Many organizations prioritize employee engagement as a key success metric without fully understanding why it’s so important. Employee engagement shows you how committed and connected your employees are. It directly reflects the actions exhibited by your organization and its leaders, and provides valuable information that can drive future decision-making.
In this guide, we’ll explore why employee engagement matters, how to measure engagement, and what you can do with engagement data.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is a metric that represents the levels of enthusiasm employees feel toward their organization. It captures more than just job satisfaction or feeling happy at work – it's a measure of how motivated people are to put in extra effort for their organization, and a sign of how committed they are to staying there.
At Culture Amp, we consider employee engagement a measure of the following five factors:
Companies with high employee engagement have a workforce that embodies these five factors, whereas companies with low employee engagement usually struggle in one or more of these areas. Strong engagement also indicates a strong workplace culture – if your company’s cultural practices resonate with employees, that’ll contribute to better engagement. For many employees, whether or not they feel engaged is reflected by whether or not leadership, managers, and people teams listen to and value their voices.
Why is employee engagement important?
People who are highly engaged at work provide greater value to the organization and experience a better quality of life at work. Compared to companies in the bottom quartile of employee engagement, Gallup found that companies in the top quartile of employee engagement experience:
18%higher productivity, as measured in sales
When an organization prioritizes employee engagement, employees feel more motivated by, prideful of, and connected to both leaders and the company. Even small efforts to boost engagement can help reduce turnover, improve retention, and motivate employees to go above and beyond – allowing your workforce stay innovative and agile, even in times of change.
Employee engagement is just one facet of the employee experience, but it plays a major role in shaping this experience. The key to building a responsive and positive employee experience lies in understanding what’s driving engagement.
What drives employee engagement?
In 2023, Culture Amp's data indicated that the top drivers of employee engagement across industries were leadership and learning & development (L&D). While these drivers can vary from company to company, we’ve seen certain trends across our customer data over the years.
The questions that matter most
I have confidence in the leaders at [Company]
[Company] is a great company for me to make a contribution to my development
The leaders at [Company] demonstrate that people are important to the company's success
At Culture Amp, we collect millions of responses worldwide to help understand organizational culture and performance. Each year, we publish insights by industry and region, benchmarking how thousands of companies are keeping employees engaged.
There’s an intrinsic link between leadership and engagement. Employees look to the actions of your leaders when making their own decisions, and if employees lose confidence in leadership, engagement takes a hit. Trust is crucial to a healthy employee/leader relationship, and when engagement drops due to leadership, it can take a long time for those numbers to bounce back.
The same goes for employee development. Culture Amp’s research shows that companies prioritizing development opportunities as part of the employee experience see 46% higher engagement. Employees can hone skills that align with personal interests and feel they’re contributing to a larger purpose, while managers can better align the company’s vision with the goals of individual contributors.
Comparing the behaviors of engaged employees and disengaged employees
Another factor to consider in the context of engagement is the behaviors your employees exhibit when engaged vs. disengaged. These contrasting behaviors highlight engagement's vital role in strengthening your culture and maintaining a productive workplace.
What is the relationship between employee engagement and burnout?
Some view burnout as the opposite of employee engagement, with one study finding that the core dimensions of burnout (emotional exhaustion and cynicism) are the polar opposite of engagement (vigor and dedication). However, the relationship between burnout and engagement is not always so clear-cut. Chloe Hammon, Director of People Science, Product, at Culture Amp, explains, “The connection between engagement and burnout is not straightforward because highly stressed individuals can present as very engaged.”
What is employee burnout exactly? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” To put it simply, burnout = a symptom of an overwhelmed worker.
It’s important that your leaders, HR teams, and employees are able to identify signs of burnout. Knowing the signs means leaders can effectively tend to individuals suffering burnout, and employees can self-evaluate and raise the issue if needed.
Signs of employee burnout include:
Energy depletion or exhaustion
Loss of productivity
Shortness of breath
Loss of appetite or change in eating habits
Lack of sleep
Constant worry and anxiety
Inability to focus
Increased mental distance or apathy
Negativity or cynicism
Emotional fragility or heightened sensitivity
An increased tendency to start arguments or make harsh comments
High engagement and high levels of wellbeing do not always go hand in hand. Overwhelmed workers who feel highly stressed while engaged may be on their way to burnout, even if any indicators are buried below the surface. Ignoring burnout risks pushing your best-performing employees beyond their limits, leading to turnover.
It’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed – but improving burnout is not just a matter of improving poor employee engagement rates. Organizations must take an ongoing holistic approach to address burnout and build wellbeing into their employee engagement strategy.
Below, we’ve compiled a few resources to help you mitigate burnout among your employees:
What is the relationship between employee engagement and workplace morale?
Workplace morale describes the satisfaction, outlook, and feelings of wellbeing that your employees have at their job. Think of morale as another piece of the employee engagement puzzle.
When employees show low morale – no enthusiasm or confidence – there’s no incentive for them to excel. Even an employee who shows up energetic and ready to work might feel disconnected and directionless beneath the surface.
How an employee feels will influence the quality of their output, i.e., how engaged they are when actioning tasks. Employees need motivators to stay engaged and committed to the work they do. Employees might view their company and team positively, but their morale could block them from full engagement if they are dissatisfied with some aspect of their role. The more you know about your employees’ morale, the easier it is to ensure the right tools and resources are available to them.
We’ve seen a tremendous shift in the world of work in recent years as people have moved from siloed environments to team-oriented environments. While this shift has allowed organizations to work with more agility, the lines are blurrier when it comes to workplace accountability.
Pros: Ensures that action is actually taken, keeps company culture at the center of decision-making
Cons: Takes all the responsibility off the individual, puts pressure on managers, disengaged employees may feel they have no input
Individual employees are responsible
Pros: Encourages individuals to own their engagement, allows for a collective voice when action planning, helps attract top talent
Cons: Takes the responsibility off leaders, can be weaponized against the employee as the reason for poor engagement
How to measure employee engagement
The simplest and most accurate way to understand and measure workplace engagement is by using an employee engagement survey. Because employee engagement is an outcome, you can use employee surveys to ask questions about different factors that affect employee engagement to see which ones are hurting and helping the most at your organization.
While the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) was long regarded as the go-to metric for measuring employee engagement, we don't find it holistic enough. The eNPS typically consists of a single question about whether someone would recommend their company as a great place to work. While this is valuable information, asking whether an employee would recommend a company doesn’t capture the entirety of engagement.
Engagement surveys can tell you far more than the eNPS about what’s driving employee engagement in your unique organization. That's because when organizations use surveys to understand the drivers of employee engagement, they can take more effective action on what’s important.
Here are three things to know before measuring employee engagement:
It’s important to strategically choose survey questions that will give you an accurate view of engagement in your company
Employee engagement driver analysis gives you insight on where to take action
Below, we dive into each of these in more detail.
1. Ask a variety of questions to accurately measure employee engagement
Because of its complexity, engagement is best understood through a series of questions in a survey rather than a single question. Culture Amp’s Founding People Scientist, Dr. Jason McPherson, says, “In general, statisticians agree that well-constructed, multiple-item indicators are more reliable and tend to provide better external validity than single-question metrics.”
In other words, asking a handful of questions on a specific topic will give you a more reliable and clear picture of what’s going on than asking, “How satisfied are you at work?”
2. Strategically choose survey questions that give you an accurate view of engagement in your company
Since engagement encompasses connection, motivation, and commitment, an engagement survey should ask questions that provide data on these factors.
For this reason, Culture Amp’s surveys use five main questions, which we refer to as the “Engagement index,” to measure employee engagement:
“I am proud to work for [Company]”
“I would recommend [Company] as a great place to work”
“I rarely think about looking for a job at another company”
“I see myself still working at [Company] in two years’ time”
“[Company] motivates me to go beyond what I would in a similar role elsewhere”
In general, we recommend using more than five questions in your engagement survey, which will help you more accurately capture employee sentiment at your company. However, the "right" employee engagement survey questions will differ depending on your organization's specific needs and culture. If you want to more holistically measure engagement, you can incorporate employee engagement metrics that cover the entire employee experience.
3. Use driver analysis to help you understand engagement trends at your company
Companies that use surveys like Culture Amp’s surveys can see what’s influencing engagement through a technique called driver analysis.
Driver analysis shows you which factors are most related to employee engagement. Dr. Jason McPherson explains how this works in our platform: “If the top driver of engagement is a learning and development question, this means that people who respond most positively to that question are also likely to be the most engaged. If you act to improve responses to that question then you have an improved chance of making your employees more engaged overall.”
How to improve employee engagement
Improving employee engagement is an ongoing, fluid process for many organizations. There’s no quick fix to boost engagement. While some tips and tricks may help patch a temporary issue, engagement is best viewed through a strategic lens.
Addressing any identified engagement issues is simply step one in the process; step two involves sustaining these fixes. Culture Amp suggests following an employee feedback loop model to ensure your engagement initiatives make a true difference:
Collect: Design a survey with the right questions, and collect answers (or data)
Understand: Analyze your results and pinpoint your top drivers
Act: Share the data, build an action plan, and make true change. This step is critical, as employees are likely to respond better next time if they see you act on their feedback
Employee engagement benchmarks offer context surrounding the data you’ve gathered. You might receive a poor score on a particular question, then compare it to a benchmark score and discover that your score is actually quite standard for your industry. This allows you to take a step back and get a clearer picture before you evaluate what needs action. Comparing your scores with benchmarks can help you avoid trying to boost a low score when in reality, there’s not much that can be done.
Hitting the benchmark score isn’t the goal. Instead, use benchmarks to gain a competitive edge by evaluating the data (and the relationships in this data) to determine what matters most to your people. Benchmarks should act as a check on your strategy, not dictate reactive and potentially distracting targets.
You can maximize the impact of your engagement initiatives by identifying one or two key drivers to address now. If you’re selecting more, it’ll be harder to ensure you’re actually improving upon any one focus area. Start small, be specific, and build an action plan one driver at a time.
While building an action plan requires time and investment, avoid lingering in the planning stage. Increasing employee engagement requires pushing through and bringing the planning to life. Don’t be afraid to test ideas immediately. Once you get started, you can communicate progress on your action plan, gather feedback along the way, and adjust as needed. In general, it's crucial to communicate the results of any employee engagement surveys you conduct.
Another significant way to improve employee engagement is through managers, as they arguably have the biggest impact on an employee's day-to-day engagement. For this reason, teaching your managers critical soft skills can significantly improve your organization's overall engagement.
In particular, managers can learn to conduct more effective 1-on-1 meetings. When done right, these regular check-ins allow employees to communicate their wins and worries, get the direction they need to progress in their projects, and build the connection they need to meet and exceed the company's expectations. A well-executed meeting incorporates the right balance of coaching, guidance, and camaraderie.
1-on-1 conversations that incorporate the following topics generally drive greater engagement:
Professional development - Talking about professional development shows employees that their manager is invested in their goals and is committed to helping them move forward in their careers.
Personhood - Addressing and showing genuine interest in a direct report's personal life shows empathy and builds trust. Personal connections matter and increase not only engagement but a direct report's sense of belonging.
Performance - Weekly or bi-weekly check-ins make it easy for employees to ask for help and for managers to understand their employees' struggles. They're also a good opportunity for employees to know how they are performing and how well they are tracking toward their personal, team, and organizational goals.
Roadblocks - 1-on-1's allow managers to address issues as they arise, so progress isn’t stalled on significant projects, and employees don't feel alone in their struggles.
4 employee engagement strategies to try at your company
These basic strategies will help you start increasing employee engagement at your organization.
Employee engagement begins with understanding your employees
For many organizations looking to make a change, understanding what’s driving employee engagement is a helpful starting point. When you understand your employees – their motivators, emotions, feelings, and more – you put yourself in a better position to enact true change. Remember, engagement will always ebb and flow, but with the right approach and mindset, you can use this key success metric to guide your organization’s path forward.
Make better decisions and drive meaningful change by understanding your people
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