How to improve employee engagement
Savvy organizations know that improving employee engagement isn’t a quick fix. While inside tips and top ten lists might seem enticing, improving employee engagement is ultimately an ongoing process.
We know this sounds like a lot of effort, but that’s why we’re here to help you. In this article, we’ve outlined the process for improving employee engagement and increasing employee retention, and we walk you through it step-by-step. This means you can put your efforts in the right place and start to affect real change.
How to approach the process of improving employee engagement
To make lasting improvements to employee engagement, you can’t approach it as a one-time project. If you have employee engagement issues at your business, they will need to be initially addressed and, thenceforth, sustained.
To do this, we recommend using an employee feedback loop. This is comprised of three parts (which we will discuss in detail throughout this article):
- Collect: Design a survey, give it to your people, and collect the data. It’s vitally important this survey asks the right questions so it uncovers the information you need.
- Understand: Analyze the data you receive and deduce the drivers (the forces that will drive the biggest improvements in employee engagement).
- Act: Share the data, make a plan of action, make changes. Ensure you show employees that their feedback is being recognized by taking action on the results. If they see the organization is listening and taking action, they’ll respond with more and better feedback.
The cadence of this process is up to you and will be guided by how quickly you can move through each step.
Three simple steps to improve engagement
1. Collect data
This first step is to collect data using an employee survey. Depending on your specific pain point, you may want to focus your survey around a specific topic (i.e., wellbeing, DEI, etc.). However, we generally recommend beginning with an employee engagement survey, as this survey type focuses specifically on the measure you most want to improve: engagement.
We've written extensively on how to collect data, so rather than rehash it all here, we've compiled a few resources for you below:
- If you want to know what questions to ask, check out our list of employee engagement questions.
- If you want to write your own custom questions, check out these tips for writing good survey questions.
- If you want to conduct a shorter survey, check out this guide to employee pulse surveys.
2. Understand the data
Once you’ve collected the completed surveys, it’s time to start analyzing and understanding the feedback your employees have shared. The main tool for understanding this feedback is a statistical technique called driver analysis.
What is a driver?
It’s easy to assume that taking action on a factor with a low score – say work/life balance – will help lift engagement. But, if work/life balance isn’t what’s driving engagement at your company, investing in this area won’t make a difference to engagement levels.
Thus, drivers are what is assessed by a survey to be most likely to move the needle on a particular outcome. In this case, improving employee engagement. At Culture Amp, we utilize a real-time driver analytics engine to allow you to quickly and efficiently see what aspects of organizational culture have the biggest impact on employee engagement. Tools and platforms like these make it easy to understand what is driving engagement at your company, and which questions you can ask to measure and assess it.
Each company can have different drivers of engagement, and they can change over time. A good survey will identify the top drivers for you as a basis for the next step in the feedback loop – action.
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3. Act on the findings
After years of working with companies that put culture first, we’ve learned a lot about how organizations stay on top of their game. One of the main things we’ve noticed is that they consistently drive meaningful change by doing less rather than more. They also take the time to communicate why a certain action is being taken.
Do less, not more
When it comes to improving employee engagement, these organizations don’t choose five, or even three drivers to focus on. They choose one. Maybe two, at a stretch. This ensures that the actions they take have maximum impact.
Finding a focus area takes discipline, but these three steps can help guide leaders at all levels of the organization:
- Make use of advanced analytics: It’s easier to identify a shortlist of focus areas with advanced survey tools, such as Culture Amp’s embedded focus agent. These help you deduce which actions will help make the biggest changes.
- Align: Encourage leaders to evaluate feedback with organizational objectives in mind. Then, prioritize a focus area that’s closely aligned to these. This way your focus will benefit employees and impact business success.
- Vote: If you don’t get there with the first two steps, take a simple vote with the team. Start with the focus area that gets the most votes, but make a note of other potential focus areas to take on after you act on the primary one.
Make an action plan
Once you have your focus area for improving employee engagement you can start action planning.
Let’s say, for example, collaboration was identified as a high driver of engagement. You would start by framing your focus area as a forward-focused question. We find that the ‘How might we…’ formula is very effective.
For our example, the question could be:
How might we improve collaboration across organization boundaries?
At this point, it can also be useful to dig a little deeper with your employees to find the root cause of the issue. You could set up a quick follow-up survey about your focus area, or run an in-person workshop.
You can ask employees:
- What does this focus area mean to you? (For our example, you could ask: what does working more collaboratively across organizational boundaries look like to you?)
- Where are we doing well? (Where are we collaborating well?)
- Where are we not doing well? (Where do we need to collaborate better?)
Then, it’s time to come up with creative ideas to address the focus area to improve engagement. Involve employees in this process. By asking for volunteers from across the business, you will get a cross-section of employees who buy into the process.
4. Take action
We’re now at the "Act" stage of the feedback loop. Coming up with the actions does take a lot of energy, which means that some organizations, unfortunately, get stuck at the planning stage. Real improvement in employee engagement requires you to push through and bring all that planning to life through action.
Don’t be afraid to test ideas – holding out for the perfect approach can lead to inaction. Instead, just start. You can easily communicate progress on actions, gather feedback from employees, and make any necessary adjustments.
In the next section, we have some useful real-life examples to give you some ideas on how to get started. You could also check our inspiration engine, which we created for this express purpose.
People don't get survey fatigue, they get lack of action fatigue
Learn about the importance of taking action on feedback.
How real companies are improving employee engagement
Every year, Culture Amp analyzes data captured from over 4,500 organizations to assess what is driving employee engagement. In 2023, we found that the top drivers of employee engagement across industries are:
- Learning and development
Each company chooses to take action on these drivers in a slightly different way. However, we felt it would be useful to provide three insights into what real-life companies have done.
Learning and development
At Vend, learning and development were identified as a high driver of engagement. In their June 2016 engagement survey, 79% of people at Vend favorably rated the statement: “I have access to the learning and development I need to do my current job well.”
To continuously improve on this factor, they began empowering people to make decisions that fit with their career and encouraging managers to have conversations with their teams about individual learning and development.
You can read the full Vend case study here.
At JacTravel, leadership communication was identified as a high driver of employee engagement. “What we heard from the survey was there wasn’t enough explanation from the leadership of the course we’re on and why we’re on it,” says Deputy Chief Executive Officer Peter Clements.
To address this, Clements arranged a series of meetings across the company’s global offices to spend time talking with employees. “It was a really constructive and informative period that helped bridge the gap between the executive team and people within the business. Off the back of that, we’re enacting a number of initiatives around communication and engagement,” he says.
You can read the full JacTravel case study here.
Service and quality focus
One of the organizations we work with holds frequent project retrospectives which allow teams to work together to identify mistakes, what went well and ultimately apply learning toward the next project. For larger teams, they scale retrospectives using a few additional steps. First, a team of facilitators is identified and trained. Then, those facilitators perform focus groups around standardized themes with project team members. Next, the facilitators compare notes. Finally, the themes are presented at an all-hands meeting to share learnings and get feedback.
Improving employee engagement can seem a little overwhelming at first. However, when you have the right tools and a logical process, it becomes quite manageable. Also, as with many things, practice makes perfect. So don’t forget to start that feedback loop again when the time is right!