What Is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is a human resources (HR) concept that describes the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward their job. Engaged employees care about their work and about the performance of the company, and feel that their efforts make a difference. An engaged employee is in it for more than a paycheck and may consider their well-being linked to their performance, and therefore instrumental to their company's success.

Key Takeaways

  • Employee engagement describes the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward their job.
  • Employee engagement can be critical to a company's success, given its links to job satisfaction and employee morale.
  • Engaged employees are more likely to be productive and higher performing.
  • Employers can foster employee engagement through effective communication, offering rewards, and discussing career advancement.

Understanding Employee Engagement

Employee engagement can be critical to a company's success, given its clear links to job satisfaction and employee morale. Communication is a critical part of creating and maintaining employee engagement. Engaged employees are more likely to be productive and higher performing. They also often display a greater commitment to a company's values and goals.

Employers can encourage employee engagement in many ways, including communicating expectations clearly, offering rewards and promotion for excellent work, keeping employees informed about the company's performance, and providing regular feedback. Other strategies include making efforts to make employees feel valued and respected, and feeling that their ideas are being heard and understood. Engaged employees believe that their work is meaningful, believe that they are appreciated and backed by their supervisors and that they have been entrusted with the success of their company.

Employee engagement has been a considered part of management theory since the 1990s and became widely adopted in the 2000s. While it has its detractors, mostly based on how difficult it can be to measure, employee engagement has been found to have direct links to a company's profitability and financial health.

Employers could build an employee engagement strategy around American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s three-tiered hierarchy of needs pyramid, which includes: basic needs of survival and safety, psychological needs, and self-fulfillment. 

Engaged employees often develop an emotional connection to their job and company, and will be focused on working toward their organization's goals. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, some other characteristics that display employee engagement include the following:

  • They know what their role is, what their job entails, and they want to do it.
  • They are loyal to their employer and productive.
  • They are motivated to work toward the success of their organization and know what success looks like (and how to work toward it).
  • They are connected rationally and emotionally connected to their organization and motivated to perform at a high level.
  • They are intellectually and emotionally connected to their organization, as measured by three primary behaviors according to outsourcing company Aon Hewitt: Say (an employee consistently speaks positively about their employer to co-workers, customer and job candidates); Stay (an employee has a strong desire to remain with an organization despite having other opportunities); Strive (when an employee makes an extra effort to contribute to their organization's success).

Example of Employee Engagement

Tesla, Inc. (TSLA), alarmed by the high number of injuries at its Fremont car assembly plant, used more transparent communication as an employee engagement strategy to improve safety. To do this, the electric car maker’s co-founder and CEO Elon Musk, told employees that he wanted every injury reported to him, without exception, so he could understand what was needed to prevent similar accidents reoccurring in the future.

Musk even performs the same task on the production line with workers who have been injured to see where safety improvements can be made. As a result of this employee engagement initiative, the number of incidents that harmed workers reduced by more than 50% in 2019 compared to 2018, according to a company blog post.