In today's dynamic corporate landscape, fostering a workforce that's both productive and passionately committed is a game-changer. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report, low employee engagement not only costs the global economy a massive $8.8 trillion (or 9% of global GDP) but also has 3.8 times more impact on employee stress than work location.
On the flip side, high-engagement workplaces see an 8% increase in revenue per employee and a remarkable 63% improvement in shareholder return. In short, effective employee engagement strategies are not just a nice-to-have, they are one of the core success factors of any business.
This article provides five employee engagement strategies, backed by real-life examples from HR experts and people leaders. In this comprehensive guide, we'll learn what are employee engagement strategies, why they matter, and how to create and put them into action.
To start, let's first gain a better understanding of how to successfully cultivate a culture of employee engagement in your organization.
Employee engagement: more than just happy employees
Employee engagement refers to a person's emotional bond with their company and its objectives. Engaged employees are not just focused on the paycheck or climbing the career ladder – they care about their work and genuinely want to see the company succeed.
“Employee Engagement is about the willingness of people to be responsible for more than their own job. People who are engaged go the extra mile.”
– David Ducheyne, Founder and Managing Partner at Otolith Consulting
Is employee engagement the same as employee happiness or satisfaction? Well, not quite. Although some employees may be content with their roles, this does not always mean they are aligned with the company’s values and objectives.
Employee engagement is characterized by vigor (energy & resilience), dedication (involvement & enthusiasm), and absorption (concentration & attachment). When your teams are fired up and super engaged, they outshine the competition in those critical tasks that drive your company's success.
Following are nine key drivers that shape employee engagement:
- Accomplishment: Employees feel they are able to capitalize on their strengths and achieve something at work.
- Autonomy: Employees’ perceived capacity to influence decisions that affect their work. Autonomous employees are 79% more engaged in their jobs.
- Alignment: A measure of job clarity - how much employees understand what is expected of them at work and how it relates to the organization. This alignment reduces confusion and increases engagement, leading to better work efficiency and quality.
- Fairness: When decisions at work are perceived as being fair and employees are treated with respect regardless of people's backgrounds. This helps to boost motivation, engagement commitment, and positive work relationships, resulting in higher retention rates.
- Growth: Employees feel they are able to grow and develop within the organization such that they can achieve their career goals.
- Manager support: Employees feel that their managers or senior management provide adequate support and feedback.
- Value & purpose: Employees are aligned with their organization's purpose and values.
- Rewards & recognition: Employees are appropriately and fairly rewarded and recognized based on their performance.
- Relationships at work: Employees have positive connections and feel supported by others in their organizations.
If any one of these things is missing, employees might not feel connected to their work. Managers should talk to employees and see how well their workplace experience matches up with what they want in these areas.
Key employee engagement drivers shown on EngageRocket's Belong dashboard
There’s no doubt that a fully engaged workforce can work wonders for your organization. So, how do you cultivate that conducive space for a dedicated and high-performing team?
The key lies in deploying robust and effective employee engagement strategies.
What are employee engagement strategies?
So, what are employee engagement strategies in HR?
An employee engagement strategy is a calculated set of approaches and efforts meant to foster a positive work environment, resulting in improved employee retention, customer satisfaction, and increased profitability.
Your specific steps as part of the strategy will depend on several factors: the size of your organization, your available budget, and insights gathered from your employee engagement surveys.
You should prioritize focusing on critical areas where boosting engagement directly addresses the employee pain points and delivers maximum impact.
Why are employee engagement strategies important?
“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”
– Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO at General Electric
Employees all over the world place a very high value on employee engagement. In fact, when Gallup asked in a survey: “If you could make one change at your current employer to make it a great place to work, what would it be?", over 85% of respondents wanted improvements in engagement or culture at their workplace.
What’s more? Statistics show that employee engagement isn't just vital for the employees themselves, but also for the company they work for. When combined with disengaged employees, disengaged employees cost their company 18% of their annual salary.
In the next section, let’s deep dive into 8 reasons why employee engagement matters:
1. Better productivity
Engaged employees are more collaborative, more innovative, and committed to excellence. They are also happier in their roles and more satisfied with their work. This leads to higher-quality deliverables and increased workplace productivity.
2. Improved employee retention
Employee retention is significantly impacted by employee engagement. Teams with high levels of engagement will often see an 18 to 43% improvement in turnover.
3. Better customer service
According to Timothy R. Clark, founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, “Highly engaged employees make the customer experience. Disengaged employees break it.” Engaged employees are more inclined to go above and beyond, delivering better customer service and increasing customer satisfaction.
4. Health and well-being
Excellent employee engagement leads to increased job satisfaction and supportive work connections. When an employee is satisfied with their job and the people they work with, what happens? It lowers their stress levels and improves their overall well-being.
5. Positive company culture
The shared values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and practices that influence how work is done in an organization are called organizational culture. Organizational culture can affect employee engagement and vice versa.
6. Cost savings
Engaged workers are more likely to remain with the company, which reduces the need for ongoing hiring and onboarding and, eventually, benefits the company financially.
7. Positive employer brand
Top talents are drawn to an organization known for encouraging employee engagement. Moreover, engaged employees are the best brand advocates a company could ask for. Companies can build a good reputation as a great place to work, attract skilled talents to join and keep their employees happy by making their work experience better and getting them more involved.
8. Adaptability to change
Employee engagement creates a place where people talk openly, trust each other, and feel empowered. When this happens, it helps the team be better at handling changes.
5 Effective employee engagement strategies and examples
HR experts have found several top-performing employee engagement strategies that consistently deliver. Now, let’s dive right in:
1. Address cultural gaps with data-driven analysis
The key to better employee engagement is addressing cultural differences in the company. When there's a mismatch between how things are and how we want them to be, employees can feel disengaged and left out.
A survey from Gallup showed that 85% of people wish for a better work environment. To solve this, begin with understanding your company culture deeply with data-driven approaches. This analysis unveils your current culture, the desired one, and where the gaps are. It guides you to figure out the right steps to make your workplace better.
A. Leverage leaders as agents of change
Have open conversations with senior leaders on their key values, challenges, and concerns. These talks are the basis for setting aspirational goals for the organization. Insights from organizational leaders help create a clearer roadmap for engagement strategies.
“Culture is not accidental, it is very purposeful. A neglected culture becomes your culture.”
– Matthew Hansen, Chief Operating Officer at KBP
B. Welcome diverse perspectives from all levels
It is vital to make space for those not in decision-making roles to voice their ideas. Their insights are valuable despite having no formal authority. Working with leaders to include diverse perspectives is like a board's role. It promotes accountability and adopts different viewpoints.
C. Merge qualitative and quantitative insights
After gathering diverse viewpoints from the ground, organizations need to figure out where the deeper challenges are, as a starting point. To make these insights stronger, collect feedback from those directly affected by these challenges. For instance, if communication is an issue, ask employees if they feel there's open and honest communication.
This thorough approach ensures that the insights you collect resonate across the organization. Moreover, collating both qualitative dialogues and quantitative survey data equips you with the compass that guides your employee engagement strategies in the right direction.
Bonus tip: Since culture doesn't shift easily or rapidly on a daily basis, you don't need to do a comprehensive analysis 365 days a year. However, quick pulse checks are essential as there may be changes on the ground that not everyone across the company can observe. Figuring them out early helps in taking timely action to stop long-term damage.
D. Bridge culture gaps through actionable insights
To bridge organizational culture gaps effectively, HR and leaders must translate insights from cultural analysis into concrete actions. To do so, they can take the following steps:
- Set clear goals to fix the issues you find in the culture, like communication challenges or values misalignments.
- Make plans and ideas to fix these problems, not just on an organization-wide level but also for specific segments with specific needs. For example, if a particular job function wants more autonomy, focus on that.
- Before you make these changes, make sure to talk to your employees and prepare them for the changes.
- Keep an eye, monitor and track how things are going. Be adaptable and adjust whenever necessary.
Remember, leaders should set a good example to show everyone what the desired culture should be like. This will help your workplace and organization succeed.
That's where prioritization comes in — it helps you find out what to focus on in a complex situation.
2. Sharpen strategic focus using the "Graveyard Workshop"
Businesses constantly juggle multiple challenges and areas for improvement, making resource management tricky. That's where prioritization comes in — it helps you find out what to focus on in a complex situation.
As per McKinsey's "Beyond Performance 2.0" study, companies that carefully plan and optimize their projects to improve the employee experience reap extra benefits. Research shows that change programs focusing on effective prioritizing and planning are 1.7 times more likely to improve and sustain positive performance.
Christine Pizzo, who leads the Design & Creative team at Designit, introduced a helpful tool called the "Graveyard Workshop." This tool aims to ease and enhance the prioritization process:
A. Start a collaborative session
Get your team together for a focused meeting to make a comprehensive list of initiatives. Apart from finding problems and ways to improve, this helps create an opportunity roadmap.
B. Set the order of initiatives
Break down the pros and cons of each initiative and organize them to find out which ones to act on right away, which to put aside for now, and which to use or consider later. This decision-making process is vital for using our resources effectively.
Bonus tip: There are many frameworks to prioritize tasks, such as the value-effort matrix, the ice scoring method, and the MoSCoW method. Don't reject any initiative that looks less important now. Perhaps these ideas might become relevant in the future.
C. Empower contribution and engagement
Encourage your team members to contribute to the implementation of initiatives. Their skills don’t have to match perfectly to contribute; it is fine as long as they possess strong passion and insights. This effectively ties in with the strengths-based approach we mention in the next section. Understanding each team member's strengths can help assign initiatives to them where they can contribute the most.
The benefit of the Graveyard Workshop not only lies in its clear structure but also in its transparency on why some initiatives are no longer a top priority. This enables people to rationalize and transition away from past initiatives when they are no longer relevant toward more critical future prospects.
“You have to find a focus, you can’t do a hundred at just like a small touch, you really need to dig in if you want to make your impact.”
– Christine Pizzo, Head of Design & Creative at Designit
3. Cultivate strengths-based delegation
An organization is only as strong as its people. Leaders have a crucial role in finding out what employees are good at, helping them improve wherever needed, and putting them in positions where they can leverage their strengths.
According to Harvard Business Review, a remarkable 90% of workgroups that adopted strengths-based approaches experienced improvements in performance, such as better profits (14% to 29% increase), higher employee engagement (9% to 15% increase), and lower safety incidents (22% to 59% decrease).
Moreover, leaders must be aware of how the external environment is changing so that they can adjust the types of strengths required in the organization.
A. Identify strategic strengths for growth
Find out the strengths that are important for the team and organizational success. Recognize what your team members are really good at, i.e., their special talents that make them stand out. These characteristics are the strong pillars that will support your workplace's achievements.
In the same way, a chef carefully chooses the best ingredients to make a tasty dish, you pick the unique qualities that make each team member excellent. These strengths are the base on which your entire engagement strategy will be built.
B. Discover individual strengths
Have open conversations with each employee to find out what they're good at and what they like to do. This creates a workplace culture that appreciates and maximizes individual skills and potential.
Research from Gallup shows that when people learn about their strengths, they become 7.8% more productive. But those who actually use their strengths get even better results. People who use their strengths every day are 6 times more likely to enjoy their work, 8% more productive, and 15% less likely to quit. Teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5% greater productivity.
Bonus tip: Gather feedback on an individual's strengths from various perspectives - self, direct reports, managers, coworkers, and so on. People might show different sides of themselves to different stakeholders. 360-degree feedback offers a more holistic view of employees’ competencies and identifies areas of learning priorities for talent development.
C. Align employee strengths with organizational goals
Facilitate conversations that connect a person's strengths with their key roles and responsibilities. Make this a habit to do this for at least every major task or project each employee takes on. The result? Employee engagement strategies that drive productivity, job satisfaction, and fulfillment in equal measure.
D. Celebrate and grow strengths
Strengthening employee engagement demands continuous effort. Cultivate a culture of accountability by celebrating exceptional achievements and proactively addressing areas for growth. Doing this consistently is vital for the longevity of your employee engagement strategies.
E. Adapt to changing landscapes
The world keeps changing, and organizations change, too. Similarly, your employee engagement plans and your employees’/teams’ strengths that are needed may also evolve. Check every now and then to see if current strengths match what your company needs. This will then provide a direction for skill development and role customization.
“Identifying strengths helps to create efficiencies; it helps to create long-term success for the company. It helps create a culture of respect.”
– Donna Gosciej, Chief Human Resource Officer at Authority Brands
4. Embrace a people-centric approach
Research from Deloitte shows that 64% of employees express a strong preference for companies that put people first. Moreover, a Gartner study found that when employees are valued as individuals rather than mere resources, they are 3.8 times more likely to achieve high performance. They're also 3.2 times more likely to want to stay at that job and 3.1 times less likely to experience fatigue.
These numbers show how important it is to ensure people are at the heart of the company's culture. This path involves encouraging empathy, granting autonomy, and building mutual understanding. The outcome is a workplace where compassion, motivation, and teamwork are second nature. This creates a setting where everyone, and the organization as a whole, can truly flourish.
“The most important responsibility that a leader truly has is to the people in the organization.”
– Cass Cooper, Founder of Know Better Do Better Consulting
A. Adopt empathy for collective growth
EY’s research highlights how important empathy is, with a striking 87% of employees seeing its crucial role in making an inclusive workspace. When company leaders and their teams show mutual empathy, it leads to clear advantages for:
- Better efficiency (88%)
- More creativity (87%)
- Higher job satisfaction (87%)
- More innovation (85%)
- Increased company revenue (83%)
To grow this empathy, it's essential to have open conversations, be comfortable with being vulnerable, and build a sense of togetherness at work. When leaders share their real-life challenges and growth, it emphasizes the need for personal growth opportunities. Leading by example pushes other executives to create a supportive and welcoming work environment where everyone feels they can progress. As a result, managers and leaders pave the way for a culture of trust, teamwork, and belonging.
Bonus tip: When challenging situations arise, create a safe place for your team to share their feelings. Validate these feelings by letting them know that it's okay to feel that way. Foster empathy by reaching out to others and sharing your own experiences, even if it makes you seem vulnerable.
When employees feel at ease expressing care, affection and compassion for others in the company, they are more satisfied at work and more committed to the company.
B. Adopt autonomy and empowerment to fuel motivation
Autonomy means giving people the power and freedom to make choices and act independently within a given context. Autonomy is synonymous with empowerment. Research has consistently shown that when people feel empowered, it improves their:
- Performance at work
- Job satisfaction
- Loyalty to their employer
When employees are allowed to do what they think is best for them, their fatigue can be reduced by almost twice as much. This helps them perform better and stay loyal to the company over the long term.
C. Build mutual understanding for effective teamwork
Utilizing the work style guide developed by Yasmeen Duncan, the Chief Human Resource Officer at Magnolia Bakery, we can gain a deeper understanding of team dynamics and how each member operates. This includes their communication styles, planning approaches, and personal boundaries - all these elements aim to amplify collaboration and elevate the quality of engagement. The work style guide equips both managers and employees with the tools to gain mutual understanding and enable effective communication.
5. Advocate for self-compassion and personal growth
In the pursuit of personal and professional growth, self-compassion is absolutely essential. Just as organizations thrive with a people-first mindset, individuals find true progress when they prioritize and embrace self-compassion.
Despite limited studies linking self-compassion and its role in engagement, a recent analysis during the COVID-19 pandemic reveals its value in boosting intrinsic motivation and coping in stressful situations. As a result, self-compassion can have a positive influence on employees’ mental health and performance. We highly recommend that managers and leaders work on this, advocate for it and inspire the rest of the organization to follow suit.
“It starts from the top on demonstrating self-compassion, sharing with your own team and leading by example.”
– Stacey Baird, Chief People Officer at Community Medical Services
A. Mindful awareness (mindfulness)
Start with mindful awareness or mindfulness to handle challenges, worries, fears, or frustration. Take a moment to breathe deeply and ask yourself, "Am I okay?". Reflect on what you need to regain balance before moving forward.
This practice increases your sense of awareness of your mind and body, allowing you to deal with challenges with a clearer headspace.
B. Practice self-kindness
Prioritize self-compassion by treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a loved one. Begin by asking a simple question: "What do I need right now?". Pay attention to your needs and create space for self-reflection and positive self-feedback.
Allocate time for personal space as needed, whether it's a brief 5-minute pause or a more extended 30-minute respite. This time allows you to process emotions, regain your footing, and nurture the self-compassion essential for personal growth, all without guilt or judgment.
C. Seek help when needed
Although sometimes asking for help may be mistaken for showing weakness, it’s actually a display of courage and self-reflection. Acknowledging the need for support and receiving it gracefully can protect you from burnout and self-doubt, while also strengthening your relationships with others.
By understanding that "no man is an island", not only do you pave the way for your personal growth, but you also set a positive example for those you lead, promoting a company culture of mutual support.
Beyond that, welcoming help from others can offer fresh ideas that can help to refine and enrich the strategies and practices of your organization.
Bonus tip: If you have trouble asking for help, start off with accepting help when someone offers it to you. It doesn't matter if it's something small or big. The main point is to focus on accepting support from someone you trust and feel comfortable with.
How to implement and make the most of employee engagement strategies?
Each company faces distinct employee engagement challenges and requirements. Customizing your engagement approach to align with the unique context of your organization and employees is paramount. This ensures enduring success for both the company and its individual team members.
A comprehensive employee engagement strategy often encompasses a range of essential components, such as:
- Leadership and management involvement
- Clear goals and objectives
- Communication strategies
- Employee feedback and surveys
- Employee training and development
- Recognition and rewards programs
- Well-being initiatives
- Diversity and inclusion
- Performance management
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to develop, implement and optimize your employee engagement strategies:
Step 1: Assess current engagement levels
Before developing an employee engagement strategy, start by evaluating the current state of engagement within your organization. Effective ways for measuring engagement levels among employees include:
- Employee surveys
- One-on-one interviews
- Feedback mechanisms
- Focus groups
- Employee turnover rates
- Absenteeism rates
This way, you can provide the groundwork for a strategic approach to engagement enhancement by understanding the current strengths and areas that need improvement.
Step 2: Identify goals and objectives
Once you have evaluated your organization’s engagement landscape, create well-defined goals and objectives for your engagement strategy. These objectives must align with the organization's larger mission and core values.
Bonus tip: Establish SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. This will ensure your strategy is goal- and result-driven.
Step 3: Design the strategy
Now that your goals and objectives are in place, it is time to create a thorough plan that details the approaches and actions required to reach your engagement goals.
Note that there is no one-size-fits-all employee engagement strategy. Moreover, different departments or teams may have different engagement needs.
Bonus tip: You can also consider customizing your plans, accommodating unique cultures and promoting inclusion in engagement efforts. Recent studies have revealed that companies boasting diverse and inclusive teams tend to excel compared to those lacking diversity, as diverse companies are 35% more prone to outperform their competitors, while teams embracing inclusivity are 80% more apt to achieve their business objectives.
Step 4: Develop action plans
The effectiveness of the employee engagement strategy depends on its execution. To kick things off, begin with these three essential components:
- Roles and responsibilities
Next, create a detailed implementation plan for every element of the engagement strategy, from communication strategies to training sessions. This makes sure that:
- All stakeholders are aware of their responsibilities.
- Progress can be tracked, measured and optimized.
Bonus tip: Pick an area of focus and avoid overloading employees with too many engagement initiatives at once.
Step 5: Secure buy-in from senior leaders
Before executing your employee engagement strategy, it is time to present your strategy and plan to top management and get buy-in from your leaders. Explain the benefits of your employee engagement plan and address any concerns they may have.
When you gain support and commitment from senior leaders, you can then secure the necessary resources, endorsement, and leadership involvement. This not only boosts its chances of success but also amplifies its positive impact on the entire organization.
Step 6: Communicate and involve employees
Employees may resist new engagement initiatives; therefore, involving them in the planning and decision-making process is crucial. You should transparently and frequently communicate the objectives of the engagement strategy and the expected results.
Request their opinions, thoughts, and comments as employee commitment to the strategy can increase when they actively participate in the planning process. This fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment.
Step 7: Train managers and staff
Your managers and employees must be enabled with information and resources needed to support the engagement plan. For example, managers may need leadership training to engage and lead their people effectively. Their training agenda may focus on the fundamental domains of engagement, such as:
- Company vision, mission, purpose and values
- Psychological safety
On the other hand, depending on your strategy, employees may require training on specific subjects like communication, well-being, or diversity and inclusion.
Step 8: Launch the strategy
Once you have completed the previous steps, it is time to execute the engagement strategy. This includes carrying out the plan and having the tracking and feedback system in place.
Clarify who will be responsible for monitoring the outcomes of the engagement program, whether it is HR, line managers, or senior staff. Consider setting up an employee engagement committee or hiring a dedicated engagement professional if necessary.
Step 9: Collect, measure and monitor employee engagement feedback regularly
We will now delve into several approaches to consistently gauge employee engagement:
- Conduct regular employee surveys with questions related to job satisfaction, motivation, work environment, and organizational culture.
- Gather feedback from departing employees via exit interviews. Make sure to conduct them in a setting where they feel safe to be open and honest with their responses.
- Set up a feedback system where employees can anonymously submit feedback and ideas on any occasion.
- Conduct confidential interviews with current employees to know their concerns, motivations, and engagement levels, especially those who are at greater risk of disengagement and turnover.
- Productivity, absenteeism rates, and turnover rates can indirectly reflect employee engagement levels. Review them regularly.
- Gain a detailed view of an individual's performance and behavior through feedback from their peers, supervisors, and subordinates.
- Trend your organization's engagement data across time to gain insights into whether specific challenges are to be addressed so that employee engagement is not suboptimal.
- Compare your organization's engagement data with industry benchmarks to gain insights into how you stack up against competitors.
Keep in mind that some strategies may take more time and are more critical for keeping employees engaged at work. Figuring out which employee engagement strategies work best might mean trying different things and learning from what works and what doesn't.
A smart and intuitive employee engagement platform can equip you with meaningful insights into your company’s workforce with real-time dashboards and advanced analytics.
Bonus tip: Here are some of the key metrics to check how effective is your employee engagement strategy:
- Turnover rates
- Productivity metrics
- Absenteeism rates
- Employee feedback
- Net promoter score (NPS)
- Employee retention rates
Leadership must prioritize nurturing employee engagement to propel the organization forward. HR experts recommend these powerful employee engagement strategies:
- Address cultural gaps: Analyze data to understand your current and desired organizational culture. Engage leaders, embrace diverse viewpoints and gather a combination of qualitative and quantitative insights.
- Sharpen strategic focus using the "Graveyard Workshop": Collaboratively discuss each initiative’s pros and cons and empower team members to contribute their diverse viewpoints based on shared themes or specific topics.
- Cultivate strengths-based delegation: Identify individual strengths and align them with organizational goals. Celebrate and nurture these strengths to increase employee engagement.
- Embrace a people-centric approach: Create a workplace valuing people and promoting empathy, autonomy, and mutual understanding for enhanced teamwork, job satisfaction, and productivity.
- Advocate for self-compassion and personal growth: Encourage mindfulness, self-kindness, and seeking support. This can have a positive impact on employee’s mental health and performance.
These five strategies will resonate with HR leaders who are looking to increase employee engagement and loyalty to your organization and, as a result, your company's innovation and overall success.
Employee engagement strategies are not just a means to an end; they are an ongoing journey that requires dedication and adaptability. You will need solid leadership support, clear goals, feedback mechanisms, and personalized growth opportunities.
As you venture into this journey, always keep the big picture in view: creating an environment where both individuals and the entire organization thrive.