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What is Employee Engagement and Why is it Important?

Kevin Kerl
Mon, Mar 9, 2020

Today’s employees don’t just want to work. They want to feel fully engaged with the work they do, day after day. Otherwise, they’ll start looking elsewhere for a new job and disengage even further from their current job.

Only about 33% of employees feel engaged with their job and a whopping 71% would take a new job that seemed more satisfying. About 16% feel actively disengaged from their job, which can lead to destructive issues like low morale, poor productivity, and even theft.

But what is employee engagement, exactly? And why is it so important for employees and employers to have it?

Employee Engagement Definition

Employee engagement is the amount of emotional commitment an individual has to their employer’s mission. An organization’s overall employee engagement level is the amount of engagement it has across the organization, among all employees as a group.

However, employee engagement is often misunderstood. Here are a few things engagement is not:

  • It’s not about how happy employees feel.
  • It’s not about having an awesome culture.
  • It’s not even about whether people enjoy their jobs.

It’s also not the same as employee satisfaction, which you’ve probably seen on an employee survey. Here’s the difference between employee satisfaction and engagement: A satisfied employee is content with their job but would gladly switch to another employer. An engaged employee is both content with their job and committed to their employer.

Engagement is a measure of personal commitment to achieving the company’s goals and working toward a positive future together. This commitment goes beyond paychecks and promotions. It’s about whether they genuinely care about the company.

Here’s another way of thinking about engagement: A fully engaged employee does what’s best for the company, even when nobody’s looking. They’ll pick up a piece of trash from the floor and toss in the trash can just because they care. But an employee who isn’t engaged will walk right past the trash and out the door, because who cares?

The Importance of Engagement for Company Success

Engagement is vital because it fuels so many other aspects of company success. It’s so important that it is a top-three business priority for the majority of U.S. companies. 

Employee engagement contributes to:

According to engagement researcher Kevin Kruse, an actively engaged workforce creates an engagement-profit chain that leads to greater profitability and higher shareholder returns. This is why some of the world’s most valuable companies also have some of the highest levels of employee engagement.

Look at Southwest Airlines or Dreamworks Animation. Both of these companies have high levels of employee engagement and employees often use words like “passionate” and “committed” to describe how they feel about their company. Interestingly, these companies also provide unusual employee perks most other companies can’t or won’t offer.

Still, many companies haven’t quite figured out how to boost engagement in a meaningful way. The Harvard Business Review did a study of nationwide employee engagement best practices and made this somewhat disheartening observation: 

In this rapid-cycle economy, business leaders know that having a high-performing workforce is essential for growth and survival … The research found that while most leaders understand the importance of engagement, three-quarters of those surveyed said that most employees in their organizations are not highly engaged.”

Boosting Employee Engagement

Every company would like to have the magic formula that keeps their employees fully engaged. While there’s no real magic to it, there are some proven best practices that support employee engagement.

  1. Make engagement a strategic priority for the company.
  2. Provide employees with the basic supplies and tools they need to do their jobs well.
  3. Ensure managers are giving each employee individual attention.
  4. Recognize employees in a public way for their hard work.
  5. Develop training and coaching programs.
  6. Offer benefits that are not just competitive, but also caring.
  7. Consider adding social events and just-for-fun activities.
  8. Foster a spirit of giving, because social responsibility is tied to engagement.

Remember, engagement is a give-and-take between the employee and the employer. If you show your employees you are committed to giving them a great place to work, they’re much more likely to feel committed to your company. 

To learn more about employee engagement and how it can help your company flourish, connect with SelectOne or see more insights on our blog.

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