Recently we've covered 12 myths about employee engagement and how often you should conduct employee engagement surveys. But what is employee engagement?

What is employee engagement? Here's a simple definition

Employee engagement is the strength of an employee's emotional connection and level of commitment to their organization. Notice that our definition describes a level of engagement, not a black-and-white end goal. An employee may be highly engaged, barely engaged, or somewhere in between. It's more important to positively influence your company's engagement trends than to focus on reaching a specific level of engagement.

How do you demonstrate employee engagement?

To understand an employee's emotional engagement with the company, look to their behaviors in the workplace. Do they speak positively about the company's goals, performance, and leadership? Are they encouraging their friends and peers to come work with them? Most importantly, are they working in alignment with company goals? Highly engaged employees are more likely to step outside of preconceived job descriptions and contribute however they can to helping the company meet its goals.

What are some examples of employee engagement?

Highly engaged employees may do anything from the mundane to the extraordinary in an attempt to help the company meet its goals. They may clean up kitchen or lounge areas so others have a tidy place to take a break. When they see a need on their team, they may introduce a new tool to help out. If communication breaks down somewhere on the team, they may even propose a new process that prevents similar communication issues in the future. Additionally, highly engaged employees will likely ask more questions. When tasked with something new, they may ask what the goal of the task is, or ask what defines success for completing the task. Engaged employees ask questions to understand how their work aligns with company goals. Understanding goals and objectives helps them do their best work. Engaged employees will also be more likely to voice concerns, propose alternatives, or bring up new ideas that they believe can help the company. This doesn't necessarily mean they have great ideas: a poor-performing employee can be highly engaged. High-engagement behaviors demonstrate that a person believes in the company, not that they know what is best. However, highly engaged employees will be receptive to feedback that helps them improve their performance.

How do you measure employee engagement?

Small organizations rarely explicitly mention employee engagement. It is simply part of being a small, connected team. Company leaders will trust their gut on who is engaged and how to increase engagement. This is because very small teams are more likely to have a strong emotional connection to each other and their work. There are less layers of people to communicate ideas from the top of the organization to the bottom and vice-versa. Small teams therefore are more likely to be aligned toward company goals, making explicit measurement of employee engagement less important to very small teams. However, once you begin introducing layers of management, larger project teams, and a higher overall company headcount, quantifying engagement becomes more important. It's difficult for any one person in a large organization to understand or influence engagement across dozens or hundreds of employees. This is where employee engagement surveys come into play. Surveys give you a framework for measuring engagement factors such as job satisfaction, confidence in leadership, autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Once your employees respond to an employee engagement survey, you can identify trends and outliers across departments. Survey reporting should give you a concrete measurement of how engaged individuals are, relative to the average person in the company. If you are interested in learning more about different types of employee surveys, read our article about how often you should conduct employee engagement surveys.

How do you increase employee engagement?

Once you have consistent measurements in place, you need to identify two things for each person. First, which engagement factors do they perceive the company to perform worst at? Second, which engagement factors do they value the most? When you are able to identify these two indicators of engagement, you can begin influencing the things they care about most. Notice the words used here, though: perception and value. Despite how you personally feel about the company's performance on engagement factors, your employees may feel differently. This is not a judgement on the company or the survey respondent. Instead, engagement surveys give you insight into why people are engaged or disengaged at work. Once you understand what motivates or demotivates a person in their work, you can build an action plan to address their perceptions and values. For example, if Anne values autonomy and believes the company does not provide much autonomy, she will likely feel disengaged at work. To increase her engagement, you can offer more autonomy: delegate important objectives to Anne. Instead of specifying concrete tasks that must be completed to reach an objective, instead start with the objective. Define metrics for success (e.g., "help the assembly line produce 100 more widgets per day"), and leave it up to Anne to determine how to make it happen. This is one of countless examples of actions a supervisor can take to increase an individual employee's engagement. Our employee engagement platform, Insight, automatically builds a recommend plan of action for each person on your team. These actions, derived from employee engagement ideas in our playbook, are chosen based on the individual's most impactful engagement factors—those which are most valued but perceived to have room for improvement.

Measure and influence employee engagement with Insight

Are you ready to improve employee engagement on your team? Try out Insight, our employee engagement platform. It's the first employee engagement platform to offer personalized, concrete, guided action plans for each person on your team. Leaders will see engagement ideas that positively influence engagement on an individual level, making them more effective and confident in their approach to employee engagement.