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25 drivers of employee engagement and how to use them

16 min read
Employee engagement remains a core consideration for any business serious about growth. So what drives engagement in an organisation and how can you put those drivers to work for you?

Written by: Ruth D’Alessandro
Reviewed by: Aaron Carpenter

Our latest research uncovers more insights than ever about the value and impact of employee engagement, showing the many interconnected ways it can be influenced and nurtured as part of your employee experience (EX) management program.

Begin improving employee engagement with EmployeeXM

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement definition: how committed an employee is to help their organisation meet its goals.

Engagement is an emotional and attitudinal quality of the employee’s relationship with their employer. It describes how they feel about working, whether they personally identify with their organization, and how much effort they want to put in on their employer’s behalf.

Gallup identifies 4 levels of basic development needs, which cover getting benefits, making a contribution, belonging and growing. As the levels are met, an employee becomes emotionally more invested in their organisation and more engaged in their role. It’s worth noting that every level of the hierarchy, including the basic one, must be maintained for the relationship to stay strong.

Employee engagement and employee experience

We see engagement as part of a wider EX (employee experience) picture. It’s an important element of the employee lifecycle, coming into play once an employee is hired and onboarded. Engagement helps to cement each person’s ongoing role in their company.

Employee engagement can be seen as the definitive KPI for a positive employee experience. It goes hand in hand with other important EX outcomes, such as

  • Inclusion
  • Well-being
  • intent to stay (which captures whether engagement is sustainable)
  • how an individual employee’s experience of work measures up to their expectations

Key drivers of employee experience

Engagement as a sole indicator of employee experience isn’t enough. It only provides a window into how your people feel at a very specific point in time.

Therefore, to truly understand your people, you have to measure beyond engagement to highlight the other dimensions that affect — both positively and negatively — the overall employee experience.

That’s why we developed EX25.

In today’s environment, leaders need to take a more holistic approach to gauging employee sentiment — one that includes DEI, well-being, belonging, intent to stay, inclusion, experience vs expectations and more.

Leveraging years of client research and global validation studies, EX25 is an industry-leading approach to measuring and optimising employee experience.

Rather than looking at engagement as a single metric, it uses a series of new KPIs to simplify and break down engagement.

This new framework empowers leaders to take a more holistic approach to gauging employee sentiment through new dimensions of engagement, such as:

  • Well-being
  • Experience vs Expectations
  • Intent to Stay
  • Inclusion

Furthermore, EX25 highlights the most critical drivers of these KPIs, each with its own levers:

drivers of employee experience

Let’s take a look at each one.

1. Authority and empowerment

Employees need to feel they have the appropriate freedom to exercise their judgment in order to do their jobs well. Encourage employees to have autonomy at work — it’s widely recognised as a powerful driver of positive employee attitudes.

2. Collaboration

Employee engagement rises when there is a general sense of cooperation between employees, both within teams and across the organisation. Employees tend to value being able to work with others in order to meet goals at work. For employee engagement to flourish, company culture and management attitudes should affirm that collaboration is valued and celebrated.

3. Communication

Open communication is one of the top drivers of trust. Communication should work well in all directions, including feedback to senior leaders from their employees, communication within an employee-manager relationship, and being provided with the right information at the right time.

4. CSR (corporate social responsibility)

Company values have grown in importance recently as employees look for a workplace that shares their beliefs and acts in ways they can be proud of. Include your CSR initiatives in your employee value proposition.

5. Customer focus

People who feel proud of the products and services they are selling, especially if they’re front-line employees, are more likely to be engaged at work. This driver links to authority and empowerment too, because these employees can have the opportunity to use their initiative and make decisions to provide good customer experiences.

6. Ethics

Ethical standards which are upheld consistently and equally applied to everybody make the employee experience better. Ethical integrity contributes to a sense of pride in where you work, inspiring employees to feel confident that whistleblowing is taken seriously and that they will be treated appropriately.

7. Growth and development

Offering employees a career development path and an opportunity to grow means they are more likely to want to stay. Positive relationships with managers and a sense that their career goals are seen and supported are behind this engagement driver.

8. Innovation

Innovative cultures give employees an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to progress and put their own stamp on processes and roles. Innovative company culture works best when employees know it’s okay to fail if they take a risk and try something new.

9. Living the values

Company values – the explicit ideas and behaviours a company sets out as its preferred way of working – have a positive effect on engagement when they align with an employee’s personal values. When company values are evident in behaviours and decision-making, rather than just a list of words, employees are more likely to take them to heart.

10. Managing change

Employees are more likely to tolerate and adapt to change if they feel supported through it. Understanding why change is happening and being given advance notice of change are also engagement drivers.

11. Pay and benefits

The relationship between pay and employee engagement isn’t a linear one – you can’t drive engagement by increasing salaries. However, pay that feels fair and is tied to performance is an important basic element that will boost engagement, and underpins a good employee experience.

12. Strategic alignment

A company that has a strong and consistent long-term engagement strategy will be more likely to drive employee intent to stay, as people will be able to visualize their future with a company and feel confident that it will thrive long-term. Another aspect of this driver of engagement is being able to see how your role fits into the company strategy.

13. Survey follow-up

Collecting employee feedback with employee engagement surveys isn’t just valuable for the information it provides. The interaction itself can also have a positive impact, when employees see that their constructive feedback has been acknowledged and acted on by senior leadership. This driver is also connected to communication, covered earlier in this list.

14. Training

Having adequate training to do the job is an important foundational component of professional development and employee engagement.

15. Trust in leadership

Although employees won’t necessarily have personal interactions with the c suite, they will develop a sense of trust in leadership if they see good decisions and consistent, ethical behaviour at the head of the organisation.

16. Trust in manager

The importance of the employee-manager relationship cannot be overstated. Managers who are seen as dependable, fair, honest and genuinely caring by direct reports and each team member can help drive employee engagement through interpersonal trust.

17. Work process

Engaged employees are the result when processes are efficient, logical and effective. A process that is over-complex, stagnant over time, or too loose and vague will block productivity and frustrate employees. Again, managers can play a role in preventing these issues by removing barriers for their teams and supporting prioritisation and focus.

18. Work-life balance

Without work-life balance, even the most enthusiastic employees are at risk of burnout. A sustainable level of work-life balance, supported by a company culture that honors people’s lives inside and outside work, is crucial for employee engagement over the long-term.

19. Performance and accountability

Transparency matters. Employees need to know what is expected of them in their role and what they will be held accountable for. Feedback and conversations about performance with managers help make sure this happens.

20. Psychological safety

Linked to communication and ethics, a sense of psychological safety comes from feeling able to voice your opinions without negative consequences, even when they differ from other people’s, including those of senior leadership.

21. Recognition

Being seen and having work recognised is a fundamental part of an employee’s relationship with their employer. Without it, engagement cannot develop.

22. Resources

Another baseline requirement for employee engagement is having the right resources to do the job and an environment that enables productivity. This critical engagement driver has taken on a new dimension with the rise of remote working.

23. Respect

In work as in life, respect is essential. A workplace culture where respect between individuals is a given is more likely to create an engaged workforce. In the best cultures, respect can be maintained even when there is conflict or disagreement in coworker relationships.

24. Role fit

No matter which other key drivers are in play, when employees sense they are not a good fit for their roles it will have a significant impact on whether they stay long-term.

25. Safety

Feeling safe at work is a fundamental requirement for employee engagement. This driver relates to hygiene and health considerations, especially in the context of COVID-19.

How to use these drivers for business outcomes

As we’ve described, employee experience and employee engagement drivers are often interlinked. This means an integrated approach where multiple drivers of engagement are addressed can yield useful employee engagement strategies.

Here are examples of how using our drivers of employee engagement might look in three kinds of businesses.

1. The traditional business

This organisation has a long history and may be grappling with legacy processes and culture that no longer serve it. Measuring employee engagement might happen on an annual basis, meaning that change is slow.

Employees don’t expect to see change as a result of their feedback, but they are willing to be pleasantly surprised. For this business, the leadership and HR have an important role to play in championing employee feedback and putting their weight behind cultural changes towards employee experience and driving employee engagement.

Provided baseline engagement drivers are taken care of, the focus will be on communication and employee engagement survey follow-up. Work process may also play a role, with employees feeding back and contributing to changes and improvements.

2. The typical business

This company already has a basic handle on employee engagement but would like to sharpen up its ways of measuring and taking action on feedback. Leaders may be frustrated with the lack of ROI on EX management and feel hesitant to invest in it further.

To move forward and capitalise on more of its engagement opportunities, the company needs to see ROI. This could come in the form of customer focusauthority and empowerment, and collaboration, where employees are offered the chance to prove their potential and add value to the business at the same time. Employee retention will also improve.

3. The non-traditional business

A forward-thinking company that wants to be at the bleeding edge of business and is keen to take advantage of the latest thinking. Feedback is recognised as highly valuable at all levels, employees feel valued, and there is a strong culture of collaboration and communication.

For this organisation, it’s a question of building on a strong foundation and honing the strategy further in an agile, iterative way. This may be a company that frequently pivots and adapts to its market, so managing change and strategic alignment could be fruitful areas of focus for improving engagement and job satisfaction.

If the business is strong on innovation and empowerment, making sure employees understand their performance and accountability expectations may provide a useful balance.

Improve employee engagement with Qualtrics

Experience management is our passion. We’ve developed a comprehensive employee experience platform that includes all the employee engagement drivers, and is trusted by businesses in all kinds of sectors around the world.

Powered by AI and automation, Qualtrics employee experience lets you continually listen to employee feedback and get a holistic view of every touchpoint in the employee lifecycle.

This means you can take the right actions at the right time, close critical experience gaps, improve manager effectiveness, and build high-performance teams.

We call this XM for People Teams — and below are just a few of the critical capabilities that we provide to help organisations improve engagement and transform employee experiences:

EmployeeXM Discover

The world’s most powerful continuous listening solution, EmployeeXM Discover enables leaders and managers to uncover people issues in real time, at scale. From social media sites to company communications, dive into what matters most to your people, understand their emotions, and identify what you need to do to help them stay.

Manager Assist 

Qualtrics Manager Assist is a powerful, all-in-one employee experience hub built for managers. Through detailed data visualisations and spotlight metrics, get a clear story of how your teams are doing, what your managers can do to improve results, and empower employees to share their own suggestions to help drive people-centric change.


Unlock the power of unified experiences by identifying the employee engagement and experience metrics that drive specific customer experience outcomes. With CrossXM, bring together all your data — from employee engagement results, brand tracking, CSAT and everything between — to see which drivers impact your bottom line.

Want to learn more? Check out the latest EX innovations from X4 2023

Transform employee experiences at scale

With XM for People Teams, you have the software you need to build engaged, high-performance teams, improve manager and individual effectiveness, and make the best possible business decisions to help move the bottom line.

People Engage

Access the tools to understand what your people need and drive action at every level. From HR teams to individual people managers, increase engagement, productivity and retention.

People Lifecycle

Know how every employee and candidate touchpoint affects your brand to deliver the best people experiences and business outcomes.

People Analytics

Bring together every signal from every channel and apply powerful analytics to focus your investments in people for maximum impact.

Begin improving employee engagement in your organization with EmployeeXM