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Creating a great employee engagement strategy

9 min read
Your employees’ experience is shaped by your company’s culture, work environment, and technology. To improve it, you need a strategy, and the backbone of that strategy must be listening.


What is an employee engagement strategy?

An employee engagement strategy is your company’s approach to creating the best possible employee experience for your workforce. And when employees feel they have the best possible experience, they thrive, achieve work-life balance, do their best work, deliver the best customer experience, and all this translates into a healthy bottom line for the business.

And it’s important to remember that it’s up to the company to provide the experience. No longer can companies expect employees to ‘try to make their own fun’, which is simply a recipe for a disengaged, siloed, and directionless workforce. Your company culture must now be one that supports, encourages, and empowers a great employee experience, to stand any chance in today’s competitive business world.

“Employee expectations are shaped by societal forces and by individuals themselves. But the experiences that employees have with your organization… this is within your control” says Cecelia Herbert, Lead Employee Experience Scientist for Qualtrics in the Asia Pacific.

To do this requires a well-thought-out strategy, and we’ll walk you through how to formulate your action plan.

Shift your mindset from engagement to experience

It’s important to go beyond the idea of ‘engagement’.  While engagement is still an important construct, modern employee experience encompasses so much more. Work is dynamic; people and things change and develop rapidly, which is why the annual employee engagement survey no longer cuts it. Instead, you need to explore holistically everything that your employees are experiencing in real time, then take action in a timely way.

Define your goals and KPIs

Having a clear definition of employee engagement is a critical first step.  But you don’t have to come up with this yourself, as engagement survey items have been used for a long time, so this hard work has been done for you.  At Qualtrics, thousands of clients use our library of survey items, which has been analyzed and distilled down to three core elements:

  1. Feeling a sense of personal accomplishment
  2. Feeling motivated
  3. Driven to recommend the company as a great place to work.

But as we mentioned, measuring employee experience goes beyond engagement.  Qualtrics has identified five outcomes, or key performance indicators (KPIs), of employee experience:

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

By using a standardized framework to measure the employee experience, you can confidently make data-informed decisions that improve your organization.

Identify the drivers of employee engagement

Understanding the drivers of employee outcomes such as engagement enables your organization to identify the highest impact actions you can take to move the needle.  These drivers correspond to the deeper needs of the individual employee, contributing to their wellbeing, and increasing the energy and passion that goes into every aspect of their work.

We have identified these 25 drivers of employee engagement that you must measure to gather a holistic view of your employee experience.

This framework helps you measure the top signals and bring up critical insights from your employees.  It informs your priorities that are the building blocks of your strategy. For each of the critical drivers, you need to ask the following three questions:

  1. What initiatives (if any) do we currently have that support this driver?
  2. Can we solve our most urgent pain points by investing in this particular area?
  3. Who is responsible for taking action?

Beyond engagement: Build an employee listening roadmap

There’s only one way to find out what your employees are experiencing in all aspects of their working life: ask them.

Feedback must be the backbone of your employee experience strategy, and structured listening is the way to gather it. This means going beyond a traditional annual or bi-annual survey, to solicit feedback from employees at multiple touchpoints.  For example:

  • Annual baseline and pulse: Run regularly (4x per year), everyone in your company gets surveyed about their critical KPIs and drivers
  • Ad hoc: When you need to run one-off, sampled surveys on special topics (e.g. diversity and inclusion, wellbeing, or the future of work)
  • Lifecycle: Always on, automated feedback at moments that matter to employees (onboarding, candidate experience, employer brand, professional development, internal services, internal transfers)

“Employees want to know they are being heard, and employers will lose the war for talent if they don’t continuously listen and respond to employee feedback,” says Jay Choi, Qualtrics chief product officer.

Using an employee experience management platform such as EX25 in Qualtrics EmployeeXM™ to evolve your traditional approach to engagement surveys, you can increase the frequency at which you gather and respond to feedback from your employees, in a way that is realistic and actionable, which leads us on to…

Get the right insights to the right people

Your feedback analysis platform will supply you with analyzed data so you will understand the top drivers of employee engagement across your teams, and be able to act on improving those areas.

It’s essential that, as part of your strategy, you map out who gets which insights to action them. The data must go to someone who can do something with it. There’s nothing more disengaging for employees than to give feedback, then nothing gets done as a result of that feedback.

Executives, people managers, and HR all play a unique role in taking action on feedback.  And by taking action, you demonstrate that employee voices are heard, making an impact, and – bingo – you’ve created a feedback culture.

Taking action as a result of feedback is essential to the employee experience, as it shows:

Measure and track your progress

Your EX platform will probably include dashboard templates featuring analyzed employee feedback data. These are ideal for managers and team leaders to understand and measure the top drivers of employee engagement across their team members. Using external benchmark data and trends over time, leaders at all levels of the organization can access relevant and timely insights from their teams that empower them to take action.

Employee engagement strategy examples

There are many ways that companies can go about achieving change. Here are just a few examples, chosen from our list of 25 key drivers, of things you can do to improve your employees’ experience:

  • Recognition: implement a recognition program; this could be peer-to-peer recognition, ‘Employee of the Month’ style awards, or something as simple as setting a budget aside for impromptu celebration lunches for projects done well
  • Work-life balance: Introduce flex-time, or a work-from-home policy
  • Well-being team up with a local fitness center to offer gym memberships; instigate in-house exercise classes for both physical and mental health
  • Diversity, inclusion, and belonging: Celebrate multi-faith, multi-cultural events and holidays; consider unconscious bias training
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR): Release employees (paid) to do community work regularly
  • Growth and Development: Encourage managers to support the coaching and development of their team members by making it part of their performance review goals; set up a mentorship program; budget for employee courses
  • Innovation: Give employees the time, space, and tools to be creative, rather than chained to their desks or in endless meetings
  • Safety: Address annoying things (such as that slippery floor) as soon as they’re mentioned; simply rectifying this shows employees you’re listening, caring about them, appreciating their safety and wellbeing, and determined to make the working environment better.

This is just a simplified list of examples and strategies you could use, but for immediate results, using products like Qualtrics EX25 can set a baseline and monitor all of your employee engagements. It’s always good to have a starting point, but using advanced employee engagement software like EX25 can provide the ROI you need for your efforts.

And finally…

A strategy should clearly define upfront what success looks like.  The EX25 model sets a baseline from which improvements in employee experience can be tracked over time.

Based on your strategy, the operational plan to get there should be informed by the drivers, with clear deliverables, and with aligned resourcing and accountability.

Stay up to date on EX trends with our 2021 EX Trends Report