What do TED Talks presenters have in common? Typically, they have an interesting story, a unique angle or something important to say. But above all, they’re engaging speakers.
Intuitively, we know that engaging things are better than, well, unengaging things. The same goes for the workplace, and the research backs that up.
In this article, we’ll talk about employee engagement: why it’s important, how to measure it and three ways to improve it. By the end, you should be armed with some tools to improve engagement at your organization.
Why Is Employee Engagement Important?
An employee who is engaged is an employee who is more likely to stay with your company for longer.
Research by Gallup found that companies with the highest engagement rates had significantly lower turnover rates than those in the bottom of engagement. In simple terms, the more engaged a company’s employees are, the lower the company’s turnover rate.
That has a number of benefits for the employer: The better a company is at employee retention, the less it has to spend on hiring and the more productive it is, as lower turnover reduces the amount of training needed for new employees. Plus, that same Gallup research report noted that engaged employees “produce better business outcomes than other employees.”
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A separate Gallup meta-analysis found that “highly engaged business units realize an 81% difference in absenteeism and a 14% difference in productivity.”
Put simply, employee engagement is worth the investment.
How to Measure Employee Engagement
We now know that employee engagement is important. But we have to be able to measure it in order to make real improvements. Here’s a list of ways you can measure employee engagement at your organization:
- Employee surveys: The best way to find out about people’s engagement? Ask them. Have employees self-report on feelings that are indicative of engagement, like happiness, motivation and inspiration. Bonus points if you make it anonymous so employees feel they can be completely honest.
- Stay and exit interviews: More than a quarter of U.S. companies that responded to a 2022 Paychex survey said they use “stay interviews”—conversations with existing employees to uncover any issues they may have with the company—to improve their retention. Stay interviews can also be opportunities to ask employees what would help them be more engaged at work. Likewise, exit interviews can help employers uncover things that caused employees to feel disengaged at work.
- Engagement metrics: These metrics include employee net promoter score (eNPS), or how likely an employee is to recommend their workplace to a friend; absenteeism, or the rate at which employees miss work; and employee turnover rate, or the rate at which people leave the organization voluntarily. Once you start measuring these, track how your company is performing year over year.
How to Improve Employee Engagement
Once you’re armed with data to compare against, it’s time to take concrete steps to improve employee engagement.
Offer Professional Development Opportunities
Not everyone craves or thrives on change at work, but many people do. For employees in the latter category, offering them professional development (PD) opportunities can help keep them interested in the work they’re doing.
Career changes can happen horizontally, like when an employee changes job functions or roles. For these employees, professional development might take the form of job shadowing or supplementary education. It can also happen vertically, like when an employee wants to become specialized in their field and climb the corporate ladder. In that case, PD courses and stretch projects, where they increase their responsibility, may hold the key.
Either way, providing employees with career pathways can help them grow into the career they desire—a surefire way to help them stay engaged in the work they’re doing.
“It also allows for more cross-training that can be done, more mentoring and coaching. The benefit of developing your internal staff is huge,” says Rosanne Holmes, learning and development manager at D2L.
“You can focus on more projects. You can see more promotions and transfers. And you can focus on hiring internal employees versus going external.”
Listen to Employees
When issues arise, employees want their concerns to be heard. But sometimes people don’t feel like they can speak up, for fear of repercussions.
Cultivate an environment that promotes feedback. Survey your employees to learn how they feel and be clear that these survey results are anonymous so that employees know they won’t be punished for negative feedback. This will give you a broad, representative data set to understand how your workforce feels about your company in broad strokes.
Then, once you’ve collected the feedback, it’s crucial that you act on it. An unactioned survey can actually signal the opposite of the message you’re trying to convey and can suggest you’re not interested in improving things.
“If there are things that you can say, ‘yes, we’re going to do that right away,’ then those employees will already be bought in,” says Holmes.
“That already has driven that employee engagement up because they actually feel like they’ve been listened to, and something is being actioned. So you get a huge return for not-a-large-scale effort.”
Another place to gather feedback is during your employees’ exit interviews. These present opportunities to hear from employees who were unhappy enough or presented with an opportunity good enough to leave. These interviews can be more candid and can help uncover larger issues, especially those that may have contributed to an employee’s decision to leave.
Challenge Your Employees
Many people are comfortable with where they are, but many others become disengaged without a challenge. A 2017 report from office snack company SnackNation (which has since rebranded to Caroo) found that 61% of employees who say they’re engaged also say they’re challenged at work.
Challenging doesn’t just mean making their jobs more difficult. It could be an opportunity for someone to improve a specific skill or take on a project outside the scope of their job. Internal committees, for example, are great opportunities to challenge employees and to have them challenge themselves.
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Chase Banger is a Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. An award-winning journalist and former communications specialist, he has a passion for helping people through education.
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