Only 32% of US employees feel engaged at work, and only 23% of the global workforce feel engaged (Gallup, 2022b).
A lack of employee engagement can signal the death knell for any organization, costing businesses $7.8 trillion annually (Gallup, 2022b).
According to these recent statistics on annual employee engagement from Gallup (2022b), organizations around the globe are falling staggeringly short of best practices (benchmarked at 72%).
But perhaps positive psychology could help turn around this worrying trend. In this article, we provide managers and leaders with a plethora of tools, ideas, and exercises to create and implement a stellar employee engagement strategy and ultimately propel you and your teams on a mission to success.
To have a positive impact on your employees, think about boosting employee engagement throughout the employee life cycle, from providing rigorous induction programs for new joiners, providing established workers with skill development opportunities, and planning for the future success of those looking to leave.
Inspired by Chandani et al. (2016), here is an overview of eight solutions and pathways through which employee engagement can be fostered.
Promotion on an organizational level signals that you care and value all employees.
1. Transparency and communication of organizational values, policies, and practices
A lack of clarity around an organization’s mission, values, and business strategy can leave employees feeling lost (Mishra et al., 2014). To garner employees’ buy-in, organizations must share with them the vision and allow them to be collaborators in achieving success.
Senior management must explicitly communicate principles and values and embed them into all organizational policies and practices. For example, if kindness is a value of the company, then performance metrics should assess this.
In a progressive society, businesses and organizations have an awareness of their own responsibility to commit to social justice issues. In fact, employees want to know that the organization they work for provides ethical, high-quality services to its customer base and understands its impact on society more broadly (Glavas, 2016).
Do not engage in greenwashing, whitewashing, pinkwashing, or other forms of lip service. Rather, showcase CSR commitments or goals publicly, monitor them with data, and update them constantly.
3. Fair and equitable treatment of employees
When organizations treat their employees equitably, employee engagement and employee wellbeing increase (Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002). Yet, many organizations are still steeped in systemic biases that disproportionately harm some of their employees.
Cultures, policies, and practices that unfairly discriminate against some groups must be dismantled, whether it be unequal pay, forced office-based working, or inequitable performance appraisals.
Organizations should have a strategy to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). An ambitious DEI mandate can help individuals from all backgrounds feel valued and supported.
If an organization doesn’t have a dedicated DEI position, they must consider bringing in a consultant to build out their DEI strategy.
4. Pay and benefits
Equal compensation and transparent pay structures, bonuses, and incentives have been shown to positively impact employee engagement (Vance, 2006). Beyond pay, employees expect to be provided with quality benefits, such as access to health care, parental leave, flexible working, vacation time, and professional development.
Organizations should therefore seek to make provisions for inclusive and progressive benefits for all employees. Critically, organizations must avoid providing benefits that are in essence merely “perks” at the expense of benefits that really matter, such as equitable parental leave.
5. Employee empowerment
When employees feel empowered to be innovative and evaluative, and are recognized for their contribution and unique strengths, their job satisfaction, performance, and engagement will sky rocket (Albrecht & Andreetta, 2011).
This means organizations need to provide a culture of openness and feedback. In practice, leaders should model these desired behaviors, such as giving specific feedback to team members, requesting feedback from team members, and showing a healthy response to negative feedback.
Promotion on an individual level signals that you care and value individual employees.
1. Opportunities for career progression/development and upskilling
Employee engagement increases significantly when organizations invest in employees (Lartey, 2021). This means organizations should be proactive in providing employees with opportunities for growth.
Provide all employees with a personal learning and development budget, where individuals can choose ways to upskill, whether through training courses, events, or networking opportunities.
Another promising solution is to provide career coaching and career mentoring for all employees to help them plan and reach their career goals.
2. Effective leadership
Leaders have a tremendous impact on employee engagement. Leaders who provide their team members with support, encouragement, and opportunities to be creative and play to their strengths are more likely to have a team that is dedicated and engaged (Soane, 2013).
Leaders must be equipped with the proper skills to engage their team members. Organizations must provide ongoing leadership training for all of their leaders, including executives. For more on this, read our article on Positive Leadership.
3. Performance appraisal
When employees are appraised using a transparent and unbiased method, it has a positive impact on engagement (Albrecht et al., 2015).
During appraisals, managers and leaders need to show adept communication regarding performance expectations and role clarity. Further time spent with each employee setting positive career goals is imperative.
In practice, leaders should look to engage in positive communication, plan SMART goals, and get 360 feedback on the session.
Are Employee Engagement Surveys Useful? The Pros & Cons
When it comes to employee engagement, observation alone is not always enough.
Some subtle symptoms of disengagement, such as depleted positive emotions, might be missed in fast-paced environments. This is where employee engagement surveys such as Gallup’s Q12 (1997) can add significant value and insight.
Below we outline a couple of useful tips to bear in mind before deciding to use an engagement survey or monitoring product.
Quantitative data can reveal patterns of employee engagement in an organization and allow for comparison against global best practice and industry benchmarks.
Surveys can be employed repeatedly over time and can show whether employee engagement strategies and interventions have had a positive impact.
There are several popular products that can help organizations track and monitor employee engagement, such as Culture Amp and Peakon. These capture ongoing data that is personalized to each employee.
Employers might take survey data and forgo collecting any additional qualitative data. This is a mistake. Speaking directly to employees can reveal further insights into what an employee is experiencing that quantitative data cannot capture.
All data must be treated with caution. Even quantitative data is subject to biased interpretations. It is important that organizations understand what the survey data shows and how they should use the information to make positive changes.
Given the pros and cons listed above, the best approach to measuring employee engagement would be to collect both survey data and some form of qualitative data (e.g., interviews).
17 More Work & Career Coaching Exercises
These 17 Work & Career Coaching Exercises [PDF] contain everything you need to help others find more meaning and satisfaction in their work.
Frientorship: the solution to the employee engagement problem
In this fun and engaging TEDx talk, Claudia Williams explains why connection is crucial for employee engagement.
3. Recognition building
Employee recognition is a remedy for many organizational woes. Created by Gallup (2022a), the idea here is to embed a culture of recognition, where employees are acknowledged for their work contributions into the DNA of a business.
Examples include employee of the month and weekly shout-outs to team members for their successes that week. Check out this article on the benefits of employee recognition:
One powerful approach to implementing employee engagement strategies and creating positive organizational change is to apply appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2000).
Appreciative inquiry is a strengths-based systemic approach to cultural transformation that involves dreaming of the best that an organization could be. It works by involving individuals across all levels of the organization and working through the five D’s:
The first stage defines the goal at hand using the question, “What do we want to inquire into?”
The second stage looks to identify the strengths of the collective by using the question, “When are we at our best?”
The third stage aims to imagine the potential of the organization, using the question, “What if these exceptional moments became the norm?”
The fourth stage focuses on figuring out the methodology to make change a reality using the question, “What do we need to do to make that happen?”
The final stage is a plan of action on the deliverables of the main goal, using the question, “How do we get started?”
To be effective, appreciative inquiry requires buy-in from employees across the organization. When it comes to employee engagement, collaborating with team members is absolutely key. As we will see in the section below, involving employees in decision-making processes can elicit extraordinary results for organizations.
Employee involvement is a democratic approach where employees are actively involved in decisions that can affect their working life. For example, an organization could create a DEI committee made up of individuals from across the business, who meet regularly to help shape the organization’s DEI strategy.
Below we outline real-world examples of the power of employee involvement.
The Target turnaround
Prior to hiring Brian Cornell as CEO in 2014, the American retail corporation Target had been on a downward spiral, with a series of mishaps and plummeting profits.
When Cornell came in, he was determined to turn things around by implementing progressive cultural policies, supporting social justice issues, and enhancing employee engagement.
Employees received raises, enhanced investment in insurance and benefit schemes (particularly medical benefits), and progressive training programs (such as the debt-free educational program).
Listening to and recognizing employees’ value has had a profound impact on Target in the past decade, making it one of the most profitable companies in the United States (Target CEO, 2023).
The decline of X (formerly Twitter)
On the flip side, new CEOs can also take over an organization and decimate it, particularly if they do not value their employees.
An example of how not to treat employees comes from Elon Musk’s takeover of X (formerly Twitter). In the process, Musk has not once sought to involve X’s employees in the company’s reformulation (the antithesis of an appreciative inquiry approach).
Rather, Musk laid off more than half the staff (i.e., thousands of workers), often publicly firing employees for challenging him, and let go of employees who handled key areas of the business. Ever since, X experienced a continued decline in revenue and profitability (Dempsey, 2023).
3 Excellent Leadership Books
Leadership books are abundant, and it is not always easy to discern which books might offer the best value to new and existing leaders.
Below we outline three groundbreaking books, spanning different aspects of leadership that are integral for building a culture of employee engagement in any organization.
1. Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean – Kim Scott
Radical Candor by Kim Scott is a realistic take on modern leadership.
The book is essentially about how to be a good boss and how difficult it is to do so.
It provides the reader with a variety of common-sense models and explanations for how to find the balance between being a caring boss and being challenging — the key ingredients Scott argues are vital to becoming a good leader.
Positive Leadership Resources From PositivePsychology.com
If you are itching to get your hands on some positive leadership resources that can help you create a space where your employees and team members can thrive, then look no further. Below we outline a range of uber-useful articles, exercises, and tools to do just that.
Communication is a building block of positive leadership. This article on positive communication exercises for work provides 15 fun exercises and games for developing positive communication skills within the workplace.
Positive leaders lead with compassion. This article outlines 12 effective compassion training exercises and activities that will give leaders the skills needed to build high-quality relationships with their team members.
One unsung hero of positive leadership is coaching, or rather, coaching skills. In this article on must-have coaching skills for managers and leaders, readers will be given several techniques and exercises that will build their capacity to create a sense of belonging and motivation for their team members.
Positive leaders should have self-awareness skills, and making use of the Johari window is a good exercise to improve communication and help individuals better understand themselves and others.
Building on the idea of positive communication, this worksheet on active listening challenges leaders to reflect on their own listening skills when engaging with their team members. It also provides explicit instructions on how to improve.
Team goal setting is a powerful way to build team cohesion and engagement. This worksheet, GROW with your team, is a fun group exercise to map out the shared visions and goals of a team. Together you set a goal, explore the reality to get there, brainstorm options to make it happen, and map the way forward.
For more useful worksheets on team building, job satisfaction, job analysis, and more, check out this excellent selection of 17 science-based work and career exercises. These can be used for professional growth and to help employees with their career goals.
A Take-Home Message
Employee engagement is one of the key drivers of any successful business, yet organizations often fail to implement strategies or cultural practices that can actively promote it.
To make a real difference for teams and individuals, leaders and businesses must focus on creating an environment where employees can flourish.
Crucially, the most compelling approach to achieving this is to bring employees into decision-making processes and allow them to be collaborators in shaping the cultural future of the organization.
Employee involvement is the active participation of individuals in organizational decisions that can directly affect their work.
What is the meaning of employee engagement?
One of the most widely cited definitions of employee engagement is that of Schaufeli et al. (2002, p. 74), who stated that employee engagement is “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption.”
What are great employee engagement questions to ask?
In what ways does your organization show that they value you and your work contribution?
Can you describe a time when you felt energized by the work you do?
When working on a project or task, to what extent do you experience a feeling of total absorption in what you are doing?
Do you feel as though there is a clear purpose to the work you do? Is the vision easy to articulate and get on board with?
How has your company supported you in your own personal and professional development?
When is an employee disengaged?
According to the job demands–resources model (Demerouti et al., 2001), employees are actively disengaged when they lack access to functional job resources, such as pay, job security, career progression opportunities, support, role clarity, autonomy, and decision-making abilities.
Albrecht, S. L., & Andreetta, M. (2011). The influence of empowering leadership, empowerment and engagement on affective commitment and turnover intentions in community health service workers: Test of a model. Leadership in Health Services, 24(3), 228–237.
Albrecht, S. L., Bakker, A. B., Gruman, J. A., Macey, W. H., & Saks, A. M. (2015). Employee engagement, human resource management practices and competitive advantage: An integrated approach. Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, 2(1), 7–35.
Chandani, A., Mehta, M., Mall, A., & Khokhar, V. (2016). Employee engagement: A review paper on factors affecting employee engagement. Indian Journal of Science and Technology, 9(15), 1–7.
Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. (2000). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry. In R. T. Golembiewski (Ed.), Handbook of organizational behavior (2nd ed., pp. 633–652). Routledge.
Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). The job demands–resources model of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(3), 499–512.
Dempsey, J. (2023, July 17). Twitter loses nearly half advertising revenue since Elon Musk takeover. BBC News. Retrieved August 20, 2023, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-66217641.
Gallup. (1997). The Gallup workplace audit (Q12). https://www.gallup.com/q12/.
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Gallup. (2022b) Employee engagement indicators. Retrieved August 20, 2023, from https://www.gallup.com/394373/indicator-employee-engagement.aspx.
Glavas, A. (2016). Corporate social responsibility and employee engagement: Enabling employees to employ more of their whole selves at work. Frontiers in Psychology, 796.
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Target CEO: DEI has fueled much of our growth over the last 9 years. (2023, May 17). Fortune. Retrieved August 20, 2023, from https://fortune.com/2023/05/17/target-ceo-brian-cornell-interview-diversity-equity-inclusion/.
Vance, R. J. (2006). Employee engagement and commitment. SHRM Foundation.
About the author
Kirsty Gardiner, Ph.D. is a Social Psychologist with a passion for using research to power social change. She holds a doctorate in Psychology, a masters in Applied Positive Psychology, and is a registered chartered Psychologist with the BPS. On completing her Ph.D. she taught on the MAPPCP programme for several years. Currently, she is based in the UK as the Research Director at Ardent - a DEI consultancy.