Employee Engagement: How to Make Work Meaningful to Employees

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Employee Engagement: How to Make Work Meaningful to Employees

If you’re struggling with employee engagement, you’re not alone.

In fact, a staggering three-fourths of workers are currently facing serious burnout.

And that’s not just due to COVID-19, by the way. The pandemic simply added to and highlighted the existing stresses that modern employees put up with.

Micromanagers. Tedious tasks. Toxic teams.

That doesn’t even scratch the surface, sadly.

Listen: building a team of engaged employees makes for a happier and more productive workplace while also impacting your bottom line.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything managers need to know about employee engagement.

What is employee engagement?

Before we go any further, let’s define employee engagement.

Employee engagement is a measure of how involved and committed an employee is to their workplace. Engagement can be measured through quantitative data (think: productivity) and/or quantitative factors such as emotions, loyalty and satisfaction.

Why employee engagement matters so much

As both a metric and a concept, workplaces have been laser-focused on employee engagement in recent years.

It’s no secret as to why: research from Gallup notes that low engagement goes hand in hand with poor performance and higher turnover.

On the flip side, companies with higher engagement rates are more productive and attract employees that stick around for the long haul.

Improving engagement not only represents a big-picture business benefit but also serves to help companies in hypercompetitive industries stand out from the crowd.

But business aside, focusing on improving the culture and climate of your workplace also represents a moral imperative.

People shouldn’t be miserable or disengaged at work. That said, we’ve seen a massive drop in employee engagement due to constant disruptions, economic uncertainty and social unrest. Creating a welcoming, productive and inclusive environment is more important than ever.

How to measure employee engagement the right way

The responsibility of assessing engagement typically falls to HR, department heads and managers.

How do you know if your organization’s workers are engaged, though?

Measuring employee engagement can be tricky. While corporations might treat engagement as a KPI, smaller businesses and teams may take more of a “gut check” approach.

Below are some ways to measure engagement that are fair game to businesses of any size.

Calculate your turnover rate

Looking at your turnover rate is a high-level starting point for measuring employee engagement.

Although turnover rate is perhaps more prudent for bigger companies, calculating yours can be eye-opening. If folks are leaving your company en masse or your rate is rising year-to-year, chances are you have an engagement problem (among other issues).

Here’s a basic turnover rate formula from SHRM, for reference:

Turnover Rate = # of Separations / Avg. # of Employees x 100

Keep in mind that this is going to be skewed if you primarily work with contractors or have employees that go on leave. For reference, ~25% is the “average” turnover rate for employees that leave voluntarily.

Employee feedback surveys

Arguably more important than turnover rate is digging into why those employees walk away.

Was it poor performance on your part or their part? Are there ongoing issues in your workplace that you’re totally oblivious to?

Until you actually ask your employees, you’ll be in the dark.

That’s why employee feedback surveys matter. From quick pulse check-ins and exit surveys to annual assessments, regularly surveying workers should be a top priority. Doing so can help you identify issues that impact employee engagement before they have a chance to snowball.

Beyond email and manual surveys, there are tons of employee engagement tools that can help. For example, TINYpulse allows businesses to create custom surveys and monitor the results with analytics.

Surveys definitely aren’t the be-all, end-all of measuring and assessing employee engagement. That said, they can help you understand firsthand what’s working at your company and what isn’t.

If nothing else, regular check-ins show employees that you’re concerned with their well-being (granted you aren’t too aggressive with them).

Employee net promoter scores (eNPS)

Think of eNPS as a sort of subset of employee surveys.

These quick, bite-sized surveys ask questions that can be measured on a scale of 0 to 10 to translate employee engagement and satisfaction into a metric. Companies then add up the “promoters” (positive) and “detractors” (negatives) to come up with a score.

Below is an example of a survey from Retently that uses the scale. According to the company themselves, a “good” network performance score is totally relative but 30+ means you’re likely “doing great.” An example of Retently employee engagement survey on a scale from 0 to 10.

The biggest upside of NPS surveys is that they’re short and to-the-point, encouraging higher participation among workers. They’re also easy to understand at a glance.

These are all “by the numbers” ways to measure employee engagement. Although you can identify potential problems based on performance data or someone’s attitude as the sign of a disengaged employee, these measurements can be tracked over time.

How to improve employee engagement in a meaningful way

Food for thought: 70% of the variance in employee engagement is caused by managers.

The takeaway? Boosting engagement isn’t only your workers’ responsibility. Doing so requires a conscious effort on behalf of higher-ups.

The good news is that there are plenty of proven ways to engage workers and ensure they actually want to be loyal to your business.

Let’s look at some real-world employee engagement ideas and areas companies should focus on.

Company culture

  • Be passionate about your company’s cause, values and beliefs
  • Maintain a positive environment that discourages hectic “hustle” culture
  • Encourage your employees to express themselves at work (think: dress code, office setup)

Brand values and culture matter. We’ve seen firsthand how companies that take a stand and advocate on behalf of their employees have become industry leaders as a result.

Look no further than lists such as Glassdoor’s best places to work to find the link between culture, engagement and outcomes. Companies like NVIDIA (#2 for 2021), are noted for their culture which reflects their values and creates a healthy work environment:

“The core values at NVIDIA – intellectual honesty, innovation, speed, excellence and working as one team – are ingrained into everything…”

Highlights from NVIDIA’s values and culture page include:

  • An emphasis on teamwork and collaboration among employees based on skill, not a hierarchy
  • A commitment to employees via benefits, work-life balance and a robust wellness program
  • Contributing to charity via volunteer work and initiatives

Companies with positive, strength-based cultures retain more employees and create better outcomes as a result.

And keep in mind that culture is, well, free. Not all employee engagement strategies have to break the bank.

Hiring & onboarding

  • Promote cross-department onboarding to keep workers from feeling siloed off
  • Come up with a creative “welcome pack” for new employees
  • Get new workers involved within team meetings ASAP

Effective onboarding sets employees up for success in the long term. The sooner you can actually make your latest hires feel like they’re part of the team at large, the better.

For many companies, this means finding a balance between letting your new talent introduce themselves throughout your organization without overwhelming them. Beyond that, simply being warm and welcoming can go a long way.

For example, the team at Fellow uses their own collaboration software to welcome new hires and get them started. They include resources and opportunities to acquaint themselves with the rest of the organization throughout the checklist.

An example of detailed collaborative onboarding checklist and resources that can boost employee engagement long-term.

The idea here is simple: give people the tools they need to get started while making sure your team supports them along the way.

Online engagement

  • Incorporate your employees as part of your marketing strategy (think: employee spotlight posts)
  • Encourage employees to share and create business-related content (employee advocacy)
  • Read Glassdoor reviews and pay attention to your online reputation

Giving your employees a shout-out is a low-hanging way to both welcome and reward them for a job well done. We’re seeing this more and more with the rise of remote work.

For example, something like a dedicated “welcome” post to new hires is a way to consistently recognize employees…

Typeform welcomes their new employees in a LinkedIn post as an example of employee engagement on social media

…or you can regularly feature shout-out posts as part of your content strategy.

Sprout Social employee shout-out on Instagram

See how that works? This type of recognition is a simple but effective way to make people feel like they’re on your team.

Benefits & HR

  • Encourage the employees to take vacations (and embrace remote work)
  • Provide benefits such as profit-sharing options 
  • Allow for flexible work hours

Benefits might have the most significant impact on your employees’ professional and personal lives, boosting engagement as a result.

Consider that Americans’ life ratings are at an all-time low between the pandemic and a lack of work-life balance. A comprehensive healthcare plan and flexible hours alone can mitigate some of the common stresses that workers face.

Also, note that benefits can be used to give your business a competitive advantage when attracting top-tier talent. For reference, giants such as Salesforce boast benefits such as employee stock plans, generous leave time and commuter reimbursement.

Health & wellness

  • Build breaks into your day and make health (especially mental health) part of your culture
  • Provide healthy snack options (if you’re still working in person)
  • Carve out time for healthy activities: invest in employee gym memberships or create a wellness program

Keep in mind that some of the biggest drivers of employee engagement aren’t directly related to work.

The correlation between health and positive employee outcomes is well-documented. Working in a low-stress environment encourages your employees to thrive, as does giving them a chance to stretch their legs.

Some companies go all-out when it comes to health initiatives. For example, HubSpot’s healthy workplace includes hammocks, healthy snacks and a spin bike room.

Picture of Hubspot's workplace gym, which emphasizes employee health and wellness.

Career advancement & training

  • Invest in the professional development of your employees by offering continued training and education
  • Give your employees more responsibilities (even if they aren’t in a management or leadership position)
  • Allow employees to attend conferences on your behalf

Nobody wants to feel like they’re stagnating in their career.

Providing career advancement and additional responsibility should be on the table for workers who want to take their skills to the next level. At the same time, don’t overwhelm folks that are happy where they are.

Personal development

  • Stress the importance of a proper work-life balance
  • Celebrate personal wins and create a culture of recognition
  • Provide tuition reimbursement or a personal development fund for workers

No surprises here. If an employee commits to your company, you should commit to them. For example, many companies offer tuition reimbursement for employees seeking degrees.

Teamwork & collaboration

  • Rotate who takes the reins in your team meetings
  • Allow and encourage teams to collaborate beyond their own departments
  • Try out team-building activities

As noted by research from Atlassian, encouraging teamwork results in more productivity and better ideas on behalf of employees.

People should have autonomy and the ability to work independently. That said, they should never feel like they’re totally alone.

Boosting team engagement means allowing people to work together, plain and simple. This might mean investing in Slack or another collaborative tool where teams can check-in and go back-and-forth while staying productive.

Collaboration doesn’t have to be all “suit and tie,” either. For example, companies like Hotjar conduct a variety of team-building activities via Zoom.

Zoom screenshot of Hotjar's virtual team building activities

Communication

  • Don’t be a closed book: share privileged information with your employees
  • Establish that employees can talk about burnout without fear of judgment
  • Conduct company-wide meetings and team meetings alike: give employees flexible communication channels

A staggering 69% of managers struggle to communicate with employees. The converse is also true among workers, especially newcomers.

Again, there has to be a sense of trust at work. This circles back to having an open culture that encourages people to talk and speak their minds. A combination of culture and collaborative software can open up communication channels and spur important conversations among your employees.

What does employee engagement mean to your business?

Figuring out how to engage employees is a win-win for managers and workers alike. The tips above can help start that full circle engagement.

And even if you can’t offer the most enticing benefits or a cutting-edge workspace, you can take steps to create a positive culture and environment where people want to work together.

Doing so can help battle burnout during a time where so many workers are struggling.