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How to Improve Employee Engagement: Back to Basics

Engaging employees is crucial for keeping talented employees, since unengaged staff are more likely to leave their positions. It’s also a crucial factor for increased employee satisfaction, productivity, and innovation.

The Hugo Team
The Hugo Team
The team transforming meeting productivity
How to Improve Employee Engagement: Back to Basics

Engaging employees is crucial for keeping talented employees, since unengaged staff are more likely to leave their positions. It’s also a crucial factor for increased employee satisfaction, productivity, and innovation. According to Forbes, engaged employees are more motivated to accomplish goals for the company and are more committed to the team. 

In this article, you’ll discover 

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is how connected and invested staff are in both their professional tasks and goals, and also in the success of the business as an enterprise. 

A deeper emotional concept than simple employee satisfaction, engagement means employees have a deep, positive emotional connection to their work and the company, and that they perform with an awareness and appreciation of purpose.

As a concept, it’s been studied and discussed since at least the 1990s – often with difficulty, because it’s much more difficult to measure than many other factors, such as simple productivity. The best quantitative method for studying employee engagement is a well-designed and administered employee engagement survey. The best qualitative measures of it include one-on-one meetings, informal conversations, and observations by colleagues and managers who are noted for their emotional intelligence.

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6 Types of Employee Engagement

Ideally, executives and managers will achieve a high level of employee engagement for their entire team, across all types of employee engagement. But in the real world, the ideal is seldom achieved. So it’s useful to prioritize the different kinds of engagement as you takes steps to cultivate them. Some teams, team members, goals, and tasks may benefit more from emotional engagement, for example, while others may benefit more from improving intellectual engagement.  

The first three types of employee engagement below were first defined in 1990 by the grandfather of the field, the psychologist William Kahn. They’ve stood the test of time and are still cited today. The last four (4 through 7) are elaborations since the 1990s. 

1. Emotional Engagement 

Emotional engagement is an emotional connection with a company, brand, employer, manager, or colleagues. At its most intense, it creates a sense of “tribe” in which employees feel a high degree of loyalty and deep concern for the wellbeing of their colleagues and the company. It requires a sense of purpose, common values, positive experiences, and a sense that the emotions go both ways – the company is also loyal, has good intentions, and the power to follow through on the good intentions.   

2. Cognitive Engagement 

Emotional engagement includes the sense of “flow,” creativity, and problem-solving that comes to a person in deep cognitive engagement with a task. It also applies to knowing the vision and goals of an employer, team, brand, company, or executive – and knowing exactly what’s needed to help achieve the vision and reach the goals.

3. Physical Engagement 

Less relevant for many situations in the 2020s, when much more work is virtual,  than in the 1990s, physical engagement refers to the physical energy employees display as they interact with others. Physical engagement of employees can be more of an indication of emotional engagement, than a goal in itself. It also applies to the physical performance of manual work, including skilled manual work, and even for executives and other leaders whose tasks require public speaking, meetings, and personal persuasion.

4. Employer-Based Engagement  

Feeling a connection to an employer, an executive, manager, or colleagues can happen even if the employee feels disengaged from tasks themselves.  It springs from a natural tendency to favor those who have favored us, and to favor those who have worked together with us on a common goal. The good news is that employer-based engagement can, with the right communication, or the right changes in assignment, translate over to a fuller engagement also extending to tasks. 

5. Task-Based Engagement  

People can also feel deeply engaged in their work without feeling any special connection to their company, executives, managers, or fellow team members. While this kind of engagement can result in high productivity for specialized tasks, it can also take a toll on teamwork, if managers aren’t able to deepen it to include a feeling of connection to team members. 

6. Attitude-Based Engagement  

Some team members seem to have an attitude of engagement built in to how they exist in the world. Whether that’s a work ethic, or enthusiasm for life in general, or a habit of connecting with others in meaningful teamwork, it’s a kind of  holy grail for employers. Maybe you can’t do much to affect people’s deepest personal values that create this kind of engagement, but what you can do is recognize it when  you see it – and be sure to retain such team members. 

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4 Easy Questions for Gauging Employee Engagement

Now that you’ve seen a broad overview of what employee engagement is, and some different types, it’s time to look at four easy questions that can help you quickly analyze how engaged a team member is. 

These four questions assume you have access to accurate information to answer them. And that can be as easy as sitting down for a no-stress, open-door conversation, one on one. 

These four questions correspond to four levels of engagement. You can take this informal quiz yourself, or use the concepts creatively in your conversations with team members when assessing engagement levels. 

If you’re taking this informal quiz yourself, or talking with someone who already trusts and likes you, it’s useful to give it a number on a scale from 1 to 5.  

1. How energized do you feel at work?

Energy levels are often a quick and accurate barometer of a general level of engagement in any situation – including at work. How energized do you feel, as you come into work? 

2. How satisfied are you with your job?  

Job satisfaction is more comprehensive than the feeling of energy or enthusiasm which is the focus of the first question. Job satisfaction speaks to a person’s longer-term plans, values, and sense of meaning. 

3. How committed are you to the company?  

Evaluating commitment gets into still deeper levels of engagement. A person could feel energized, and satisfied, but not feel committed to the company. Since human beings naturally favor those who favor them, the way for a company to inspire commitment is to demonstrate commitment to employees.   

4. How much do you identify with the company?  

This maximum level of engagement is characterized by an identification that goes beyond commitment. It can happen with long-term employees who have over decades been committed to an employer who, over those same decades, demonstrated commitment to employees. 

Less often, it can also occur in much younger employer-employee relationships with the right leadership, and demonstrated commitment from the company. Think Apple under Steve Jobs, for example. 

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8 Basic Ways to Create Employee Engagement 

We’ve seen that employee engagement is critical, and we’ve also seen useful ways of thinking about it and assessing it. 

But what are some specific ways you can inspire employee engagement?.

1. Demonstrate Commitment

People naturally reciprocate emotions and attitudes. And we’re not easily fooled by slogans or corporate speak. We respond with loyalty to demonstrated loyalty, and commitment to demonstrated commitment. 

So the most fundamental way to increase employee engagement is for a company to demonstrate that it’s committed to the best interests of employees. This includes leaders who go the extra mile in laying out clear plans for the company, teams, and individuals. When employees see that the company cares, engagement naturally goes up. But without demonstrated loyalty and care for employees, a company will fail to achieve much in the way of employee engagement.  

2. Communicate clear steps for every project

When leaders can communicate a path to reach a goal, team members can dive right into the work. Then productivity and engagement  takes on its own momentum, in an environment which includes clear strategies and next steps. Clear steps toward every goal builds confidence in the leadership, and confidence in themselves as they can see their progress toward accomplishing the goal. 

3. Communicate clear next steps for individual career paths

Engaged employees aren’t just team members – they’re first and foremost individuals with career goals and aspirations. Overlooking this fact of human nature will hobble attempts at creating employee engagement. It’s important for leaders to proactively engage with individuals so that everyone is heard and sees they have clear next steps for meeting goals that can facilitate a career path they’re excited about. These can include clear KPIs mentoring, and  professional development opportunities and support.

4. Create and support personal relationships on the team

Traditional team-building exercises are difficult now that remote work is even more widespread, and in an age of restricted travel, or individual fears of travel. But traditional team-building was really always most important in fostering individual personal relationships on a team. When employees have at least one or two good personal relationships on a team, they’re more likely to be engaged. This can happen remotely as easily as in person. Real-world, daily interactions such as brief team meetings are much more important than one-off trips to take part in traditionally often awkward, artificial “team-building” events. 

5. Prioritize Flexibility

A strictly rules-based work culture can often focus employees on rules, the letter of the law, and the inevitable uneven enforcement of the rules. It’s easy to see how a strictly rules-based culture, as opposed to human-centric culture, can cause people to feel disengaged.  That’s why flexibility is important, and active leadership which enables employees to attend both to their professional and personal responsibilities. 

6. Ensure Inclusivity

Inclusive culture is not just an HR function of checking off the boxes of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategy and training. It’s led from the top by example, and with clear communication, and warmth. It welcomes everyone and improves employee engagement across the board.

7. Promote Work-Life Balance and Wellness 

When employees focus too much on work, they won’t feel engaged for long. If theft don’t see to their family commitments and their own well-being, they burn out. They may move on to another company, retire early, or change careers. Even before they burn out, their engagement with work can plummet. A loss of employee engagement is the first sign. That’s why smart employers promote work-life balance and wellness opportunities. Employees can recharge their batteries, give their best work, and feel more engaged. 

8. Communicate clearly and with empathy

To feel engaged, employees need to clearly know what’s expected of them, and that leaders care about them. They need to feel secure when communicating with leaders, as well – whether that’s seeking clarification, recommending changes, or providing information. Engaged employees understand the goals and strategies of their team, and of the company

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Why Effective Meetings are Critical to Employee Engagement

Meetings are the most important communication events in any team or company, so they need to be efficient, aligned, and organized. 

Disorganization in planning, communicating, and scheduling tasks can be devastating for employee engagement. Employees will struggle to know what was discussed in meetings, what was assigned, who is responsible, and how to work on it or even communicate about it. 

Conversely, streamlined organization, accessible records, and clear communication encourages employee engagement. These tie in directly with the well-known best practices already mentioned above, such as communicating clear next steps, laying out plans, and ensuring team members have frictionless ways of communicating. 

Disorganized meetings that have unclear results dramatically decrease employee engagement because team members feel confused about what was decided, what should be done, and who is responsible. 

Sadly, as we all know from personal experience, even “average” meetings can depress employee engagement. It’s why employees in most companies dread meetings, avoid them when possible, and sit through them unengaged.

Much of that disorganization was due to primitive ways of setting agendas, taking notes, and distributing the minutes. In fact, even today, many companies still struggle along with Word docs and email. 

Modern software can make all the difference. Hugo gives meeting leaders and participants an elegant, innovative way to focus on what matters, and what engages employees. It allows you to create meeting events, invite attendees, add Zoom links, and effortlessly organize notes and tasks. All the while, everything stays synced with the team’s Google or Office 365 calendar.

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