focusing on emotion

Employee engagement is all about emotions—how people feel about their work, their team, their manager, and the organization as a whole. Those who emotionally connect to their organization in a positive way feel a sense of ownership and are more likely to work hard and stay with the organization for longer.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”

Dale Carnegie
Leaders play a pivotal role in keeping employees motivated and engaged. Organizations can support their leaders with employee engagement training and technologies like discussion management tools that can measure and improve employee engagement. If you’re interested in hearing how ThoughtExchange can help leaders with their employee engagement efforts, get in touch.
About the Author

Catherine Daly

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Catherine is a professional writer based in Vancouver, B.C. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism (for passion), a master’s degree in marketing (to pay the bills), and has over 15 years of experience working with big tech brands like Adobe, Hootsuite, HP, Oracle, PayPal, and ThoughtExchange.