What Is Employee Engagement? A Guide To Employee Motivation

You may have heard the buzzword employee engagement tossed around — but what does it really mean for you and your company?


Numerous studies have found that employee engagement can give more than just a small boost to your bottom line. Businesses with passionate employees have exceeded the financial performance of their competitors by up to 73% and employees are 44% more productive. Companies with higher employee engagement also find that this translates into greater customer service and customer loyalty

But the struggle to connect employees to their purpose within the company is real. Managers and business owners need efficient strategies that truly affect their employees. And HR professionals need a way to communicate with all the parties involved so that employee engagement becomes not just a trend but part of company culture.

In this guide, we’ll lay out everything you need to know about how you can better engage your employees — regardless of company size or budget.

Section 1

What is employee engagement?

Despite the common misconception, employee engagement is not interchangeable with employee satisfaction or employee happiness. And even though job satisfaction is a great place to start, a happy employee may still have low engagement.

Employee engagement is directly related to the relationship your workers have with your company and its mission. An engaged employee isn’t just content with the work environment — they are active and eager to complete tasks and support the company. Signs of a highly engaged employee are:

  • Far-reaching company relationships
  • Working together with different departments to accomplish goals
  • Frequent suggestions or recommendations to improve the workplace or work process
  • They are accountable for their work and decisions
  • They are proactive about their current tasks and their long-term career

In other words, an engaged employee doesn’t just clock in and clock out. They believe in your business and the future of the company.

There are certain company policies that encourage employees to get more engaged. These are psychological drivers that motivate workers to not just show up at work, but to really get involved. Major influences on your employees include:

  • Being able to freely manage their time and the ability to make decisions
  • Working in a supportive environment
  • The ability to build close and respectful relationships with coworkers
  • Fair and clear expectations
  • Company support for employee goals
  • The feeling of having a purpose
  • Taking time off work
  • Sharing common values with their colleagues and with the overall company
  • Access to professional development opportunities 

Creating an engaging environment may seem overwhelming, especially since many of the key characteristics are more psychological than physical. However, it often requires very simple strategies, and the benefits to your business can be immense. 

Section 2

How employee engagement impacts your business

As an employer, you want a productive workplace and you want to keep expenses low. High employee engagement can do both. According to Gallup, good employee engagement can offer your business numerous perks, such as:

  • 41% lower absenteeism
  • 70% fewer employee safety incidents
  • 17% higher productivity
  • 20% higher sales
  • 21% higher profitability

But what does this mean in terms of savings? Absenteeism can cost your business up to $3,600 per worker. Let’s look at a related statistic: employee turnover. The cost of losing and rehiring an employee averages to about $15,000 per worker. But high employee engagement can effectively cut your turnover rate by 1/4 if you’re in a high-turnover industry — and reduce it by more than half if you already experience low turnover. 

Overall, it pays to have high employee engagement. Fostering passionate employees from the getgo will result in higher revenues and more productivity. 

Section 3

How to recognize companies with high engagement

When we discuss methods of dealing with people, things change quickly. A company that was amazing at employee engagement last year may have decreased their efforts this year. 

To make matters more confusing, many companies are ranked based on employee satisfaction, not engagement. 

Take this example: According to Payscale, Eastman Kodak Company has the most loyal employees. However, their job satisfaction is only 45%. But employees stay on for 20 years on average. You can compare this with Cigna, a company with a 73% job satisfaction rating but a turnover rate of nearly three times less than that of Eastman Kodak. 

Or take CISCO, which is rated as one of the top 100 companies to work at in 2020. While they offer excellent benefits like telecommuting and subsidized childcare and have a 72% employee satisfaction rating, they rank 243 on the Payscale study with the average turnover rate being 3.7 years. 

Another source to look for real-life examples of companies with high engagement is Gallup. Every year, Gallup announces its Exceptional Workplace Award winners and employee engagement is a primary criterion. 

At the end of the day, companies with high employee engagement stand out because they have developed strategies to communicate and support their workers. 


90% of new employees leave after the first 6 months, so keeping up communication with them during this time is vital to increase engagement and reduce turnover.

Source: SHRM

Section 4

How to start an employee engagement strategy 

We know why employee engagement matters. But how can we implement a solid strategy to ensure our employees are as passionate about the company from the time they enter the business until the leave — hopefully at retirement?

First, it’s important to look at the path an employee takes. They have to enter the fold through an onboarding process, and if they’re lucky they can do some additional training. Then they begin their career, where they may attain promotions and build relationships with their coworkers. Overall, you’ll want to think about how employee engagement can become a part of every department — not just HR.

That said, we have a few strategies listed below that detail how you can help increase engagement at different stages of your employees’ career. 

1. Start at onboarding

The best time to capture your new hire’s passion is during the onboarding process. Onboarding is more than filing away paperwork and handing your new employee the company handbook.

You’ll want to ensure that your employee knows what to expect on the first day itself. Consider sending them an email with all the pertinent information: your dress code, who to see, and where to go. You may also consider sending them any documentation you require in advance. Not only will this save you time as a manager or employer, but it will make your employee feel more welcome and more prepared to get started.

But of course, onboarding doesn’t end on the first day itself. Depending on your new employee and their experience, you may need to assist them and answer their questions for a few days or a few weeks as they learn the ropes. It may be worth it to pair your new employee with a more seasoned worker or mentor to help them adjust and create relationships from day one.

HR Expert for Choosing Therapy Laura Handrick agreed that a solid onboarding process is essential for employee retention and engagement. “I’ve seen it happen when the recruitment process is great but then the manager starts out with a very top-down approach and the new employee walks. Your focus should be reconnecting your new hire with why they wanted to come to your company in the first place.”

You’ll want to check-in with your new hire within the first month, and then between months 3 and 6. 90% of new employees leave after the first 6 months, so keeping up communication with them during this time is vital to increase engagement and reduce turnover.

To keep your process streamlined, you may want to keep a detailed onboarding checklist on hand.

2. Invest in training

Teaming up your new hire with a mentor is an excellent way to build relationships within your company. But you may want to take training a step further by providing specialized training for your employees in the schedule. 

According to this survey, 91% of companies that invest in reskilling or upskilling have found that it has increased productivity. What you’re really doing as an employer when you offer extra training or upskilling sessions is that you’re showing your employee that you want to support their career growth. 

The added bonus, of course, is that your employees can use these new skills to improve their performance at work.

You can provide opportunities for job training or upskilling in various ways:

  • Match your new or low-performing employees with a high performer
  • Find ways to reward employees for using what they learn in a training seminar
  • Plan an outdoor training retreat or attend a local seminar
  • Offer training sessions at different times of day, or consider creating recordings so employees who can’t attend the original session can still benefit
  • Bring in professionals to answer questions and educate your employees
  • Invest in an online education platform to provide your team with more resources
  • Start a book club with relevant non-fiction books. Employees can discuss them over lunch or on their communication channels
  • Ask employees who have completed a job training or outside certification course to teach the team
  • Allow employees to shadow senior leaders or professionals in different departments

3. Consider interactive assessments

Most traditional self-assessments are boring and may be substandard when it comes to understanding an employees’ weaknesses or strengths. Rather than pick up a pen and paper or ask for a self-assessment, you may want to use online quizzes that can offer immediate results and usually contain more off-the-wall questions. 

You may also want to forgo a formal assessment and instead schedule a more informal interview to see that your employee is doing well and try to pinpoint any issues. This may be called a “stay” interview since the point is to ensure that your employee is doing well and isn’t interested in leaving.

Directly conducting an employee engagement survey can also be beneficial. Sample responses may include:

  • My managers let everyone know what’s happening.
  • My managers set clear goals for the team.
  • I have a healthy work-life balance.
  • I am able to develop new skills in the company.
  • I have access to resources to help me do my job properly.

4. Offer career planning

One way to keep your employee engagement is to offer career guidance or planning. By talking about your employees’ career goals, you are helping them to link their future with your company and consider how your business can help them achieve their dreams.

This is a rather simple discussion, but it can have an extremely positive ramifications on your employee’s productivity. 

To keep things on task, you can create a brief based on your discussion with your employee and provide your recommendations to help guide them towards their goals. Some ideas of what to include in your career planning brief are:

  • Potential positions within the company
  • A promotion map
  • A list of skills your employee can work on
  • Possible horizontal transfers
  • Recommended mentors or coaches
  • A budget for training or other resources

You can revisit this plan during your regular assessments to see if they need help adjusting their goals. 

5. Rewards are never a bad idea

Rewards can be useful in moderation. Giving rewards and recognition is a strategy that can help you sustain your employee engagement long term. Appreciate an employee for their exemplary work through in-person praise, company-wide emails, a title promotion, or even extra vacation days. 

If used correctly, this method works. In fact, a study by Westminster College found that 69% of employees admitted they would work harder if they felt appreciated. In fact, using this tactic alone suggests you may be able to boost engagement by 48%.

Outside of thanking or highlighting your employees’ achievements, there are other rewards you can test out:

  • Let your employee be “CEO for a day”
  • Themed team launches
  • Free company apparel and gifts
  • VIP parking spots
  • Gift cards for exhibiting company values or going the extra mile
  • More time off
  • Allow them to work from home
  • Let coworkers support each other through peer-to-peer recognition 
  • Employee competitions
  • Keep a recognition bulletin board

6. Listen to your employees

Another simple fix for employee engagement is to let them know you are listening. Your employees may have insights on how to improve their workspace or process. Consider their suggestions and even if you are not able to implement a change, let them know why and ask them to keep giving you good ideas.

Make sure to regularly check in with your employees before or after any changes to policies or the workplace and make a note of their feedback. 

There are a few different ways you can gain insight from your employees:

  • Send out a pulse survey every month or every quarter
  • Arrange regular 1-1 meetings
  • Keep a “feedback” box in the break room for when inspiration strikes
  • Create regular employee engagement surveys
  • Have an open forum during team meetings
  • Follow up on survey results 

7. Foster an inclusive environment 

Today’s workplace is more diverse than ever and you probably want to make sure that all your employees feel that they are welcome and belong.

This may mean you need to better follow up with your employees of color. This can mean running focus groups and compiling direct reports to pinpoint areas where company culture can become more inclusive.

There are other, simple steps you can take to ensure that diversity and inclusion is embedded in your company culture. Some examples include:

  • Ask new hires for their preferred pronoun and encourage them to use it in the office and in materials like their email signature. 
  • Schedule company events before or during work instead of after office hours to include workers with families and other responsibilities.
  • Consider keeping a quiet, safe space in the office.
  • Include different religious holidays in your company calendar.
  • Invite hosts and guest speakers from different backgrounds when organizing seminars or training sessions.
  • Ensure that your office is accessible for employees or visitors with disabilities — even if your building is already ADA-compliant. 
A study by Westminster College found that 69% of employees admitted they would work harder if they felt appreciated. In fact, using this tactic alone suggests you may be able to boost engagement by 48%.

Source: Westminster College

Section 5

How to measure employee engagement 

There are a few ways to measure your employee engagement and to get the full story, you’ll want to have qualitative as well as quantitative measurements. 

On the qualitative side, you’ll want:

  • Focus groups
  • Pulse surveys
  • “Stay” interviews

You’ll want to short, open questions for these kinds of surveys. Some examples include asking how they feel about work, how they view their career prospects, and whether they are satisfied with their work-life balance.

And on the quantitative side, you’ll want to measure things like:

  • Productivity metrics (revenue growth, retention rate)
  • Absentee and turnover rates 

You’ll also want to measure numerous other factors that highlight how employees are working on the ground. Some key aspects to analyze are:

  • How often are your employees working or networking with others outside their department?
  • How often do your employees work outside of regular hours?
  • Do your workers participate in ad-hoc meetings or are they only present at structured events?
  • Network growth outside of their immediate team or region. Do they collaborate with other managers?
  • Do they have reasonable breaks throughout the day? Are they not overextending themselves?


While you are evaluating employees for engagement, you should also keep in mind that more passionate employees may be in danger of overextending themselves. It’s important that even your most engaged employees have periods of downtime throughout the day in order to recharge.

When you are measuring your employee engagement, there are a few other rules to keep in mind. It’s better not to depend on sample sizes since leaving out employees could seriously distort your results — even if it’s a random sampling. As you will be making company-wide decisions based on the results, you should look at surveying all of your employees. 

It’s also critical to not replace engagement surveys with satisfaction surveys. We’ve said earlier that employee engagement does not equate to employee satisfaction, and focusing only on how content your employees are will tell you little about actual engagement.

Finally, while surveys are vital to understanding the current state of your company’s employee engagement strategy, a survey alone will not fix any outstanding issues. Business owners and managers will need to follow-up with employees, formulate or adjust their engagement strategy, and begin implementing changes after analyzing the survey.

Section 6

How to sustain your employee engagement plan

All of these tools and methods are great — but how can you keep up when your company is growing? In a fast-paced environment, it can seem difficult to incorporate all of these amazing tactics, especially when your company is suddenly 100, 1000, or 10,000 people strong.

As your business expands, it’s critical that you focus on ensuring that the company culture remains committed to employee growth.

“As the company scales they need to get good at training new managers,” Handrick said.

As it turns out, 70% of a work team’s engagement is directly related to management. Your managers are your touchpoints for employee engagement and they will have the most insight over what strategies will work on the ground. When you onboard a new manager, it’s important to reinforce how important it is that they listen and support their employees as this will make it more likely for them to be able to meet their revenue goals. 

When you train a new manager, you need to ensure that they are familiar with items like: 

  • The employee handbook 
  • Management systems 
  • How their department fits in with the rest of the company 

It’s important to treat a new manager similar to a new employee and offer them the same perks to stay engaged. This means you may want to establish manager training on items like conflict resolution and communication, regularly access your managers for feedback, and perhaps offer mentorship with other seniors in the company. 

The best way to cultivate engaged employees on the ground level is to ensure that your managers are engaged.

Another factor to consider is making it as easy as possible for your managers to be able to implement these strategies. This can be encouraging your managers to create a personal process for providing employee communication or appreciation or setting them up with automated scheduling and survey software. 

Creating a detailed plan on the outset of your employee engagement campaign can help you stay organized and sustain your efforts in the long term. Below is a brief template that you can fill out and begin documenting your strategy.

Key questions for your employee engagement strategy

Your Employees

  1. List out your employees by name.
  2. Consider their roles, strengths, weaknesses, and company relationships.
  3. Brainstorm what types of support each employee would need as an individual.
  4. Think about what kind of support your employees need as a group.
  5. Review any previous feedback surveys that might shed light on employee needs.

Your Management Style

  1. Do you question the impact of carrying out a change on all employees?
  2. What methods of promoting employee engagement are most accessible to you? Why or why not?
  3. What can you change about your daily or weekly schedule to incorporate more of these engagement strategies?
  4. What happens to your strategies if you get promoted? Do you have a training guide for the new manager?
  5. How long will you test a strategy before making adjustments? 
  6. How often will you be able to check in with employees? Can you automate that process?

Your Company Goals

  1. How can you bring C-suite and senior managers on board?
  2. How can you cultivate a more open environment across departments?
  3. Which goals will be most affected by boosting your employee engagement?
  4. Is there a way you can acquire more resources for training or methods you would like to try?
  5. Are there any tools that can help you automate or streamline communication between you, your employees, and other relevant departments?
Section 7

Who implements your employee engagement strategy? 

Who should you look to implement your employee engagement strategy? While it may start in HR, the reality is that an effective and successful engagement strategy only works if everyone participates — from junior managers to the C-suite. 

You really must think of engagement as a bottom-up approach. The managers will support their employees, with the directors supporting the managers and so on up the ladder. 

“Employee engagement is not something you can delegate. If you run a company, engagement starts with you at the top caring and listening and being willing to be open to employees. It’s not something you can give to HR and they’ll fix it,” Handrick said. 

When it comes to employee engagement, everyone should really be onboard — from the senior leaders to the employees themselves. While each team may have their own roles to play, the more people who are involved, the better.

When it comes down to dividing roles between different levels, it should look something like this:

  • Senior leaders and C-suite executives should focus on the long-term vision, listen to management for input on changes, and communicate final changes.
  • HR should work closely with managers and employees, and hold them accountable to practicing the decided strategy. They should also train managers on using appropriate software or resources, and offer expertise in case of a conflict.
  • Managers need to spend time with their employees so that they can help their workers create professional goals and reward positive performances.
  • Employees can provide honest feedback to management, look for opportunities to meet their professional and personal goals, and build relationships within the company across departments.


Section 8

Real-world examples of employee engagement strategies

So how can you turn these theoretical strategies into real-world practices? The key is to take a look at your toolbelt. 

Let’s focus first on employee communication. Being transparent with your employees is one way to build their trust and loyalty — especially if these messages come from the top. Here are some examples of quick, 10-minute solutions for seamless communication:

  • A 30-second to a 1-minute voicemail sent to employees email from the manager or CEO.
  • Stretch your legs! Take a 10-minute break to walk around to ask your workers how they are going.
  • Start a thread on your team channel and ask what everyone’s goal for the week is. 
  • Write 4-5 line emails that summarize highlights of the week, including employee birthdays or accomplishments.

Those are just some ideas to get started, but there are many more. Here are some more real-life examples of employee engagement strategies:

  • CEO David Cancel of Drift will take a group of random employees out to lunch to improve communication across departments.
  • Home Depot allows its employees autonomy when it comes to discounts. They can offer discounts up to $50 on any product in the store, for any reason.
  • At Hyatt Hotels, housekeeping employees have the option of leaving early or cleaning additional rooms for more money if they finish their work early.
  • In 2016, Southwest Airlines turned to their employees to design the new uniform.
  • The CEO of the communications platform IntelePeer takes the time to speak with all new hires about the company’s core values.
  • Subsplash, a church technology company, takes advantage of peer-to-peer recognition by asking employees to honor a coworker who personifies the company’s values every week.
Section 9

Employee engagement in the era of remote work

The increasing trend of remote work means that managers and business owners alike need to alter their engagement strategies. However, it’s not as difficult as you think. Many common tactics still work — like periodic email checkups or engagement surveys. 

You can also still have a brief 15 to 20-minute call via Zoom to better get a feel for your employees’ current engagement levels. In fact, engaging in simple small talk may boost engagement levels. A recent study from Slack found that 85% of remote workers want to connect with their colleagues. 

Consider these ideas to keep your workforce together:

  • Have virtual lunches with the team or individuals
  • Sign up your employees for an online learning platform to help them upskill
  • Ask your employees if long-term work-from-home options may help them with their career planning or work-life balance

There are numerous ways to integrate transparent communication, even in a remote environment. 

Another vital factor for successful engagement with remote employees is setting clear goals and expectations. Managers should ensure that their communication and work processes are easy to navigate, and it helps to be open to improvement as employees work out the kinks. When creating a transparent system, you may want to make sure your employees have all the information possible to be efficient. Some examples are:

  • What is the best way to contact their manager or other senior leaders?
  • If there is an emergency, who should your employee contact?
  • When should they be available and what is expected of them?
  • Are there mandatory weekly calls? How can they best update their managers on their progress?
  • Are there any employees who are not on the main communication system for whatever reason?


Section 10

How to get feedback on your employee engagement strategy 

Finally, you need to be able to assess whether your employee engagement strategy is actually working or not. One way is to create a brief engagement questionnaire to send out to your employees. 

Short and automated surveys are great for a few reasons. First, they can be made with templates, easily tweaked and reused — which saves managers and business owners time. Second, they take minutes to fill out, so employees don’t feel like they are completing a complex document. And if you send these surveys out via email, you’ll get the data sets immediately. 

This method is easy to accomplish and you can always follow up with individual or group interviews if you feel like you want to elaborate on certain points or brainstorm solutions from the bottom up.

The most important aspect of these surveys is listening and considering how you can incorporate feedback into your strategy.

You may also decide to create multiple surveys to tackle complex issues:

  • Diversity and inclusion surveys can help you pinpoint specific issues in your company culture or workflow. 
  • Values surveys can give you insight as to whether employees feel that management and senior leaders are living by example.
  • Benefits surveys show employees that you care about their immediate needs and can help you gain a broad perspective on your employees’ needs and concerns. 

When you plan your surveys, you need to keep in mind how long it will take you to create and execute an action plan and what areas you want to focus on first. You must also consider your resources, expectations, and how soon you’ll be able to follow up with employees. After you plot out all this information, you’ll be better able to space out and arrange your surveys throughout the year to monitor employee perspectives.