Employee engagement is one of the most important metrics for the success of an organization, but it’s an elusive figure. According to one recent Gallup poll, a meager 15 percent of employees define themselves as “engaged” with their work. But what does that really mean? And how can you measure or improve employee engagement in your organization?
What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is a nebulous term, so you might get a different definition for it depending on who you ask. However, for the purposes of this article, you can consider employee engagement as a level of connection an employee has to the work they do on a regular basis and a sense of loyalty to their employer. The more engaged an employee is, the more productive they’re going to be, the more likely they’ll be to stay with an employer, and the more fulfilled they’ll feel, subjectively.
Additionally, keeping employee engagement high can be good for your reputation as an employer.
Boosting employee engagement can take many forms. For example, you can use digital signage to provide motivation to employees, or to publicly recognize employees who have accomplished something great. You can also improve engagement by promoting high-performing employees to higher positions, and by making your work culture more interesting or desirable.
The trouble is, what engages one employee may not necessarily engage another, and some strategies will naturally be more effective than others. How can you tell which strategies are most effective, or which ones are working at all?
How to Measure Employee Engagement
There are a few different ways to measure employee engagement, though each area has weaknesses:
- Direct surveys. You could simply ask your employees whether they feel engaged. Here, there are a few potential approaches. For example, you could send out a survey once a month that asks employees how engaged they feel with their work overall. You could also conduct mini-surveys to ask employees if they feel engaged “in the moment.” Surveys are good because they prompt employees directly, but they can also suffer from subjective reporting bias, so they may not accurately reflect reality.
- Retention rate. You can also indirectly gauge employee engagement by studying your own employee retention rate. Employees who are engaged tend to stick with their employer for a longer period of time, so a high retention rate is often reflective of high employee engagement. However, this isn’t universally true; there are some situations that may cause you to have a low retention rate, despite high employee engagement. You’ll need to study many variables to better understand this comprehensive picture.
- Performance reviews. It’s also important to conduct periodic performance reviews, speaking to employees one-on-one about how they’ve performed over the past year (or past months, or whichever interval you choose). Here, you’ll be able to have a direct conversation with your employees about their productivity, their attitude, and their connection to the workplace. With both employee statements and supervisor observations, you can determine each employee’s relative level of engagement (and how to fix it). Unfortunately, these metrics won’t provide you with precise numerical data.
- Exit interviews. Similarly, whenever you lose an employee, conduct an exit interview. Employees tend to be more honest and direct in exit interviews than they are in performance reviews or throughout their employment. It’s a good opportunity to learn which things to improve—even if it’s a bit too late for some employees.
Core Areas to Improve Employee Engagement
There are literally hundreds of things you can do to improve employee engagement, but all of them can be assigned to one or more of these core categories:
- Workload distribution. Make sure each employee is doing tasks best suited to them, and that no employees are overwhelmed by a disproportionate workload.
- Skills and education. Give your employees more chances to develop themselves. Employees presented with opportunities to learn new skills and educate themselves tend to feel more actively engaged.
- Empathy and bonding. It should go without saying that practicing empathy and giving your employees more chances to bond can make them feel more engaged. This should manifest as both a top-down and peer-to-peer approach.
- Culture and belonging. Your work culture plays a massive role in dictating how employees feel about each other (and about your workplace overall). You need to have a set of core values to connect your employees and provide them with a sense of belonging.
- Recognition. It’s also important to keep employees engaged with some type of recognition. Reward your best employees, and publicly acknowledge their efforts.
The more you invest into employee engagement, the higher your productivity and retention will be. Experiment to see which tactics work best for your employees, and keep a close eye on your measurable results.