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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
How engagement and innovation work together
Lexi Croswell, author

Lexi Croswell

Writer, Culture Amp

To remain successful, organizations go to great lengths to nurture innovation. We know the opportunity to be innovative drives employee engagement, and research shows that engaged employees are more innovative. But how exactly does the relationship between engagement and innovation play out?

In this article, we look at several ways engagement and innovation are linked.

Our data indicate that engagement highly correlates with innovative behaviors in all organizations. This includes a culture that encourages employees to innovate, even though success is not guaranteed. High engagement levels powerfully impact organizations taking action on innovative ideas.

That being said, what aspect of engagement is most connected to innovation? Our data shows that it's motivation. Employees' willingness to do more (i.e., performing beyond role expectations) is strongly associated with innovation.

2. The most engaged employees believe that their culture nurtures innovation

Nearly 8 out of 10 highly engaged employees regard their companies as having a culture that nurtures innovation. In comparison, only half of the least engaged employees feel the same.

What drives an innovative culture? Our data shows that the areas that most significantly impact innovation are:

  1. Effectively directing resources to company goals
  2. Developing your employees
  3. Prioritizing quality and improvement in day-to-day work.

3. Innovative companies experience lower absenteeism and greater employee pride

The Quality of Working Life 2007 study by Charted Management Institute found relatively low sickness and absence rates in workplaces where innovative management styles prevail. This backs up the assertion that innovation and engagement are correlated. Moreover, organizations that increase the wellbeing of employees by way of engagement also benefit from lower rates of absenteeism.

Other research by the Chartered Management Institute discovered "a significant association and influence between employee engagement and innovation." It found that 92% of the UK managers who described the prevailing management style of their organization as ‘innovative’ felt proud to work there.

4. Innovation can be enhanced by a genuinely engaging work climate

In a 2010 article for the International Journal of Business Science and Applied Management, C. Brooke Dobni found "a distinct relationship between innovation and strategy" and that managers can influence how innovative their workplaces are. Dobni concluded that accomplishing this requires "an emphasis on the employee."

Jyotsna Bhatnagar (2012) investigated connections between work engagement, psychological empowerment, turnover intention, and innovation. She found that innovation can be enhanced by cultivating a genuinely engaging work climate.

In 2015, Bailey, Madden, Alfes, and Fletcher reported on their research into the meaning of employee engagement, antecedents, and outcomes for the International Journal of Management Reviews. Consolidating the results of 214 academic studies, a major revelation of their research was a significant link between engagement and innovative work behavior.

These studies converge in their support for the emerging understanding – innovation can be enhanced by fostering a culture of employee engagement.

Building an innovative and engaging workplace

So, does engagement lead to innovation? Does innovation lead to engagement?

It’s probably a bit of both. If you foster innovation in your organization, you’ll probably find that your engagement levels benefit, too, because there's one thing we know for sure: employee engagement can be used as a lever to influence levels of innovation. There are many ways to improve engagement at an organization – you need to find the levers that work best for you.

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