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This article was written by by Benjamin Granger, Head of EX Advisory Services I Adjunct Faculty at the Qualtrics XM Institute.

In a world where buzzwords seem to fluctuate daily, employee engagement remains one of the hottest topics in HR after over two decades in the spotlight. And there’s a good reason for that.

What is employee engagement? 

Engagement is an attitude that employees form about their organization and their work. 

Employees go through innumerable experiences at work – some big, like getting hired, being onboarded, and changing jobs – and others small, like having a one-on-one with their manager, submitting an IT ticket, and getting reimbursed for travel expenses. 

Employees naturally form perceptions of these experiences. Over time, they develop relatively stable attitudes about their work and the company.

Why is employee engagement so important? 

Clearly, it’s good to be engaged. But organizations don’t hire people to be engaged in their work; they hire them to get work done, deliver great experiences to customers, and add value to the organization. The good news is that engagement propels all of these things!

Successful employee performance

Employees who are more engaged at work are more likely to be high performers, put forth more discretionary effort, go out of their way to help coworkers, and are less likely to quit their jobs. As a result, organizations with engaged employees tend to be higher performing.   

Increased customer satisfaction

The impact of engagement goes beyond the direct benefits to the business. Our research shows that organizations with more engaged employees tend to provide better customer experiences and thus receive higher customer Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores.

After all, doesn’t it make a big difference when we, as customers, interact with someone who is clearly engaged at work and happy to be there? 

Improved employee wellbeing 

Finally, our research shows that engaged employees report better mental and physical well-being, more resilience, and are more likely to engage in safer workplace behaviors. While these may not have always been top-of-mind for HR and business leaders, 2020 has proven how crucial these really are.

All in all, employee engagement is one of the most predictable levers that an organization can pull to drive and sustain a high-performing organization that delivers exceptional customer experiences and consistent business results. 

How is employee engagement measured? 

Because engagement is an attitude, it is best measured through employee surveys. While there are many indicators of engagement, our research has shown that engagement can be comprehensively measured by asking employees about three specific attitudes:

  • Employee advocacy – how likely they are to recommend the company as a great place to work
  • Personal accomplishment – how much their work gives them a feeling of personal accomplishment
  • Discretionary effort – whether the company motivates them to contribute more than is required

By measuring employee engagement, organizations get an early warning signal to future customer experience gaps, unwanted employee attrition, and downstream performance issues. But more importantly, this informs leaders about the changes they need to make to increase and sustain engagement. 

What drives employee engagement? 

It is crucial that organizations measure engagement and its drivers on an ongoing basis, because research shows that the drivers of engagement can shift over time.

For example, it is common to find that growth opportunities and confidence in senior leadership emerge as top drivers of engagement. However, throughout the pandemic, we saw corporate social responsibility and a sense of belonging emerge as more important. 

We also find that the drivers of engagement can be different from company to company. So, while there is value in understanding the typical drivers of employee engagement, organizations must understand the specific attitudes of their own employees. 

What are the next steps for improving employee engagement?

Most organizations understand the need to measure and drive employee engagement but many are unsure how to get started. 

Here are some easy steps:

  1. Launch a short, simple survey that measures engagement and a handful of drivers that are relevant to your organization right now. As a starting point, try out an eNPS survey with an open-ended follow-up question to surface some of the drivers your employees care about most. Over time, progress to a more comprehensive measure of engagement and standard driver items. 
  2. Invite every employee within the organization to provide feedback. 
  3. Keep employee feedback confidential and be clear that you will never connect their feedback to their personal information.
  4. Give them 2-3 weeks to provide feedback. 
  5. Review the aggregate data and within 2 weeks of closing the survey, share the high-level results back with employees. 
  6. Tell employees about your plans to deep dive into the data and create action plans. 
  7. Invite employees to get involved in the action planning process by offering follow-up focus groups or opportunities for them to generate ideas.

One of the amazing byproducts of listening to employees and acting on their feedback is that engagement tends to rise. Yes, you heard that right – beyond the drivers of engagement, our research shows that simply listening and acting can drive employee engagement up! 

About Benjamin Granger

Benjamin Granger, Ph.D., XMP, is the Head of EX Advisory Services I Adjunct Faculty at Qualtrics. He has over a decade of experience building Experience Management (XM) programs across the globe and leads research initiatives within the Qualtrics XM Institute.

About the XM Institute

The Experience Management (XM) Institute is the research and thought leadership arm of Qualtrics. The XMI is responsible for developing practical thought leadership around the discipline of XM and building a global community of XM professionals.