The Measurable Magic of Employee Engagement

  • Brace
  • August 23, 2018
  • 20 min

Every day you hear new advice with crazy benefits, but the excitement around employee engagement is something more. Employee engagement is not just changing the way the workplace operates, but it’s becoming necessary for staying competitive and keeping top talent. We’ll discuss employee engagement, what it means, and provide key takeaways to improve your workplace and engagement.

Employee Engagement: A Definition

A common misconception is to think of employee engagement as a tool, when it is the desired result. Already in 1990, Dr. Kahn (no, not from Star Trek, the early pioneer of employee engagement) observed that how employees felt about their company strongly impacted how they worked, meaning that working together with employees, rather than against them, could unlock a company’s full potential.

Employee engagement often gets a bad rap as a nebulous term, but that’s simply not the case. In the thrillingly-titled study Employee Engagement: A review of current thinking (we do the fun reading so you don’t have to) the authors researched the use and application of employee engagement in many diverse fields from business to science.

The results? They found that from everywhere in which employee engagement is discussed and measured, everyone “…generally agree[s] that engaged employees feel a sense of attachment towards their organisation, investing themselves not only in their role, but in the organisation as a whole.”

Let’s state that one more time with feeling: Engaged employees feel an emotional connection to the workplace and a personal responsibility for the company mission.If employees have a reason to care, then they have a reason to create, contribute, and above all, stay. Among highly engaged employees, 66% plan on staying in their position, as opposed to only 33% of disengaged team members.

If They’re Happy and You Know It… They May Still Not Be Engaged

“Yeah, that’s nice…” the still-cynical reader might say, “but we’re in the business of productivity, not employee happiness.” However, this is an important line to draw: Employee engagement is not happiness or satisfaction (even if both can contribute to an engaged employee).

Satisfied employees have what they need (wages, hours, etc), but no deeper connection to the company. A team member can be satisfied with their 9 to 5 hours, but still not feel inspired to stay 5 minutes longer to meet a deadline.

Happy employees have what they need, and what’s more, they like it. However, a happy team member can love the free coffee, but not feel driven to solve a customer issue from someone else’s department.

Going above and beyond doesn’t come from money or extrinsic motivations, it comes from within; from the very human need to feel involved and valued. An organization that inspires and connects with their team, will get inspired results.

What are some characteristics of an Engaged Employee you can look forward to?

  • They know their role and task.
  • Exhibit a willingness to independently solve problems.
  • New ideas and creative solutions are their speciality.
  • They take extra steps toward and contribute to reaching company goals.
  • When the cause is worthy, the hours aren’t important.
  • They tell all their friends about the best place to work (psst: that’s your company) and bring in the best talent.

Profits and Productivity and Benefits (Oh My!)

The point of a company is not as much to create comfort, as it is to create productivity and profit. But before the false dichotomy fairy comes to collect, let’s remember that productivity and employee well-being are not mutually exclusive. Rather, as Dr. Kahn observed, they are inextricably intertwined. Studies of employee engagement show that with engaged employees comes better performance across the board.

  1. Sales improve with higher employee engagement. In the case of CAT, they improved by 300%. Team members that know and connect with their product are better able to communicate why its special. This leads directly to more sales and customer satisfaction. Customers want connection on a personal level from sales representatives, and nothing is more human than truly believing in and being part of something great.
  2. Productivity gets a big boost. According to Wellins and Concelman, engaged employees perform up to 20% better than disengaged colleagues. Being a valued part of a team and working together to achieve a goal motivates people to take initiative and go the extra mile. When employees want to see a project succeed, instead of feeling pressured, they will do what it takes.
  3. Safety issues become less of an issue. Team members that are engaged pay more attention, and care for themselves, each other, and the end result. After all, they are contributing, valued members of company success. In businesses with high employee engagement, safety incidents occur 48% less and there are 41% fewer quality problems. Both reductions result in a better experience for the employee and lower costs for the company.
  4. With a positive company culture comes positive profits. Everyone is in this (revenue) boat together. This mentality is integral to employee engagement and also shows real-world results. Shareholder return for highly engaged workplaces shot up to 24.2% as opposed to only 9.1% in less engaged teams.
  5. Your best employees stay your best employees. The price tag for the replacement of employees can range from 50% to 400% of an employee’s annual wage, depending on specialization, not to mention the intangibles of team chemistry, creativity, or perspective that many employees contribute. Focusing on employee engagement mitigates these risks, with studies showing that increasing engagement can significantly reduce turnover with 87% of engaged employees expressing no desire to leave their current workplace.

Increasing productivity and improving employee well-being don’t have to be strangers. Of course employee engagement programs take time and investment, but they also show concrete results. With digital tools like kununu engage that turn employee insight and feedback into actionable data, beginning to make the most of employee potential through employee engagement is easier than it’s ever been.

The Foundations of Employee Engagement

There are 9 cornerstones necessary for building vibrant company culture and inspired employee engagement. Cornerstones of engagement are the elements of your company that together create a solid foundation for open workplace culture, and with their powers combined, they foster and facilitate an engaged team.

The 9 elements are:

Communication | Purpose | Workspace | Wellness | Roles | Recognition | Personal Growth | Friendship | Great Managers


An open workplace with open lines of communication is a necessary first step for connecting your employees to your company. Open communication doesn’t mean a meeting once a year in which employees can ask questions. Instead, it works best when it is consistent and reliable, giving employees a chance to be heard and involved, as well as giving management a chance to gain new ideas and address small problems before they become bigger. With a transparent, open workplace culture, employees can feel connected to the company as a team member, and correspondingly contribute their best effort and valuable perspectives.

Improvement Ideas

  • Don’t just email. Create a convenient company platform for ideas and discussion.
  • Have “Office Hours” where leadership is available to discuss problems or interests with employees.
  • Make a physical or digital “Suggestion Box” to allow for anonymous comments and ideas. But be sure to respond, so the team knows they’re being heard.


Nothing is worse than not knowing why you’re there. Why am I doing this task? To counter this, Simon Sinek in his TED talk showed that many of the best companies start with the “why” of their business, which leads organically to the “what” and “how.” Employees who see the larger purpose of their tasks, regardless of how menial they seem, have a reason to give their attention and effort; a reason to feel valued.

If it helps, think of it like a football team. Every team needs talented blockers to grind it out up front, but they can’t always see the endzone. It’s up to the quarterback, or company leader, to nurture the team culture and make sure the goal stays in sight. It can’t happen alone.

Improvement Ideas

  • Sit down and write a concise, clear mission statement for your company. You should communicate why your company does what it does.
  • Agree on your company values and then share these with your team. Make sure to stay true to them in your decisions and goals.
  • Communicate. Give updates on how the company goals are succeeding and inform team members about ways the organization is living up to its mission.


Space and aesthetic are often overlooked when building a workplace. What difference can the paint color really make, after all? One only has to think back to their high school days to find the answer.

Classrooms are functional and only functional. Such a space never inspired any love for the school or increased productivity. It follows that such a workplace would have the same shortcomings. A company doesn’t need Starbucks in every corner, but providing employees a space in which they feel welcome and comfortable can increase engagement and productivity. After all, a third of your life, 28 years on average, is spent in the workplace, it makes sense that employees would feel more connected to a space that fits their needs.

Improvement Ideas

  • Match your office to what you do: If you need creativity, why not create a music or art room? And if you need text and research, offer quiet, comfortable areas for contemplation.
  • If possible, incorporate communal space, plants, and light to make the workplace more of a second home than a dreaded dungeon.
  • Coffee and refreshments never hurt.


Feeling that a workplace cares about you as a whole person can help break down barriers to engagement. One method to achieve this is health and wellness efforts, through which team members get a reminder that their workplace wants them to succeed.

There is much statistical support for the benefits of wellness in the workplace. The Harvard Business Review found that companies with health programs see a 3 to 1 return on their investment. But perhaps more telling, when departing employees from Nelnet were asked what they would miss most, their answer was overwhelmingly: The wellness program. Caring for wellness means caring for the whole employee, and it’s the whole employee that needs to be engaged to reach full company potential.

Improvement Ideas

  • If you have the budget, yoga or fitness classes can improve team health and team spirit. If not, even daily stretching can have a similar result.
  • Expand your companies health package to include mental health coverage. Your employees will appreciate the gesture, and productivity will benefit from the care they receive.
  • Offer healthy snacks and drinks to show that you care, while increasing morale and encouraging better eating habits.


Let’s go back to our football analogy. Every player on the field has a role, they all know what they are supposed to do, and they can specialize. Without this structure, the team falls apart and no one is happy.

The workplace is also a team. Providing employees with accurate job descriptions, essential skills, and clear goals gives them a framework with which to measure their own success, and increases the ability of managers to match the right employee to the right project. It’s a great feeling to accomplish something and giving employees the right start to succeed encourages their productivity. And the resulting positive feelings of achievement makes them even more engaged in company, mission, and team.

Improvement Ideas

  • Write out clear, comprehensive job descriptions so that everyone knows exactly what’s expected of them.
  • Know what skills are needed for which tasks. You can then either give employees a chance to learn these skills or at least make sure the assigned team member has the right skill set to succeed.
  • Set goals. Goals provide a clear method for you and your team to measure their success, not to mention that great feeling of achievement when they are crossed off the list.


Knowing that leaders and colleagues appreciate your efforts helps bind a team together and move them toward their goal. The important thing is that employees know that their contributions to the company are recognized, important, and necessary. Money alone is seldom the answer, as what really gets employees engaged (provided they are already well paid) is the social and psychological aspects (think Maslow’s hierarchy). Whatever form recognition takes, it’s integral for an engaged employee and team that appreciation is consistent, encourages a team atmosphere, and rewards employees on an emotional level.

Improvement Ideas

  • Follow the example of kununu engage and create a Kudos box and board. Everyone can share their recognition of each other and see that their work ethic is appreciated.
  • Weekly awards for great accomplishments can help create a culture of appreciation.
  • If you are set on financial rewards, connect them to achieving goals. It shouldn’t just be abstractly about the employees, but should recognize their effort and success.

Personal Growth

Most team members want to grow, develop, and succeed, with nearly half of millennials, the future of the workplace, rating professional development as not only significant, but very important to them. Providing employees the chance to reach their potential has a double benefit: It fulfills an expectation of many employees, encouraging them to stay, while also increasing their engagement, so that they contribute their full talents to the job and organization. Employers benefit from the new skills of their employees, improved employee retention, and the productivity of an engaged team.

Improvement Ideas

  • Offer courses and workshops for new skills. They don’t even have to be work-related; as long as your employees are broadening their horizons, they’ll feel accomplished and contribute new perspectives to their work.
  • Talk with your team members and find out in what direction they want to grow. Then you can offer them tasks or training that fits their ambition.
  • Make time for passion projects. These personal projects can inspire new ways of thinking and new skills that will benefit both the employee and the company in unexpected ways.


What won’t people do for friends? Friendship plays an important role in belonging somewhere and being emotionally connected, as well as being engaged and productive. A study by Gallup found that employees with best friends at work were up to 7x more engaged and lead to a potential growth in profit of 12%. You can’t force team members to become friends, but it’s possible to make it easier. A team that has the right chemistry will be more engaged, and in turn, more productive and motivated.

Improvement Ideas

  • Organize company social events or meetups. No one should be forced to attend, but at least they’ll have the opportunity to meet and connect.
  • Make time for team “family dinners.” Maybe it’s just a little lunch or breakfast, but it’s a great chance to break down barriers and build friendships in the workplace.
  • Team sporting events or park days can promote both health and camaraderie.

Great Managers

How respected, valued, appreciated, directed, and connected an employee feels, in short all the variables for an engaged employee, start at the top. According to a Dale Carnegie study, 8 out of every 10 workers connect their feelings about their company to their direct manager.

To be a great manager, leaders have to show clear vision for what needs to be accomplished, emotional intelligence to help motivate and engage their employees, and always have the team member’s best interests in mind. With the right mix of leadership skills, employees will be inspired to use their talents, to take initiative, and to solve problems on their own, leaving managers more time to focus on larger tasks.

Improvement Ideas

  • Manager training courses can teach leaders the tools to raise engagement, as well as productivity.
  • Facilitating feedback about managers in addition to employees (also known as Upward Feedback) can help leadership grow and improve, as well as help engage employees.
  • Frequent contact with employees through one on one meetings can give managers the insight they need to stay connected to their team and its needs.

Measure and Improve: Finding the Right Yardstick

Measuring employee engagement means creating an insightful yardstick for your company needs, while regularly and reliably applying it to your workplace. Through consistent application and tracking, you convert employee mood and feedback from grumbles into valuable insight and actionable data for your company.

A good start is to take note of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These include Employee Turnover Rates, Employee Net Promoter Scores, and Employer Satisfaction Scores and can provide the first indications of flagging company culture. But to get an active, real-time measurement, it’s all about the feedback.

In attempts to harness the value of feedback, what’s usually missing is consistency and frequency in reporting. Most companies and HR departments still use yearly reviews, which are simply not informative or effective. An ideal system would:

  1. Allow employees to give and get feedback on a weekly basis
  2. Be quick and easy
  3. Provide space for individual responses
  4. Track answers in order to turn feedback into calculable data

Key Takeaways

  • Employee engagement is the connection and responsibility employees feel toward their workplace and company mission.
  • Satisfied and happy employees are not necessarily engaged, but both factor into engaged employees.
  • Employee engagement has bottom-line benefits, including improved sales, productivity, and turnover.
  • The whole workplace plays a role in engagement from communication, to environment, to management style.
  • Feedback is an integral component in improving employee engagement, driving the connection and interaction of employees with their workplace, leaders, and team.

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kununu engage is an application that allows you and your entire company to share continuous and anonymous feedback about what working in the company is like. This insight and transparency can help a company function better and build a stronger company culture.