The definitive guide to employee engagement

By Gabe Scorgie

15 min read

The definitive guide to employee engagement
Illustration by Maya Ramadhina

The workplace has changed dramatically in recent years, and so have employees’ expectations. Think of how offices were a few years ago — it was all about showing up on time, doing your job, and going home at the end of the day.

Today, employees expect more than just an income from their work. They want meaningful engagement with their jobs, colleagues, and organizations.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. It can be seen as the cornerstone of any successful business; when employees feel connected to their work, they are more productive and willing to go above and beyond what is expected of them.

It has also been associated with increased productivity, creativity, customer satisfaction, employee retention, and sales.

Benefits of employee engagement

Employee engagement isn’t just a buzzword but the logical first step for any organization wanting sustained growth and success. Paired with the foundation mentioned above, it brings many benefits. To name a few:

Increased productivity and performance

There is a 22% increase in productivity in organizations with a high level of engagement. It’s clear that when employees are engaged, they’re more committed to their work, and they’re motivated to excel.

Engaged employees tend to be more focused and attentive to their tasks. Instead of being easily distracted, they’re more likely to stay on track, which results in higher output, not to mention higher quality output. 

Higher employee satisfaction and retention

Engaged employees are often more likely to find fulfillment in their roles, leading to higher job satisfaction. They take pride in their work and are often willing to invest extra effort to meet or exceed expectations.

Additionally, they’re less likely to take unnecessary time off or quit. It has been shown that highly engaged employees are 87% more unlikely to leave an organization, and workplaces with high employee engagement can experience a reduction of 31% in turnover rates.

Reducing turnover means companies can avoid the cost and disruption associated with recruitment and training.

Improved company culture and morale

A workplace filled with engaged employees resonates with enthusiasm and positivity—both of which are contagious. These employees are more likely to collaborate effectively with each other, which strengthens teamwork and is often a stepping stone to a culture of innovation and creativity since employees are willing to share ideas.

Great company culture leads to exceptional results. Almost 90% of employees at companies that support employee wellness and engage their employees are more likely to recommend their company as an excellent place to work. 

Four levels of employee engagement

Not all employees are equally engaged. Understanding the different levels of employee engagement is essential for effective management and improvement. Let’s examine what differentiates each level and why determining each is crucial.

1. Highly engaged employees

The dream team of any organization is a highly engaged workforce, which results in up to a 21% increase in profitability. They are deeply committed to their work and the company’s mission.

Highly engaged employees consistently perform above and beyond, willingly investing their time and effort to ensure the organization’s success. They are enthusiastic, proactive, and self-motivated, taking pride in their work and feeling a strong sense of belonging within the organization.

Highly engaged people are often the innovators and ambassadors of a company, inspiring others and driving positive change. They are not just employees; they are advocates for your business.

2. Moderately engaged

Moderately engaged employees represent a substantial portion of the workforce in most organizations. They generally have a positive attitude toward their work and the company but may not consistently go the extra mile.

These employees are productive and contribute effectively to their teams, but they might not actively seek opportunities for improvement or innovation. 

Maintaining and increasing the engagement levels of these employees is vital, as they can become highly engaged with the right encouragement and support.

3. Unengaged

Unengaged employees are disinterested or indifferent about their work and the organization. They may show up to work, complete their tasks, and collect their paycheck, but their hearts and minds are not fully invested.

Disengaged employees can be detrimental to productivity and morale, as they are neither actively contributing nor undermining. 

Identifying and addressing the reasons behind their lack of engagement is crucial, as it can prevent them from slipping into the next, more concerning category.

4. Disengaged

Disengaged employees are at the lowest level of engagement. They are not only uninterested in their work but may actively undermine the organization’s goals or create a toxic work environment.

Disengaged employees can be a severe problem, as their negative attitude and behavior can spread to others, causing a ripple effect of decreased morale and productivity.

In fact, disengaged employees cost companies up to $500 billion each year. 

However, rather than giving up on them and letting them go, it’s essential to identify and address the root causes of disengagement as soon as possible to prevent further damage.

Understanding the various levels of employee engagement is vital for any business aiming to cultivate a positive work environment and maximize its workforce’s potential.


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Drivers of engagement

Organizations rarely succeed without committed and enthusiastic employees. And keeping employees motivated and energized at work requires more than just a big paycheck.

Most individuals want to be part of something bigger than themselves and feel a sense of purpose in their work. Apart from happiness and satisfaction, they also need to feel a connection with their company and the individuals around them.

Creating a work environment that fosters engagement requires a combination of factors. Organizations can create a more motivated and committed workforce by understanding what drives employee engagement and actively working to provide those opportunities. Some drivers of engagement are:

Value and purpose

While a good salary is still important, many employees also want to be part of something bigger and understand their place in the larger scheme of things.

From onboarding to regular one-on-one meetings, showing employees the value and purpose of their work and how their efforts contribute to the organization’s goals keeps them engaged.

Meaningful work

Although it’s closely related to purpose, meaningful work is ultimately about providing employees with tasks aligned with their interests and goals.

Employees need to enjoy what they do and feel like their efforts are making a difference, not just within the organization but also in their own lives.

For example, employees lacking a sense of purpose can still become engaged if given meaningful work that helps them grow professionally, develop their skills, and advance their careers.

Feedback and recognition

Nothing boosts morale more than being appreciated for a job well done. Regular feedback and recognition in the form of verbal appreciation or rewards are great ways to keep employees motivated.

It could be as simple as praising them publicly or rewarding them with bonuses when they exceed expectations. Apart from feeling valued, it also gives employees a sense of accomplishment, encouraging them to strive for more.

Career growth opportunities

A culture of continuous learning and development, whether through training programs or mentorship initiatives, lures the best talent to the organization and keeps them hooked for long.

Providing training and development programs that help them grow both professionally and personally increases employee engagement and helps develop a competitive edge for the organization.

Who is responsible for employee engagement?

Engagement is a shared responsibility throughout an organization and essential for a successful business. While it’s not solely the task of any one department or role, some key players play pivotal roles in driving employee engagement.

Understanding the roles of the key players is essential for fostering a workplace culture where employees are motivated, committed, and productive.

Bring your people together


Leadership, starting with the top executives of an organization, bears a significant responsibility for employee engagement. These leaders set the tone for the entire company. Their vision, values, and commitment to employee well-being profoundly influence the workplace culture.

When leaders demonstrate genuine care for their employees, establish clear goals, and communicate effectively, they can inspire a sense of purpose and belonging among their workforce. 

Engaged leadership fosters trust and empowers employees, making them more likely to be engaged and motivated.


HR professionals design and implement policies, programs, and practices to foster a positive workplace. They oversee feedback channels to address employee concerns.

Additionally, HR plays a key role in talent management, encompassing recruitment, onboarding, and training. An effective onboarding process can contribute to a remarkable 69% of employees remaining with a company for three years. HR has a critical role to play in achieving this goal.


Perhaps the most direct and impactful influence on employee engagement comes from managers. 

Research has shown that managers have a significant role in shaping the engagement levels of their teams. As a matter of fact, 70% of the variance in team engagement across business units is explained by the quality of the manager.

Effective managers understand the strengths and weaknesses of their team members, provide regular feedback, and create an environment where employees feel valued and supported. They also ensure that their team’s goals align with the organization’s mission and provide opportunities for growth and development.

Employee engagement is a collective effort, and multiple stakeholders play a part in shaping it. Successful organizations recognize the importance of all these roles and work collaboratively to create a workplace culture that fosters engagement.

How to measure engagement levels at work


Every company leader and HR professional knows the importance of employee engagement. But you can’t rely on what you surmise it to be—you need quantifiable data to measure it. Only then will you be able to correct engagement issues before they reveal themselves in the bottom line. 

Here are a few ways to measure employee engagement in the workplace:

  • Surveys are an excellent way to gauge employee engagement. They can be simple pulse surveys or more comprehensive, but they deliver results quickly and provide you with answers across a range of metrics. 

Some of the questions you can ask include:

  • Do you enjoy your job?
  • Do you feel valued at work?
  • Do you feel your work has meaning? 
  • Do you receive constructive feedback from your manager that helps you improve?
  • Are you comfortable asking for feedback when you need it? 
  • Do you feel your opinion is valued? 
  • Do you find it easy to collaborate with your colleagues or team?  

These are just a few examples but will provide much-needed insight into employee sentiment. Happy employees are engaged employees, which leads to higher productivity and improved retention. Frame your questions so they can be answered using the five-point Likert scale, as it offers a clear indication of sentiment. 

  • Exit interviews. Employees leave for many reasons; not all reflect on the company. However, it’s essential to know what’s driving their decision, especially if it indicates evolving issues that may affect the rest of the workforce. Exiting employees are likelier to be candid about the culture, leadership, and their relationships with management, providing a deeper understanding of what makes your company tick. Read our guide for a comprehensive look into how to conduct an exit interview. 
  • Track and measure internal comms. Your employee success platform or intranet can provide valuable insights into employee engagement. What’s your click-through rate on emails? Are employees engaging with content? Which departments are performing or underperforming? 
  • Consider your employee retention rate. Happy employees tend to stay. High turnover, especially if it’s sudden, suggests there may be issues. 
  • Conduct one-on-one meetings. Surveys are usually anonymous. There is nothing that cuts to the quick better than a one-on-one meeting. Face-to-face interactions improve relationships, deepen connections, and may reveal details not captured in general survey questions. Remote employees are often more apt to disengage, so they should be afforded the same consideration as on-premise workers. Giving them a forum to speak up improves engagement, builds trust, and may help you retain valuable employees. 

Employee engagement models

Employee engagement models vary in scope and complexity—but they all have the same goal: connecting employees to the work and strengthening connections to colleagues and the company. 

Here are a few examples of common employee engagement models: 

  • The Gallup 12 model. Gallup 12 consists of 12 questions based on fundamental principles of employee engagement—that employees need to feel valued, recognized, heard, and have opportunities for career growth. 
  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model is a five-tier system of motivational psychology, depicted in a pyramid with basic psychological needs at its base, moving to safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization at the top. According to Maslow, these needs (or lack thereof) can result in pressures that affect a person’s behavior. 
  • Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics model states that employee motivation is fueled by the task at hand. Tedious tasks lead to lower productivity, while more interesting tasks lead to higher engagement. 
  • The strengths-based approach seeks to identify and encourage employee strengths and focuses development and task assignment on that basis. 
  • The Deloitte Model focuses on creating a workplace that’s “irresistible” to employees, ensuring they want to come to work each day. This involves providing meaningful work, giving employees autonomy, keeping team sizes small, and respecting work-life balance. 
  • The Zinger employee engagement model considers 12 aspects that could affect employee engagement, involvement, and dedication.

Creating an engagement plan


Here are some steps to take to put your engagement into action. 

Step 1: Assess the current state of employee engagement

Collect data using surveys, one-on-one interviews, focus groups, or a feedback mechanism of your choice. 

Ensure you understand what factors influence employee engagement within your organization and take steps to address the issues. 

Analyze your feedback, looking for patterns, trends, and spikes. Sudden changes may indicate a specific cause and warrant a deeper dive. 

Additionally, when employees understand the organization’s mission, vision, and goals, they’re more likely to feel connected to the bigger picture, which can give them a sense of purpose and engagement.

Step 2: Identify key areas for improvement

Once you’ve established your strategy and have the data in hand, consider what the results tell you. It’s critical to maintain consistency in your survey program so you can identify trends. Prioritize areas of most significant concern and take immediate steps to rectify them. Also, loop in your management, key employees, and HR to compare notes. 

Step 3: Select what you’ll focus on

Sweeping changes require strategy. Focus on one thing at a time to realize consistent progress toward your goals. Let employees know you’re committed to righting what’s wrong. 

Step 4: Develop strategies and initiatives

Choose a strategic model to inform the changes you need to make. Establishing clear objectives, a timeframe, and KPIs to measure progress is critical. Strategies could include employee recognition programs, training and workshops, mentorship programs, and flexible work opportunities. Ensure your strategies align with what you’re trying to accomplish.

Step 5: Implement and communicate your action plan

Before you begin, ensure senior leadership and management are on board and aligned. Establish budgets, technology, and systems to track progress. Employees should understand what you’re trying to accomplish and their role in the program. 

Step 6: Monitor, evaluate, and adjust the plan

Measurement is essential to gauge success. Set up regular meetings to discuss progress and use established KPIs to quantify. If something isn’t working, pull back and adjust the plan or discontinue the initiative. In best practice, benchmark engagement against your competitors to ensure your expectations are realistic. 

Common ways engagement efforts fall short

Most employees want to feel part of something bigger than themselves. When engagement fails, it’s often because employees feel isolated, and with the rise of remote and hybrid work, this scenario is all too common. Ensure all employees, regardless of location, are heard and recognized for their input and provided with the tools and support they need to do their best work. 

Another way engagement could fail is when employees can’t get work done once engaged. Lack of proper software, connectivity, or outdated content can be a detriment. Without these basic needs, it’s easy to disconnect or give up on tasks, but it’s a situation that can be avoided. 

Employees who don’t feel noticed for their work may disengage or put in less effort to make it great. Ensure all employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s success. Providing feedback and sharing wins with the team or the greater community shows them they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Best practices 


A consistent, concerted effort will yield the results you want, even when company culture and employee engagement seem challenged. Keep in mind it’s a process that requires effort to ensure sustainability. 

Apply these best practices to ensure continued improvements—and keep measuring your progress to identify issues before they become problems.

  • Build strong leadership and management. Unified leadership ensures buy-in from all stakeholders. It’s not enough to decide what you will do; everyone must be on board and commit to seeing the process through. 
  • Foster a positive work environment. Employee happiness hinges on how they feel when they’re at work. Good communication, recognition, growth opportunities, and the right tools to enable the work make it a joy to be there. 
  • Promote a culture of trust and transparency. Openness and transparency must start at the top. Communicate openly and honestly, share the company’s goals and vision, encourage open dialog, and practice active listening—all these build trust and support engagement. 
  • Make it easy to get work done. From workstations to software, connectivity, and content, the right tools are necessary to help employees stay engaged and productive. 
  • Celebrate successes. Everyone wants to feel like they matter. When workers know they are valued, they shine. Recognition inspires employees to greater heights and helps them visualize career possibilities at the company. 

Final thoughts

The benefits of employee engagement cannot be understated. Engaged employees are more productive, stay in their jobs longer, and provide organizations with future leaders. Though the process may be fraught with complexities, it’s an investment in your company’s future. Engaged employees are your most valuable asset. Putting the time and effort into ensuring their happiness builds sustainable value that pays dividends in retention and profitability.


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Gabe Scorgie

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