What’s employee engagement really? Is it synonymous with attendance? Attrition? Cool office furniture or perks? Because you’re here, reading this blog, the topic has piqued your interest—and that could be for a variety of reasons. Here’s what you can expect from this quick read: We’ll (1) define employee engagement; (2) illustrate how it’s different from other concepts you have seen; and (3) explain what it means to have an employee engagement program.  

A simple definition of employee engagement

What exactly is employee engagement? Here’s how we define it:

Employee engagement is the degree to which employees invest their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral energies toward positive organizational outcomes.

So what do engaged employees look like? Generally, they:

  • Are absorbed in and enthusiastic about their work
  • Find a greater sense of meaning in what they do
  • See a stronger connection between their strengths and their role
  • Look for opportunities to learn and grow
  • Expend discretionary effort in their performance

In sum, engaged employees bring their best selves to work. They are more likely to do their best work and contribute to the success of an organization. So it’s not hard to imagine why organizations would want engaged employees and employees themselves would want to be engaged. With a well-thought-out program, organizational leaders, managers, and employees can contribute to employee engagement.  

From employee satisfaction to employee engagement

Speaking of the idea of “best selves,” let’s take a moment to understand the background of employee engagement and give credit where it’s due. 

The history of employee engagement

Boston University professor William Kahn first introduced the concept of employee engagement in 1990. In a nutshell, he said employee engagement occurs when a person expresses their “preferred self” in their work setting. This leads to an employee having strong connections to their work colleagues and performance.

Professor Kahn’s introduction of employee engagement was a business breakthrough. Why? Because up until then, organizations had focused on employee satisfaction—and there are two key differences between employee satisfaction and employee engagement.

Employee satisfaction vs. employee engagement

First, employee satisfaction has a narrow understanding of what impacts an employee, working at only a superficial level to motivate employees. For example, employee satisfaction programs focus on factors like perks and benefits. Of course, things like free sodas in the fridge and Casual Fridays help create a pleasant work environment, but they don’t motivate employees to bring their best selves to work. In fact, 81% of HR professionals surveyed in HR.Com’s State of Employee Engagement 2019 report identified employees’ trust in their organization’s leaders as the top driver of employee engagement. Only 37% said a workplace’s physical environment has an impact on employee engagement.

Second, employee satisfaction has a limited connection with employees’ performance, and, therefore, with the organization’s performance. Employee engagement, on the other hand, is vital to organizational performance. In a recent Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report, three-quarters of business leaders surveyed strongly agreed that engaged employees tend to be high performers. Organizations with engaged employees also tend to be in better financial health, have a more productive workforce, retain their employees at a higher rate, and suffer from fewer safety incidents, among other benefits. 

The benefits of employee engagement

In sum, engaged employees are more likely to be more productive, efficient, and motivated to perform (and stay). Why? They feel valued and supported by the organization.

It’s a win-win.

How do employees ‘become’ engaged?

As much as we wish employee engagement could be boiled down to a simple mathematical equation, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. So what does it take to enable people to be happier and more successful at work?

Here are a few hallmarks of a great employee engagement program:

  • Frequent feedback: When employees have the opportunity to provide feedback on a regular basis, they feel more involved, valued and heard.
  • Access to employee survey results: One of the keys to employee engagement is arming managers with the results of their team’s feedback so they know exactly where to focus.
  • Action: Too often employees provide feedback but never see any change. But when employees have regular conversations about their experience and performance, and see their feedback taken seriously through action, they are more highly engaged.

And here are the factors that tend to drive employees’ engagement:

  • Meaningful work
  • Career growth
  • Empowerment
  • Belonging
  • Recognition
  • Leadership
  • Fulfilling work relationships

With all of these components at play, it’s easy to understand why organizations create thoughtful employee engagement strategies that account for their people’s unique needs.

Keep the employee at the center of employee engagement

If there’s one thing you come away with after reading this post, let it be this: There are many ways you can improve employee engagement (every organization is different), and at the crux of a great employee engagement program is robust communication that empowers everyone in an organization with the opportunity to give, understand, and act on feedback. 

With this foundational understanding, the next step is to learn how to measure employee engagement. You can also reach out to us to learn more about how Glint’s People Success Platform measures employee engagement.