Whether out of disinterest or from simply not being aware: Employee engagement is all too often neglected by employers and HR professionals. This is especially true in start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses. Yet it strongly influences the productivity of the team.
We explain exactly what employee engagement is, why it’s so important, and what factors influence the engagement of your employees. To top it off, we also give you 5 tips on how you can proactively improve employee engagement in your organisation.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement illustrates the quality of the employer-employee relationship, generally expressed in the form of a single number. It expresses how motivated your employees are to achieve your business goals. The basis is a healthy balance of a positive attitude and a positive way of working within the team.
As a rule of thumb, the more satisfied your employees are, the higher their level of engagement. Consequently, a low employee engagement score is an indicator of low employee satisfaction. Low employee engagement and satisfaction will typically lead to a less productive workforce.
Why is employee engagement important?
All too often, people are advised to “only do what you get paid for!” or “don’t give them so much of your time!” Although this may sound like good advice, it also speaks volumes of what everyday working life for the person giving the advice must be like.
No involvement, no identification with the employer, no appreciation, and only the financial commitment connecting both parties… If that’s your working environment, then no wonder that you don’t feel engaged or motivated to go above and beyond for your employer. In such an environment, work is nothing more than a means to an end – paying for your bills and expenses.
Unfortunately, various studies on employee engagement show that even in 2020 only about 25% of all employers actually bother with having a strategy in place to improve employee engagement.
Common struggles faced by companies who don’t have such strategies in place include an underperforming workforce, a less than optimal corporate culture, a lacking morale, and a high employee turnover as a result of all this.
All these issues can have a serious impact on the success of a company. High employee engagement, on the other hand, has a lot of benefits and can have a positive financial impact on your business.
The benefits of high employee engagement
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
— Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Citadelle
Those who can successfully inspire, engage, and involve their employees will enjoy a lot of benefits in return. Here are some of the biggest advantages of high employee engagement.
- Increased productivity
Enthusiastic and motivated — i.e. engaged — employees are demonstrably more productive and help their employers achieve goals faster and more efficiently. The result: 23% more profitability for companies with high employee engagement.
- Overcoming obstacles faster
Employees who pursue a goal with conviction are more determined in their approach to solving problems. As a result, they find faster and often more sustainable solutions to obstacles they face in the workplace.
- Stronger further development
Those who don’t develop further are inevitably stuck in their ways. On the other hand, those who pursue a vision develop almost automatically, and they are usually all the more willing to keep the progress going.
- More positive image
A high level of employee commitment is naturally also noticeable externally. For example, customers who speak to engaged customer service staff will make a second purchase, leave better reviews, and recommend your company to others.
Engaged employees can further turn into ambassadors for your company and brand, sharing their positive experiences with their network.
- Great employer branding
Applicants who come into contact with engaged team members are also much more likely to choose to work with a company. A high level of employee engagement therefore also brings plus points for employer branding!
- Higher employee loyalty and retention
Committed and engaged team members have less reason to change jobs. Ergo: they like to stay longer and thus contribute to a lower staff turnover.
- Increased financial turnover
The interplay between employee commitment, productivity, and the positive image of the company will eventually also result in financial benefits and increased turnover.
Ultimately, it is the work of employees to ensure companies don’t only set goals, but actually achieve them. Companies that don’t involve their employees nor encourage or motivate them to work together won’t receive a high level of commitment in return. Without employee engagement, employers will never reap the full benefits of their employee workforce.
The most important influencing factors for employee engagement
For starters, there are the relatively obvious influencing factors. Think of factors such as salary, workload, job quality (working environment, ergonomics), work-life balance, inclusion, leadership style, company culture, and development opportunities.
But there are also influencing factors that have more of an indirect impact on employee engagement. Consider the following examples.
Probably the most important basis of employee engagement is meaningfulness. Is a project close to your employees’ hearts? Do they feel that they are making a valuable and appreciated contribution to something bigger?
- Identification with the company and its mission
Can your employees identify with your mission, and do your company values match those of the individuals in your team? Only if the answer is “yes” is there a willingness to commit. After all, no one truly commits to something they are not convinced of.
- Responsibility and ethics
Besides the general identification with your mission, it is also crucial that your team stands behind your approach. They expect that your methods are ethically justifiable and that your company takes its social responsibility seriously. Nobody wants to work for the “bad guy”.
- Clear, realistic objectives
Alongside the obvious influencing factor of workload, clear goal setting is also crucial to good employee engagement. Goals that are defined in realistic and, above all, achievable stages have a beneficial effect. The more unattainable a goal seems, the less sense it makes from the employee’s point of view to work hard to achieve it.
- Sense of achievement
This is a consequential factor of goal setting. It is crucial that your strategies and objectives lead to regular feelings of success among your team members. Frequent feelings of success and achievement help maintain the motivation to engage and make an effort. If an employee never achieves their goals, they will quickly become frustrated.
- Support & encouragement
This point is not about training opportunities, but about whether higher management backs and supports your employees. Are their ideas and opinions listened to and taken into account? Are there supportive measures that make it easier for employees to do their work?
Are your employees aware of how their project is developing? What successes have been achieved, what impact this has on the rest of the organisation, and what difficulties may need to be overcome? A transparent and trustworthy way of communicating within the organisation ensures that the sense of achievement is tangible for your staff.
Just as important as the sense of purpose mentioned above is the feeling for employees that they’re not struggling alone. Those who share their convictions with others and are committed in a group not only achieve more, but are also inspired by the ambition of their comrades-in-arms.
- Clear structures & processes
If everyone does his or her job in his or her own way, it is easy for the gears of the company to no longer mesh. For this reason, structures and processes are also an important basis for employee engagement. If people know how to proceed, they achieve results more quickly—and more successfully.
5 tips to proactively improve employee engagement
Employee engagement is much more than just a metric to be measured. And it’s also not a “necessary evil”. Consciously take charge of your employee engagement and take responsibility! It’s not so difficult.
Just follow these 5 tips on how to improve employee engagement in your organisation.
1. Conduct regular surveys
How do you get valuable first-hand feedback? By asking for it. There are loads of useful tools available that can help you develop appropriate questions and evaluate employee feedback in a way that is easy to understand. Regular surveys provide a clear basis for action and guide the way to possible measures.
2. Hold regular team check-ins and huddles
This is an important step towards building transparency and trust. Meet regularly with your team to talk about successes, learnings, and achieved milestones. Also discuss upcoming milestones or deadlines, and continue to encourage them to perform well.
In addition to this, information on the development of the company and some relevant key figures can be illustrated here, and special achievements should be recognised and celebrated. This also promotes the “we” feeling within the team and helps to encourage and motivate!
3. Promote internal digitalisation and remote work
Many companies are still at war with digitalisation. Even in 2022, as people are continuously forced to work from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses still struggle with digitalisation.
Ineffective, outdated tools and techniques are still being used, which tend to make working more difficult. However, not all digitalisation solutions are expensive or difficult to implement. Start, for example, with the following:
- Store documents centrally and digitally
- Allow remote or hybrid work where possible
- Hold virtual meetings (e.g. via Zoom)
- Optimise internal workflows with the help of modern (free) online tools
4. Eyes open when recruiting!
Ensure that new employees identify with your mission and values, and that they find their future role in your organisation meaningful. You should actively assess this during the initial interview and throughout the steps of the interview process.
Don’t be afraid to steer your questions in this direction. After all, nothing is more annoying than an “inappropriate” hire that ends up costing you significantly more than a job that remains unfilled for a slightly longer period of time.
5. Motivate while onboarding
The quality of the onboarding phase further determines whether and to what extent new recruits will be committed to your business in the future. Therefore, make sure that the onboarding not only runs smoothly, but also that new team members are:
- Directly integrated into the team and the new working environment (including strategies and processes)
- Optimally equipped to take on their future tasks
- Always know where they can ask for support when needed
- Able to set small but ambitious goals for their work at an early stage, which will help them grow from day one
You can find further information on how to take all these points into account when new employees join the company in our article the art of employee onboarding.