Why Is Employee Engagement Important?

There are lots of surveys and statistics available that demonstrate the importance of employee engagement. While most address the link between engagement and organizational outcomes, there is another link of equal importance – employee engagement and employee happiness with work. The stressful environment people are dealing with today on a routine basis is causing a lot of workforce unhappiness which is a critical disengagement factor. 

In an era of continuous disruption and uncertainty, your organizational leaders are called upon to maintain the organizational culture, help team members stay focused and positive, and support employee well-being. It's not as difficult as it sounds at first. First, understand what employee engagement is all about and why it's so important. Then learn and leverage the drivers of engagement that are efficient leadership approaches to helping employees and the organization succeed. The desired organizational outcomes will naturally flow from achieving a high level of an engaged workforce.

What is Employee Engagement Really All About?

Business consultants are always trying to pin down a definition of employee engagement. Here are four definitions:

  • A Better Leader says employee engagement is: "the positive or negative ways employees feel about work and their level of commitment and includes emotional and intellectual aspects of what an employee is thinking and feeling in terms of their work, their sense of ownership, the trust they place in leadership."
  • Gallup defines engaged employees as "those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace."
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers says that engagement is "the extent to which employees are motivated to contribute." 
  • Engage for Success defines employee engagement as a "workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organization to give of their best each day, committed to their organization's goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being."

Nowhere does it say that employees must get warm fuzzies about themselves, but they do say they should feel great about the work they do. Employee engagement is about commitment, connection, and motivation, and when those three aspects exist, the sense of belonging and work satisfaction will naturally form. 

Engagement is experienced on a spectrum. Gallup identified three engagement categories. The engaged employees work with passion, drive innovation and move the company forward. Employees who are not engaged in a significant way have checked out on the job and don't feel valued. They simply show up for work and sleepwalk through the day. The actively disengaged employees are noticeably unhappy and work to undermine others.

What Employee Engagement is Not About

Knowing what constitutes employee engagement is essential, but so is knowing what it does not. Sometimes management views employee engagement as a process for making people feel good. Think about that for a minute. People could feel good about getting work done while missing a deadline. An employee might feel good about making it to work on time even though the person didn't really want to come to work. Employees may complete projects but have no strong sense of how their work connects to the company's purpose. 

These employees are not looking to the future. They are feeling good but only thinking about the day-to-day. These are the employees who usually end up leaving the organization, contributing to high turnover rates. Sometimes they stay in their positions but only do the minimum required. Many are likely people who could be great employees if they were engaged in a meaningful way. 

Employee engagement is not about manipulating employee's emotions, pretending concern for employee well-being, promising rewards for meeting deadlines, or declaring consequences for non-compliance. Genuine engagement means people find purpose and meaning in their work, which drives them to do their best.

Benefits of Employee Engagement

Understanding the benefits of employee engagement answers the question: Why is engagement important? There are many benefits, proven through numerous research and surveys.

  • Lowers turnover 
  • Reduces absenteeism
  • Increases productivity
  • Increases customer satisfaction
  • Improves the bottom line
  • Strengthens employee inclusion and belonging 
  • Strengthens employee voice
  • Supports a positive company culture

Why is engagement important? It's important because engaged employees feel valued and believe their work is meaningful. They look forward to coming to work, doing their best, seeing personal success while also contributing to organizational success, and helping others succeed. This is how a collaborative, innovative culture is developed and maintained – through employee engagement.

What Leaders Need to Know About Developing Employee Engagement

The ADP Research Institute surveyed more than 19,000 employees worldwide to measure engagement and identify the work conditions most like to attract and retain workers. The Engagement Pulse survey measured the conditions of employee engagement created by organizational leaders. The four conditions determining the level of engagement were:

  • Purpose – Do employees understand what is expected of them and how their work benefits the organization, coworkers, customers, etc.?
  • Excellence – Do employees understand what is valued at work, feel surrounded by people who share values, and have opportunities to use strengths?
  • Support – Do employees have a sense of self-worth and the support and recognition of others at work?
  • Future – Are employees confident in the organization's future and that they will get opportunities to be challenged and grow in one's job?

You can't force engagement in the workforce. People choose their engagement level. Engagement is developed through effective servant leadership and becomes ingrained in your organization. That's what they mean by a culture of engagement. Engagement becomes a core value and permeates everything from the level of commitment and motivation in each employee to employee relations with management. 

Your leaders can close the employee engagement gap in each employee, though, no matter how wide it is right now.

Empowering Leaders Through Training to Engage Employees

Your leaders need to understand the importance of employee engagement fully, but beyond that, they should be empowered to improve workforce engagement. Empowerment comes through leadership training that develops the skills for leveraging the drivers of employee engagement.  The drivers include leaders who can be trusted and have integrity. They know how to develop effective relationships with coworkers and managers. They notice and appreciate employee efforts regularly and are effective communicators. They promote a coaching culture that supports employees in their efforts to grow and succeed in their jobs and careers.

It is also crucial that engaging leaders develop employees who have a clear vision of what lies ahead for their careers and get the resources, feedback, and training needed to reach goals. They have a sense of forward movement and are not feeling "stuck" in their jobs. 

Without training, some of your leaders will not know how to engage employees, even if they understand the importance of engagement. They also won't know how to maintain engagement which is key to achieving lasting results. 

Your leaders can increase employee engagement by learning how to:

There are a variety of ways to deliver leadership training. Thanks to technology, you can train and track leadership training using online leadership courses, podcasts, nudges, apps, and more.

Unengaged Workforce Presents Risks

There are risks to having an unengaged workforce. It's not just what might be missed – like retention of valued talent or productivity increases. There is a real risk of troublesome events happening, like some employees starting a union organizing campaign, but a disengaged workforce can even threaten long-term organizational sustainability. Disengaged employees have low morale, which leads to poor customer service, lower productivity, grievances, and other harmful actions. 

The purpose of A Better Leader's Employee Engagement Matters training video is to create a high level of "buy-in" from leadership, so they are more motivated to cultivate an engaged workforce, thus helping the company achieve the overall desired results. When listing the benefits of employee engagement, place this one at the top: Business success!

Train Your Leaders on Employee Engagement

In our leadership training video titled, Employee Engagement, your leaders will learn:

  • The definition of employee engagement and all of the advantages of an engaged workforce
  • The three degrees of engagement and how they can impact a team
  • The elements that drive engagement within your employees
Leadership Development Training Drift Chat
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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Director of IRI's Digital Workplace Solutions Group, and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.