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State of AI and Automation in HR 2024 Featuring CHRO insights, real-world examples and proactive people strategies

Employee Engagement Decoded: The Essential Guide for 2023

What is employee engagement and what is not? 

Employee engagement is the emotional and intellectual commitment an employee has to their organization and its goals. It is reflected in the amount of effort and energy they put into their work.

High levels of employee engagement are associated with positive outcomes for both the organization and its employees. For example, high employee engagement results in increased productivity, improved customer satisfaction, and reduced turnover. 

What employee engagement is not?

Very often, employee engagement is mistaken for employee satisfaction or employee motivation. So let’s clear the confusion there. 

  • Employee satisfaction is how content or pleased an employee is with their current job or working conditions.
  • Employee motivation refers to the different factors that drive an employee to take action and achieve their goals.
  • Employee engagement is an overarching concept that encompasses both satisfaction and motivation, but also includes an employee's sense of purpose and connection to the organization, as well as their willingness to go above and beyond in their work. 

Before we dive in, let's also steer clear of confusion around employee experience and employee engagement.

Difference between employee engagement and employee experience

Employee engagement and employee experience are related concepts, but they are not the same. There are subtle yet important differences.

EX is the sum of experience an employee has across all the touchpoints with an org. These are usually the things employees feel, see, and hear as they go about work each day. On the other hand, employee engagement is what employees feel as a result of the employee experience initiatives. It is the resulting emotional and psychological connection that the employee forms toward the organization. Employee engagement is usually measured via smart employee engagement surveys.

3 Employee personas - the key to understanding the different levels of employee engagement

The first step to improving employee engagement is measuring the different levels of engagement in your organization. This 3-persona framework will help you categorize your workforce into three sections to gauge their engagement levels—engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged.

1. Engaged employees

These employees are fully invested in their work and the organization. They are happy, excited, motivated, and aware of the bigger business goals. They are intrinsically driven to put forth the effort required to see the company succeed.

2. Disengaged employees

These employees are not emotionally or intellectually connected to their work or the organization. They may be satisfied with their current job but for some reason, they do not go the extra mile to get things done. Instead, they just do the bare minimum expected of them. They may be “just putting in their time”.

3. Actively disengaged employees

These employees are not only unengaged in their work but they are also actively disengaged and can be harmful to the organization. They may be spreading negativity, gossiping, or undermining the efforts of engaged employees.

Keep in mind that employees can move between these personas depending on their job, their circumstances, and the actions of their employer. 

How to differentiate between engaged and disengaged employees' behaviors

Differentiating between engaged and disengaged employees can be challenging, as employee engagement is dynamic. It changes from person to person and from time to time. However, several signs and behaviors can indicate engagement or disengagement:

Engaged employees:

  1. Show high levels of productivity
  2. Have a positive attitude and energy
  3. Strong commitment to the company and its goals
  4. Good communication and collaboration
  5. Take ownership of their work and are accountable for their actions
  6. Have low absenteeism/turnover
  7. Have a positive influence on others
  8. Seek out opportunities for growth and development
  9. Show initiative and willingness to take on new challenges

Disengaged employees:

  1. Show a lack of productivity 
  2. Have a negative attitude and energy
  3. Lack of commitment to the company and its goals
  4. Poor communication and collaboration
  5. Lack of ownership of their work and accountability
  6. High absenteeism/turnover
  7. Have a negative influence on others
  8. Show little interest in growth and development
  9. Lack of initiative and unwillingness to take on new challenges

Not all disengaged employees will exhibit all of these signs, and some engaged employees may exhibit some of the signs of disengagement. 

What's fundamentally wrong with traditional employee engagement programs

Organizations do not lack the understanding that employee engagement is a strategic priority. They spend anywhere between 2%-10% of their payroll expenses on employee engagement. 

However, the workplace has changed so much and so fast in the last few years, driven by the pandemic, remote work, and a younger generation entering the workforce that organizations haven't had enough time to move away from older employee engagement models.

Let’s zoom in on why traditional employee engagement programs don’t work in 2023. 

1. The Pandemic has changed the workplace

With remote work booming, organizations are finding it harder to maintain the same level of connection and communication with employees. The pandemic has also led to increased stress and burnout, and other new challenges that traditional engagement programs don't address.

2. Younger employees have different expectations

Younger employees are technologically savvy and prefer smarter engagement tools over traditional methods like surveys and focus groups. Younger employees are more receptive to real-time feedback and recognition and may prefer regular check-ins and more frequent, informal opportunities to share their opinions and ideas.

3. Lack of alignment with business goals

For an employee engagement program to work, it has to be closely tied to overall business goals and values. There may be multiple aspects of the program that affect the business such as cost and productivity. If the impact is negative, it can dent the business. For example, if the cost of the program is too high, it may hamper the business revenue. 

4. Lack of awareness around available technology 

The right HR tools empower you to listen right, execute right, and measure progress. A simple and powerful tool like Infeedo can help you engage employees thoughtfully and meaningfully.

5. Limited employee participation

The key to a successful employee engagement program is enthusiastic participation from employees. If employees don’t believe in the program or find it easy to participate, participation rates will point to program failure. 

6. Lack of follow-up and measurement

Any successful organizational initiative is the result of religious tracking, measurement, and optimization. Many organizations are excited about rolling out engagement programs. Yet they do not have systems in place to measure the effectiveness of the program. So it’s just shadowboxing, with no way to tell if anything has changed. 

7. Limited focus on employee needs and concerns

Many organizations see these programs as a means to improve productivity while leaving the other dimensions out. So they don’t take into account the real causes of employee disengagement. They just try to accelerate productivity, without addressing the other problems, which results in failure. For example, if a company introduces hackathons to improve engagement when employees are feeling burned out, the program will fall flat on its face. No doubt about it, right? 

8. Limited involvement of managers and leaders

You need the buy-in of managers and leaders if you want to execute the program well. They will be the ones who model behavior and enforce processes associated with the program. They are also the ones who have first-hand interactions with employees. If they are not actively involved, your program will fizzle out without any impact. 

9. Limited investment and resources

Some employee engagement programs do not have adequate resources, both financial and human, to implement and sustain the program over time. Many organizations talk big when it comes to employee engagement, but only the ones who are serious about it put their money in. 

Employee engagement surveys - what’s working and what’s not? 

In the last two decades, employee engagement surveys have been commonly used to measure employee engagement. In the early 2000s, it was still being done on paper! We now have advanced tools, great questions, and better people analytics. However, some gaps need to be filled. 

The undebatable benefits of employee engagement surveys are:

1. Provides valuable insights

Employee engagement surveys can provide organizations with valuable insights into the attitudes and perceptions of employees, which can help identify areas that need improvement.

2. Helps identify specific issues

Employee surveys help you identify specific issues or problems that are impacting employee engagement or satisfaction, such as poor communication, lack of recognition, or unaddressed discrimination. 

3. Provides a baseline for comparison

Without these surveys, it will be hard for organizations to define where they stand and how they want to move concerning employee engagement. They will give you the baseline to start improving. Over time, they help you measure if your strategies are effective. 

4. Helps with decision-making

The reports and insights (numbers) you generate from these surveys are highly valuable to decision-making. They eliminate blind spots and help you create competitive employee engagement strategies that put you on the map. 

However, there are downsides to employee surveys when conducted with traditional tools:

1. Not predictive in nature

Traditional employee surveys are not predictive in nature when compared to real-time conversational HR bots. By the time you get the whole organization to complete the surveys and derive insights from them, many employees would have already left.

2. Low response rates

Employee surveys have low response rates, which limits the representativeness of the data and the conclusions that can be drawn from it. One reason for this could be that employers use the same set of questions for employees across tenures, for eg. 30 days, 10 years, and 1 year. The relevance is lost. Also, younger generations are more privy to speaking with personalized chatbots instead of taking long surveys.

3. Bias

In many cases, employee surveys may be subject to bias, such as social desirability bias, where employees may not provide honest or accurate responses.

4. Time-consuming

Employee surveys are time-consuming to design, administer, and analyze, which can be a significant investment for organizations.

5. Limited understanding

Employee surveys provide valuable data, but they may not provide a full understanding of the underlying issues and the reasons behind the results.

6. Narrowed focus

Employee surveys may focus on specific areas and may not provide a holistic view of employee engagement, it's important to consider other methods such as interviews, focus groups, observations, etc.

Engagement surveys are most effective when used as part of a comprehensive approach to measuring and improving employee engagement. 

Today we have platforms that help you run surveys effectively through intuitive HR chatbots like Amber. They can increase response rates by up to 80%.

12 key employee engagement metrics to track

Everything in this world is just a fleeting opinion without measurable data. Except for poetry of course! 

The ultimate goal of employee engagement is to build a competitive edge by meaningfully and productively engaging the talent in the workplace. To do that, you need to run a complete diagnosis of your employee engagement levels and find every scope for betterment.

These metrics help you do that and give you the confidence to make bold decisions. They encourage you to set goals, measure progress, and optimize them.

1. Job satisfaction

This metric measures how satisfied employees are with their current job. It provides insight into whether employees are happy with their current role, compensation, and benefits, and if they feel their job is meaningful.

2. Employee engagement score

The metric is used to measure the level of involvement, motivation, and satisfaction of employees. It is typically calculated by conducting surveys or assessments to gather information from employees about various aspects of their work experience, such as communication, growth opportunities, and work-life balance. The data gathered is then used to generate a numerical score that reflects the overall level of employee engagement.

3. Mood score

The metric helps measure the current emotional state or sentiment of employees. It is collected through surveys, pulse polls, or other methods that allow employees to provide quick, anonymous feedback on their current state of mind. The metric reveals trends, hotspots, and potential drivers of employee mood.

4. Turnover intent

This metric measures the degree to which employees are considering leaving the organization. It can provide insight into whether employees are satisfied with their job and the organization, and if they are looking for opportunities elsewhere. Pro-tip, with the effective exit interviews, Infeedo helped retain up to 82% of the employees who were considering leaving.

5. Empowerment

This metric measures the degree to which employees feel equipped to make decisions and take initiative in their work. It tells you if employees feel valued and respected, and if they have the autonomy to do their best work.

6. Recognition

This metric measures the degree to which employees feel recognized, appreciated, and rewarded for their work. It shows if employees feel noticed and if their contributions are acknowledged.

7. Communication

This metric measures the degree to which employees feel that communication within the organization is open, transparent, and effective in the organization. It reveals whether employees feel informed and included in decision-making.

8. Growth opportunities

This metric measures the degree to which employees feel that they have opportunities for growth and development within the organization. It offers insight into whether employees feel challenged and fulfilled in their work.

9. Absenteeism

Absenteeism trends can reveal if employees like showing up at work. The growing trend of absenteeism may be an indication that employees are disengaged and there are underlying, unaddressed issues.

10. Employee performance

It’s no secret that highly engaged employees turn out to be your star performers. You can track their work quality, quantity, efficacy, and the revenue it brings to your business. If you notice poor performance trends, it’s time for an intervention.

11. Review site ratings

The anonymity of review sites gives employees the power and safety needed to express their authentic opinions about your organization. Keeping track of scores and sentiments on review sites can be a great way to track how your employees are feeling. Acting on the feedback you gather there will inevitably result in a desirable employee brand.

12. Customer satisfaction

Yes, customer satisfaction! Often, low levels of employee engagement reflect lower levels of customer satisfaction. So this is an important metric to look at while evaluating employee engagement. 

Metrics are important and bring out the real story. Yet, you need to pay attention and use them to see the bigger picture and not just in parts.

Take customer satisfaction for example, you may have very high customer satisfaction scores and assume your employees are well-engaged. But if your employee satisfaction scores are low, then it could be a sign that employees are working hard to keep customers happy but are feeling burned out.

Types of employee engagement surveys 

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Future Forward: Predictions and Trends in Employee Engagement for 2023

1. Technology continues to gain significance

Employee engagement is largely impacted by the technology used in the organization. Employees seek smart everyday tools for communication, project management, learning and development, and so on. It impacts how effortlessly they can connect, converse, and together, chase dreams.

On the other hand, employers need technology to gather employee engagement data and act on insights. They also need it for employee engagement efforts - to run engagement surveys, provide smart employee self-service, and more.

2. Increasing focus on employee well-being

Organizations recognize that when employees feel well and have a positive work-life balance, they are more engaged and productive. Not only that, but organizations also see employee well-being as their moral and legal responsibility.

Employee well-being programs are laid out in all shapes and sizes. It can be a fitness program for some. For others, it could be rewards and recognition. For another, it could be learning opportunities. So, the first step is to listen to your employees’ sentiments and discern what they need.

3. Remote work options are now a must-have

Remote work options are a must-have for hiring smart and diverse talent. It is no longer just a pandemic-coping strategy. As a consequence, managers are finding it harder to monitor the well-being and productivity of their remote employees. They have to find ways to support employee engagement and productivity.

The solution to this problem is smart employee engagement tools. There is no way organizations can meaningfully connect with their employees without them.

4. Emphasis on purpose and career growth

Purpose-driven careers! Yes, that should be a phrase. Now, more than ever, people are looking for jobs that connect them to a purpose and give them a sense of personal and professional growth. Employees need to feel that they are learning,  growing, and doing something significant in their roles. Companies will take this in to consideration.

5. Greater emphasis on employee experience

A new world of opportunities opened up with remote work becoming the norm. People can now find jobs anywhere with any organization. To attract and retain top talent, companies are focusing more and more on intangible metrics like employee experience.

6. Increased intentional efforts to promote inclusion and diversity

Organizations are focussing on building diverse workforces to stay competitive, creative, and innovative. For that to work, they need policies, processes, and values that promote inclusion and show zero tolerance for any kind of discrimination.

Result? They will continue to focus on intentional diversity and inclusion efforts such as recruiting from underrepresented groups, sensitization programs, upskilling programs, transparent performance evaluations, and so on.

7. Engaging gig and contract workers will be a priority

More companies will quietly hire gig, part-time and side-hustle workers to fill the skill gaps in the organization. This will come with a new set of challenges to handle as these workers seek to work on their own terms regardless of who the employer is. 

HR will accommodate the needs of gig workers as they plan for employee engagement. This could include aspects like remote onboarding, facilitating smooth collaboration with regular workers, cultural integration, customized pay and benefits, and so on.

8. Increased use of employee feedback

Regular employee feedback is helping create a culture of transparency and trust. It serves as a strong channel of connection between the management and employees. It gives employees a sense of psychological safety, making them feel seen and heard, especially when you encourage feedback and act on it.

Most importantly, you need to make it safe and easy for employees to give you feedback. Invest in simple tools that simplify the process. 

Companies need to be mindful of these trends and adapt their strategies to ensure that their employees remain engaged and motivated in 2023.

Closing thoughts

Employee engagement is the art and science of engaging people authentically in the right roles and purposes to bring out the best in them and the business. Excellence here is achieved through practice and iteration. Be invested. Be authentic. Follow the metrics. Load the right engagement tools into your arsenal. If you do, an engaged workforce will inevitably happen.