Why Employee Engagement Matters

Why Employee Engagement Matters

You might be surprised to learn that, on average, only 13% of employees are engaged at work worldwide. The rest of the workforce is either not engaged (65%) or actively disengaged (22%). As for the United States, only 33% of employed US residents are engaged at work.(i)

Employee engagement is a challenge for many organizations. Fortunately, there are some proven strategies to address it. However, before you can effectively address the issue of engagement, it’s important to define it.

What is Employee Engagement?

The Society for Human Resource Management defines engagement as “the level of an employee’s commitment and connection to an organization.”(ii) 

In the simplest terms, engaged employees are generally happy to be at work, believe their work has purpose, and are motivated to do the job well. Engaged employees may perceive their work environment to be: 

  • Purposeful and organized
  • Collaborative and inclusive
  • Transparent
  • Safe

Meanwhile, nonengaged employees may perceive their work environment to be:

  • Cliquey and non-collaborative
  • Disorganized and lacking purpose
  • Opaque
  • Unsafe

One problem organizations face is that nonengaged staff members can be difficult to spot. They may not be explicitly hostile or disruptive, and they may do just enough to fulfill their job requirements and fly under the radar. These employees often have little or no concern about customer satisfaction, work productivity, company profitability, or quality control.

Why Employee Engagement Really Matters

Not surprisingly, less engagement often equates to less overall productivity, lower quality of work, and less innovation in the workplace. Unhappy and  disengaged employees are more likely to criticize the organization when speaking with people both inside and outside of work. Over time, an organization’s ratings on sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Indeed may decline, potentially making it harder to recruit top talent. In more extreme cases, the marginalization of employees can result in harmful behavior like theft, verbal confrontations, and possibly even physical altercations.

Did you know?
It costs up to 33% of a worker’s annual salary to hire a replacement.(iii)

If enough employees become dissatisfied with their work environment, this disengagement can begin to spread throughout an organization. If left unchecked, declining morale will likely result in increased turnover. If there is significant turnover in a short period of time, this places additional pressure on remaining employees, especially in smaller organizations, potentially creating a domino effect. Working to increase employee engagement should be a strategic priority for all organizations because it can impact: 

  • employee retention
  • productivity
  • quality of work
  • profitability
  • sales
  • customer satisfaction

Highly engaged employees are about five times less likely than nonengaged employees to have a safety incident.(v)

How to Improve Staff Engagement at Work

So, how can organizations start boosting employee engagement? Below are five key strategies to consider.

1. Carefully Vet New Hires

Employee engagement starts before an employee is even hired. Candidates should clearly understand the organizational structure, goals, objectives, rules, and culture before accepting a job offer. There should be no surprises. During the interview process, it’s critical to determine whether candidates understand and value your organizational purposes and objectives. It’s also important to determine if the culture and environment is likely to be a good fit for each new prospect.

2. Select the Right Managers

Great managers care about their team members’ success. They seek to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their individual employees, and will provide them with tools to use their strengths more effectively. Successful managers empower their employees, recognize and value their contributions, and actively seek their ideas and opinions. Whether hiring from outside or promoting from within, organizations that scientifically select managers for the unique
talents it takes to effectively manage other people greatly increase the likelihood of engaging their employees. Conversely, poor managers will cause employee engagement to diminish.

3. Acknowledge Employees

  • RecognitionIt’s important to recognize both individuals and teams when they are engaged and successful at work. Positively reinforce teams that work collaboratively and support one another. Show appreciation for employees that demonstrate good leadership, proactivity, creativity, ingenuity, and work ethic.
  • CelebrationBuild a culture that celebrates effort and contributions that employees make by being engaged, proactive, and collaborative team members. Arrange to celebrate the organization’s achievements overall, but also the achievements of departments and smaller teams throughout the year.
  • RewardsOrganizations should strongly consider rewarding engaged, high-performing employees based on effort and achievements with annual salary increases, bonuses, perks (e.g. additional time off), and promotions.

4. Reinforce a Culture of Engagement the Right Way

  • The wrong way to engage employeesFree food, drinks, and games in the breakroom are nice perks, but will not help create an engaging work environment alone.
  • The right way to engage employees: Offering ongoing professional development opportunities is an excellent way to boost engagement. Team-building events and activities that forge stronger relationships among coworkers can also increase engagement. Encourage leaders to take the time to get to know employees on an individual basis. Just having monthly or bi-monthly, one-on-one meetings with employees can ensure that people feel valued.
Adding more flexibility into work schedules, when feasible, can also greatly improve engagement, especially for employees with children. According to Terri Williams, writer for the Economist, companies with flexible work arrangements can benefit from larger applicant pools. “By embracing remote work, an organization can select the very best person, regardless of location. Even if a company hasn’t reached the point of allowing totally remote work, flexibility can still result in a larger applicant pool.”(vi)

“This is about how we create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential.” 

–David MacLeod, cofounder of Engage for Success (iv)

Want even more helpful tips (and a full list of action items) to help improve employee engagement? Download the full whitepaper.

What’s Next?

Want to expand your depth of knowledge and gain credentials to progress as a business leader? Consider CSU’s online Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change Master’s program or Denver-based Ph.D. program

By learning from renowned researchers in change management, performance improvement, and human resources development, you can make an immediate and valuable impact.

Content for this article was written by Dr. Dae Seok Chai, assistant professor of Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change in CSU’s School of Education, and edited by Beren Goguen.


i. www.gallup.com/workplace/231581/five-ways-improve-employee-engagement.aspx
ii. www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/sustainingemployeeengagement.aspx
iii. www.benefitnews.com/news/avoidable-turnover-costing-employers-big
iv. engageforsuccess.org/what-is-employee-engagement
v. www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/sustainingemployeeengagement.aspx
vi. execed.economist.com/blog/industry-trends/pros-and-cons-flexible-work-policies

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