Matthew Urwin | Aug 24, 2023

Mastering the art of employee engagement is no easy feat, especially when every workplace is different. Team engagement is influenced by a variety of ever-changing factors, which makes it difficult to motivate employees as a manager or executive. This is reflected in the bleak reality that only a third of U.S. employees felt engaged in 2022.  

There are ways to keep employees motivated and engaged in the office, however, and we can learn a lot from the successes of other noteworthy organizations. Take a look at what employee engagement means, why it matters and how company leaders engage employees in the workplace.


What’s Employee Engagement Look Like? 

Employee engagement is a complex idea that describes the emotional connection employees have to their job. Simply put, it refers to the degree to which employees are passionate and invested in their work and the company. Workforce engagement is closely related to job satisfaction, but one does not guarantee the other — employees can be incredibly satisfied in their job without being engaged. 

Highly engaged individuals not only want to do well in their roles, but they want to help the company achieve its goals. These employees believe that their work positively contributes to their team’s and the organization’s success.

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Why Is Employee Engagement Important?

Highly engaged business units are more productive, profitable and likely to retain their top talent than companies with low levels of employee engagement. To further illustrate the positive impact employee engagement can have on your business, teams with strong employee engagement are 23 percent more profitable than those with low engagement. 

Disengaged employees, on the other hand, are those who couldn’t care less about being at work. They’re the individuals who will undermine your top performers and your company’s success, reducing your profits and hurting the global economy in the long run.  


How to Engage Employees

Remember that your team is composed of unique individuals who may respond better to certain employee engagement ideas than others. 

Generally, the key to engaging employees and keeping them motivated is to talk to them. Find out how they prefer to receive feedback, how they want to be recognized, what they value most about the office environment and what they’re passionate about. Your long-term goal should be to develop an employee engagement strategy that’s carefully tailored to your team and its unique needs.

With that said, workplace leaders and company culture experts suggest the eight tips below.

1. Prioritize Diversity and Inclusion

Prioritizing employee engagement means investing in your team members, which will help you improve retention and attendance.

Creating a company culture that welcomes all individuals is crucial to engaging your employees. By celebrating diversity and making inclusivity a central part of your office environment, you send a supportive message to your employees — leadership values individuality and wants employees to flourish, both as people and professionals.

Creating an inclusive team is important to the leaders of StratEx (acquired by Toast), an objective they’ve achieved by launching an employee engagement group, “StratEx Spectrum.” 

“Since the inception of this group, Spectrum has sponsored several creative and educational events that have brought our company together in a new way to help us better understand and support the people we work with every day,” said Gretchen Van Vlymen, former vice president of human resources at StratEx.

The initiative was developed to help educate employees about their peers’ background, identities and unique perspectives. Doing so helps colleagues form meaningful connections and provides the company with a deeper understanding of its employees’ values.


2. Promote Transparency Across All Levels

Having confidence in the leadership team plays a large role in engaging employees. In fact, employee engagement levels triple when employees trust their organization’s leadership. People want leaders they can count on to guide the company forward, and they want to know that their efforts are making an impact. Include employees in conversations about strategy development, market growth and any setbacks your team may experience. 

The team at Optimizely makes a point to keep all employees in the loop. 

“We share regular updates about board meetings, strategy, finances and deals — the good and the bad,” said Claire Vo, former vice president of product. “Through this culture of transparency, we hope that all of our Optinauts feel engaged and a sense of ownership over the work happening throughout our company. At Optimizely, there are no closed doors to making an impact.”


3. Organize Social Outings

Employees are more likely to engage with their jobs if they feel a connection to the people around them. Social events, such as happy hours, team dinners and sponsored lunches foster personal relationships and strengthen professional ones. This translates to improved communication between colleagues, which opens the door to new ideas and breakthroughs. 

“Before coming to System1, I didn’t realize how important weekly happy hours would be,” said Carrie Yu, data analyst at System1. “Happy hours create an opportunity for people to talk to peers in other teams both on a work-related level, as well as a personal one. It opens up an avenue for going to those peers later with questions, for additional knowledge, or just being able to foster a friendship that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible.” 


4. Plan Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering has been shown to strengthen employee relationships and encourage individuals to engage more intimately with their work. And while social events allow employees to form personal relationships, volunteerism helps them establish deeper connections founded on shared interests and passions. 

Talent acquisition platform Yello made volunteering a central part of its company culture. 

“Yello’s volunteer initiatives started the same way all our best ideas start — with our employees,” said Jen Meza, vice president of people at Yello. “A group launched our volunteer committee, Yello Cares, to organize volunteering events the whole company can participate in.” 

Volunteerism unites employees toward a shared goal and creates a dialogue around giving back. Team members have the opportunity to introduce their coworkers to initiatives they are passionate about, Meza added. 


5. Encourage Employees to Take Ownership

Employees engage with their work more if they feel they have skin in the game. Giving them the chance to lead a meeting or spearhead a project will help them connect with their work on a different level. That can be the difference between job satisfaction and true engagement.

According to Jonathan Petrovich, customer success operations manager at EZ Texting, “owning processes and providing actionable feedback is essential.” 

Not only does this approach promote flexibility and communication between teams, but it provides employees the opportunity to make a tangible impact on the organization’s success. 

“Ownership is key at EZ Texting — it’s stressed on every level,” Petrovich added. “For my team, we’re always incorporating different and new processes to reach our team’s goals.”


6. Give Every Employee a Seat at the Table

You never know where the next big idea will come from. Similar to encouraging an owner-mentality across your team, giving employees a voice makes them feel valued and fosters an important emotional investment in the company’s success. Open up the conversation to all employees — even the most recent hires — and let everyone know that ideas are always welcome.

CrunchTime, a restaurant management platform, breaks down communication barriers to engage its employees. “CrunchTime values the ideas and inputs of every employee,” said Stephen Stone, marketing manager at CrunchTime. 

“Because most of our employees have restaurant experience, we are always thinking of new and innovative ways to improve restaurant management processes,” he added. “New hires often bring the most recent restaurant experience, and their insights into how modern restaurants work are valuable for a company that is innovating restaurant management.”


7. Recognize and Reward Employees 

Employees want to know that their contributions to the company and culture don’t go unnoticed. 

Employee recognition is a form of positive reinforcement. By acknowledging the great efforts individuals put in, you encourage them to repeat the behavior, which prompts their peers to do the same. When it comes to recognition, 65 percent of employees say they would work harder if they received recognition from management. 

Rachel Kopp, vice president of people operations at OrthoFi, believes core values serve as guidelines to help managers determine which behaviors to reward and which behaviors to coach.

“We use an employee recognition tool where every member of our team can reward points to a fellow team member and select the core value associated with the reward,” Kopp said. “In our monthly all-hands meetings, we select and award our ‘Core Value Conquistador,’ someone who exemplified the selected core value in the prior month.” This approach helps employees bond with each other and form relationships built on more than just deadlines and monthly quotas. 


8. Lead by Example

If the C-suite and managers aren’t engaged, employees certainly won’t be. In order to motivate employees to achieve great results, leadership needs to believe it’s possible. Andy Dey, former CTO of Vertafore, believes his role is to enable and facilitate his team’s ability to do their best by supporting them and proactively removing roadblocks.

“Because our collective intelligence is greater than any one individual’s capabilities,” Dey said, “the best way to win together is to motivate and empower the team and instill a belief that anything is possible if we put our hearts and minds into it.”

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to engage your employees?

Engaging your employees means taking actions that cultivate a positive emotional relationship between employees and the workplace. You can tell employees are engaged when they express passion for their roles and commitment to the company’s success.

How to engage employees

Supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives, planning social and volunteer outings and rewarding high-performing workers are a few ways to engage employees.

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