How to Improve Employee Engagement: An HR Crash Course

Multiple people during a brainstorm session

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. COVID-19 made employee engagement even harder than it was before. We all have a lot on our minds, and work may not be at the top of the list. Maybe your company reduced your benefits package or furloughed employees, and many of us now work remotely, where distractions abound. Zoom came to the rescue in many ways, but it’s still been tough to stay in tune with our employees and their needs. 

It shouldn’t be surprising then that employee engagement fluctuated more than usual last year. The good news is that in January 2021, employee engagement was at 39% (up from 36% late last year) and has even exceeded pre-pandemic levels. 

[Sidenote: is 39% really something to brag about? Definitely not. Even though we’re headed in the right direction, we still have a lot of room for improvement.]

Graph: US Employee Engagement Trends in 202

Why the boost? Employers are starting to realize that employee engagement matters. There’s a lot that employers can’t control right now, so they’re choosing to focus on what they can control: offering a more rewarding work experience.

One lesson we’ve all learned throughout 2020 is that the worst case scenario can happen, and it can happen quickly. Employers need to be prepared to retain talent through all of the ups and downs that can happen during challenging times. And that starts with rethinking how you measure and improve employee engagement. 

What is employee engagement?

There are lots of ways to look at employee engagement. But a basic definition is: how involved, enthusiastic, and committed employees are to their work and workplace. 

Highly engaged employees make meaningful contributions, have strong relationships with their coworkers, and would likely recommend their company to others as a great place to work. On the other hand, disengaged employees are miserable and unattached to their work, and are likely to spread their unhappiness to their coworkers. (Can you hear the sirens going off? These folks are a flight risk—and could take the rest of their team with them.)

Why is employee engagement important?

At the end of the day, high engagement = strong business results, and making employee engagement a priority can help HR managers set their organizations up for success.Companies with high employee engagement scores more than double their odds of success compared to those with low engagement. Top-performing organizations achieve:

greater profitability
0 %
increase in quality
0 %
lower absenteeism
0 %

Plus, high employee engagement reduces turnover by 59%, which can save your company thousands each year. Those empty seats mean lost productivity, which is a huge business expense.

And most importantly, high employee engagement means healthier team members: high-performing companies see a 66% increase in employee well-being.

How do I measure employee engagement?
In some ways, measuring engagement is kinda simple. Ask your employees.

Do they feel connected to their teammates? Are they committed to your company mission? What problems are they facing—bad managers? Heavy workloads? You can’t fix problems if you don’t know the cause. Run an employee engagement survey to find out what’s working and where there’s room to improve.

Many companies are also moving away from big annual surveys to agile, real-time pulse surveys. ‘Stay interviews’ are another good idea, where you can ask long-term employees about what’s keeping them at your company and what’s missing.

When you’re collecting feedback, focus on these important areas:

Employee resilience. Can employees adapt to a continually changing environment? On pulse surveys, for example, ask these questions: How would you describe your current work environment? Are you able to balance your personal and work time? Connect with colleagues?

Absenteeism. How often do employees take sick days? Do they take days off frequently or even unannounced?

Net promoter score. How likely would employees recommend your company as a place to work?

Turnover rate. Consider the number of employees who left the company within a certain period divided by the average number of employees multiplied by 100.

How can we increase employee engagement?

How to improve employee engagement—it’s the question on every HR manager’s mind.

There is no one right way to do it, and it’s likely a combination of tactics that will move the needle. Here are a few areas to focus on: 

Formalize employee recognition. 

HR managers can improve employee engagement by 55% simply by addressing employees’ need for work recognition. And a pat on the back or a compliment during a meeting are great, but it’s going to take a lot more than that for employees to feel truly appreciated. Think about creating a monthly employee recognition award, or offering incentives for a job well done. 

Support employees with the right benefits. 

Employee engagement and benefits engagement go hand in hand. A great benefits package is a great way to attract talent, but you also need to make sure employees are using their benefits to their fullest potential throughout the year. Show your employees that you support them by guiding them towards smart benefits choices that will keep them healthy, save them money, and help them take care of their families. 

Offer flexible work options

We’ve been talking about it for years, but in 2020 we actually made it happen. Flexible work schedules allow employees to be more productive at work, take care of themselves as a whole person, and tie personal and professional together in a more manageable way. Flexible work options will be a huge factor in employee satisfaction in the future, and top employers will allow employees to work when, where, and how they want. 

Commit to a diverse and inclusive workforce

Once again, building a diverse and equitable workforce is something that we’ve talked about for years. But 2020 reminded us of the very real racial inequalities we still face, and was a wake-up call that we’re not doing enough. Rather than pay lip service, now is the time to put together real, actionable plans to increase your support for all employees. And it’s not just about attracting diverse talent — it’s about creating a work environment that will make employees from all types of backgrounds want to stay. 

Connect employees to a mission

Research shows that people who feel they are ‘living their purpose’ at work had four times higher engagement and five times higher well-being. Help employees understand how their individual work connects to the overall mission of your company. Make sure they understand their impact, and recognize them when they make a difference.

Jump to section

Drive employee engagement—in the moments that matter.

Hey you, join our community!

Join 22,000+ HR pros who receive monthly employee benefits insights, straight to their inbox.

You're using an unsupported browser.

The Jellyvision website no longer supports Internet Explorer. Please switch to Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome to access the site.