What Is Employee Engagement?

Everyone is talking about employee engagement these days, but what does it actually mean? Get the 411 so you can collect an engagement score from your team.

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what does employee engagement mean?

Managers have been talking about employee satisfaction for what feels like ages, but what’s this new topic called employee engagement that’s entered the HR lexicon in recent years?

Even if you’re not entirely sure about what it is, there’s a chance you’ve heard about how low the numbers associated with it are—according to Gallup, “only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work [and] according to the latest State of the American Workplace report, just 33% of employed residents in the United States are engaged at work.” Yikes.

Those numbers are abysmally low. If you’re wondering what engagement is, why it matters, and what you can do about it (it’s closely tied to employee satisfaction), here’s everything you need to know about employee engagement and how to start tackling it at your company.

What is employee engagement?

While employee engagement and employee satisfaction are similar and certainly related, they’re distinctly different. As Forbes puts it, “employee engagement does not mean employee happiness. Someone might be happy at work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are working hard, productively on behalf of the organization,” which is what constitutes genuine employee engagement.

Why is employee engagement important?

Forbes actually goes on to make the case that simply monitoring employee satisfaction without taking a look at engagement, too, is a misstep. Because engagement has to do with commitment rather than happiness, the argument is that focusing on engagement is the way to go if you care about employee retention. While a happy employee might show up to work every day and be pleasant in the office, “that same ‘satisfied’ employee… [will] probably take the headhunter’s call luring her away with a 10% bump in pay. Satisfied isn’t enough.”

While satisfaction can feed engagement (you’re likely to be more committed to a job that makes you satisfied, right?), it’s engagement that will keep your people around in the long term. When an employee is engaged, challenged and motivated by the work they’re currently doing, it gives them the power to resist new offers that can’t guarantee the same level of engagement as their current gig.

What is an employee engagement score?

If you’re curious about how engaged your employees are, you’ll want to come up with an employee engagement score for your company. Typically, according to Custom Insights, the way it works is that you’ll ask your employees to rate how engaged they feel on a scale, something like one to five with one being not engaged and five being highly engaged. All you have to do is average the scores to get your raw employee engagement score. To get a pulse on the state of your team and collect true, honest feedback, download our customizable engagement survey template.

The way you phrase the questions will affect the outcomes, though, so be sure to put some thought into it and make sure your employees know what is meant by ‘engagement’ when you refer to it. Once you’ve developed your questions, it’s important to take a benchmark score—the first score against which you’ll compare all future scores—in order to see if there is a rise or a decrease in employee engagement over time. Kick off your brainstorming with our guide to creating the right engagement survey questions.

When you ultimately evaluate your employee engagement score,  it’s important to note how much engagement matters at your organization from an employee perspective. If it’s highly important (as it probably should be, but hey, that’s just us), then you’ll want to strive for a high score, perhaps a 3.5 or a 4, but at the end of the day it’s all about what matters most to you—there’s no hard and fast right or wrong way to go about it.

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