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How to improve employee engagement

22 min read
Employee engagement is defined as how much an employee is committed to helping their organization achieve its goals. It’s demonstrated by how employees think, feel, and act, as well as the emotional connection employees feel towards their organization, their work, and their team.

Author: Ruth D’Alessandro

Subject Matter Expert: Dr. Vanessa Kowollik

What is the problem with employee engagement?

According to the latest research published in our 2024 EX Trends Report, employee engagement is on the rise, at 68%. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Until you flip this number and find it means that nearly a third of workers (32%) aren’t engaged. This 32% may be your ‘quiet quitters’ – watching the clock, counting down the hours until the weekend, and looking forward to their paychecks.

More worrying though, is that while engagement is generally up, new hires have the lowest engagement of all tenure groups. We found that employees with less than six months of tenure have the lowest intent to stay (three years or more) at their organization: just 38% versus 65% overall:

employee engagement and intent to stay metrics

Previously, employees would have a higher engagement level for at least a year in a new job. Clearly something’s going on.

Traditional strategies are often put in place to increase engagement, but according to Gallup, these don’t work because:

  • They’re seen solely as the remit of the HR department, rather than something to be owned by leaders, managers, middle management and frontline employees
  • There are flaws in the programs themselves: the metrics measuring employee engagement are too complicated, or even wrong – making employee engagement appear high but not reflecting in business outcomes
  • Employee engagement survey fatigue sets in with too many pulse surveys being sent out
  • Lack of action in response to employee feedback

And while employee engagement is important, as we’ll see, it’s not the full picture. Employees can be engaged, and still:

It’s no longer enough to measure engagement alone. As a metric, it doesn’t give you the full, holistic picture of your employees’ experiences at work on a day-to-day basis, and in real time. A business needs the full picture – the employee experience (EX) – to drive better business outcomes. You need to measure more than engagement, more often, and without adding to the workloads of already busy people.

Watch demo: Redefine your employee experience with People Engage

Why is employee engagement important?

When you engage employees, they work harder, learn, grow and develop faster, solve problems, innovate, get along with their team members better and stay longer at your company.

Research shows:

Reductions in:

  • Absenteeism (81%)
  • Patient safety incidents (mortality and falls) (58%)
  • Employee turnover for high turnover organizations (18%)
  • Employee turnover for low turnover organizations (43%)
  • Shrinkage (theft) (28%)
  • Accidents (64%)
  • Quality (defects) (41%)

Increases in:

  • Customer loyalty / engagement (10%)
  • Productivity (sales) (18%)
  • Profitability (23%)

metrics showing by employee engagement is important

 Image Source: Gallup

15 ways to improve employee engagement

As we’ve seen above, when you increase employee engagement, great things happen within every aspect of your business.

Invest in your people. It’s worth every cent. Investing in your people should be non-negotiable, and one of the most important (and attractive) employee benefits. If you don’t start investing now, your valuable people will leave.

1. Focus on the frontline

We’re putting this first on our list because this is the place to aim investment now. Frontline workers are the lifeblood of your organization, caring for customers, clients and patients. These are the people who deliver for the business and are customer-facing, so they are the first to spot issues and trends, and pass them up the chain of command.

Yet for far too long, frontline employees have been the most unhappy, poorly supported and least trusting workers.  They’re crying out for help, according to our 2024 EX Trends Report. And if they’re struggling, so is your business.

Frontline workers:

  • Are not getting their basic needs met from their organizations
  • Lack the support they need to do a great job, and the voice to drive improvements
  • Are less trusting of leadership, and don’t feel empowered to speak their mind

frontline workers and metrics showing how they feel about their benefits

Solution: Pay close attention to your frontline employees. They are the ones closest to your customers and products. Talk to them. Ask what they need.

Lack of communication is a common experience gap cited by frontline employees.Your leaders and managers need to be intentional about communicating with frontline workers so they know their voices have been heard.

Understand their experiences and ideas for innovation and take on board their experienced insights. Then, not only follow through on those insights, but also tell your people about the changes you’ve made thanks to them.

Make sure your frontline workers are being paid fairly, have the same opportunity for career development and receive as much recognition as your non-frontline employees.

2. Employees must know what’s expected of them from day one through exceptional onboarding

Actively disengaged employees often say that their roles and tasks have not been sufficiently delineated, and they are unsure what they are expected to do, or how far they can go to get the job done.

A few years ago, organizations were hiring in high volumes, and were hyper-focused on delivering a great candidate experience. But with a downturn in hiring across many industries, resources have been diverted elsewhere, and the onboarding experience – particularly for remote workers – has become sorely lacking.

Solution: Look at your post-Covid candidate and onboarding experiences. Are remote hires being welcomed and helped to build relationships as well as your on-site workers? Have managers got the skills to do that? How often are they checking in on the newbies? Reinstate a great onboarding process and experience for your new hires that sets out from the very first day what will be expected of them in their role.

Give your onboarding process its own listening program. All too often, employees who’ve been there for less than six months are excluded from annual engagement surveys, and their voices are not being heard.

Employees want, and need, growth from day one. As an organization, you need to be more intentional about helping new employees build connections, and providing clear pathways for growth and development.

And make sure new employee experiences align with their expectations – these are, after all the first impressions your new hires have of your organization.

3. Provide the right tools, tech, equipment, processes and systems to do a good job

The opposite of engaged employees is burnt-out employees. Our research found that more than a third (38%) of employees feel they’re burnt out, and that the top driver of employee burnout is ineffective processes and systems: computers that glitch, spreadsheets that take forever to load, out-of-stock products… you get the picture.

Solution: Listen to employees in real time so that problems with systems and processes are flagged the instant they happen. Then bring in the tech team to overcome adverse working conditions when things get busy or systems fail.

4. Live and breathe the company values

Nowadays, an organization’s mission and values, and how effectively and consistently they’re demonstrated, drive your employees’ intent to stay over the longer term. And being employed isn’t just about having a job any more – it’s now a part of a person’s whole value system.

More and more, employees want to work for organizations that have integrity and purpose. At the same time, they crave growth and development opportunities that fulfill, challenge, and motivate them to be part of something bigger than just a paycheck at the end of the month.

When employees feel that their organization’s values chime with their own values, they’re 27% more likely to have higher employee engagement scores, and 23% more likely to stay working for more than 3 years.

Solution: Inspire employees with great company mission and purpose by focusing on your company’s mission and values, and assessing  how your processes currently align with them. Build and cultivate a supportive work environment with equal opportunities and the promotion of minorities into the leadership ladder to swell diversity. Promote people based on performance rather than tenure.

how employees feel when their organizations are living the values

5. Encourage work life balance

The physical and mental health of your employees is paramount. And after years of operating at surge levels, employees are pushing back and reclaiming boundaries – often through quiet quitting. Going above and beyond one’s remit at work had become the expectation rather than the exception for many employees – who now want to reshape the relationship they have with work to set healthy boundaries, and thrive.

Solution: Check in on your employees’ mental and physical wellbeing and make sure they’re not overwhelmed; and it goes without saying that employees must be treated with respect at all times. Encourage employees to set flexible work schedules, and give them the option to choose their working hours to not only get the job done, but balance work and life and put less stress on families.

We found that when employees are empowered to achieve work life balance, they are more likely to contribute more to the organization. Of those who feel that they have a good work-life balance, almost two-thirds (63%) are willing to go above and beyond for their organization:

going above and beyond metrics

6. Inspire financial confidence in your workforce

The last few years of global upheaval, disruption, volatility and uncertainty have made job security and a decent salary a top priority for employees. Financial wellness is as important for maintaining employee engagement as physical and mental wellness.

Employees who are satisfied with their pay and benefits are 26% more likely to have their expectations exceeded at work, and 13% more likely to continue working with their current employers for 3+ years.

Employees simply want to know that the business they work for will continue to be a successful one into the future, and pay them a competitive salary. Our research found that only just over half (57%) of employees worldwide are satisfied with their current pay and benefits, and that satisfaction has dropped 10 points since last year.

Solution: Make sure your employees are remunerated and rewarded properly for their valuable contributions through tough times. Don’t let compensation fall behind market rates, and give generous employee perks that keep up with the current cost of living. Have open and transparent conversations about pay – this topic is no longer taboo.

7. Offer professional development opportunities

We’ve seen above that new hires need development from day one. So do the rest of your workforce. Employees crave growth and development opportunities that fulfill, challenge, and motivate them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, fewer people last year said they had good opportunities to learn and develop at work than in previous years:

percentage of people who believe they have good opportunities at their organization

It’s essential that you see growth and development as an integral part of employee values. As an employer, you need to provide more than just access to proper training, development, and learning opportunities. Employees need the time and support to learn from it, which must come from leadership.

Ultimately, employees want to know how their efforts contribute to their own and company success. If they don’t, they’re much more likely to become disengaged.

Solution: Give new employees the opportunities to develop their skills, and set career development paths for all employees to progress into roles required for the future. Encourage managers to establish regular review sessions with their direct reports and team members to act on regular feedback. Keep everyone up-to-date on the business’s progress and what’s required for success.

8. Improve employee wellbeing

There’s a strong link between employee engagement and employee wellbeing. According to Gallup, employee engagement and wellbeing influence the future state of the other – i.e. they are reciprocal. They are also additive – each makes a unique, complementary contribution to employees’ feelings, behaviors, ideas, thoughts, and performance. In short, when your employee wellbeing suffers, so does employee engagement, and the business’s bottom line.

Your managers are your first line of defense regarding employee wellbeing. The best ones are tuned into employee sentiment and have the remit to provide employees with work schedules that balance work productivity with their life responsibilities.

Solution: Measure employee wellbeing in addition to your employee engagement surveys. You can do this with pulse surveys or with conversational analytics software. Train managers how to recognize burnout, approach wellbeing conversations with empathy, and show that they really care about their employees’ lives, both inside and outside work. You can also put in place a company wide wellness initiative that can range from discounted gym memberships to healthy food options in the canteen.

9. Create a great company culture of belonging

Workplace belonging is emerging as the top employee experience driver linked to employee engagement and wellbeing. When you foster belonging, you will improve employee engagement.

Employees who feel they belong say:

  • There is open and honest communication in the company
  • They feel they’re a valued member of the team
  • They feel supported when adapting to organizational change
  • They can be their authentic selves at work
  • They believe that their company is one where everyone can succeed to their full potential, no matter who they are

Solution: Make sure your company has sound ESG initiatives – employees’ pride in making a difference plays a major role in fostering a sense of belonging. Make new employees welcome with a stellar onboarding experience that makes them feel part of the family from day one. And encourage employees to be their authentic selves at work. And as there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for fostering belonging in the workplace, just listen to what your individual people need – and then action their feedback to meet those needs.

10. Hire managers with inclusive leadership skills

Research by Deloitte found that teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to say they are ‘high performing,’ 20% more likely to make better decisions, and 29% more likely to collaborate. A study by Catalyst found that 45% of experiences in an inclusive workplace could be explained by ‘managerial inclusive leadership’.

Clearly, leaders drive employee engagement. The best ones have the technical skills for the job, give regular recognition for a job well done, provide honest constructive feedback, and build and maintain great relationships with colleagues.

Solution: Make sure your employer brand is excellent so that top managerial talent wants to come and work for you. Give a great remuneration package. Continually train and develop your managers so they keep inspiring their teams.

11. Give generous employee recognition

We all love having a pat on the back when we’ve done a good job, and recognition is one of the most important drivers of good work:

most important drivers of great work

Organizations with a solid employee recognition strategy can expect higher employee engagement, better employee morale, improved customer service and lower employee turnover.

Companies that recognize and reward employees well can even expect 50% higher productivity and as much as a 20% increase in business outcomes.

Solution: Implement employee recognition programs. These could be:

  • Years of service
  • Customer service awards
  • Employee appreciation events that celebrate achievements
  • Monetary awards
  • Employee of the Month or Year schemes (but make sure you don’t reward the same people all the time)

12. Get hybrid right for your organization

Our research showed that engagement scores (as well as intent to stay, inclusion and wellbeing) were lowest when employees came into the office five days a week, and highest when they spent three days in the office:

employee experience kpi scores when in office everyday vs. three days a week

It seems that employees value remote work, but not to the exclusion of being able to socialize with colleagues, get out of the house, and create boundaries between work and home on some days. For new employees especially, fully remote limits their interaction with colleagues and supervisors, leading to a sense of detachment from the team.

Solution: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to work any more. Employers need to be more flexible about how employees work to ensure the best outcomes for both employees and the organization.

  • Empower managers to develop flexible work plans for their teams
  • Set minimum expectations, along with the autonomy to make adjustments that work for them
  • Focus on specific outcomes rather than working styles to see what’s delivering and what’s not
  • Create workplace policies and structure that let employees achieve those outcomes.

13. Use AI to help your employees, but not manage them

Our research found that the more positive your employees feel about your organization – the more trust they have in it –  the more open they are to using AI. And the more engaged employees are, the more likely they are to believe that your organization will use AI for their benefit. However, this only applies to AI that employees feel they can control and direct – they’re less accepting of AI evaluating them or impacting on their career and therefore livelihood:

how employees feel about ai performing specific tasks

Solution: The use of AI-driven systems may, to some employees, come across as more ‘Big Brother’ than helpful tools. You’ll need to demonstrate that AI is making organizational improvements so that your people trust these systems by:

  • Emphasizing transparency
  • Explaining what you’re using AI for
  • Communicating the actions and outcomes

Done properly, AI can enhance every employee experience and even relationships between employees and leadership.

14. Create a culture of feedback

Feedback, as the saying goes, is a gift. Before your employees can work to their full potential, develop new skills, innovate, serve customers better and get on with their teams, you need to identify what they need.

Engagement is a feeling – it’s how much an employee is committed to helping their organization achieve its goals, demonstrated by how employees think, feel, and act, as well as the emotional connection employees feel towards their organization, their work, and their team. So you need to ask your people how they feel about all these.

Employees crave feedback. Creating a company culture of end-to-end feedback helps employees to set an agenda for their work and their development – and keeps you aware of what you can deliver.

You can ask for employee feedback in many different ways. One of the most effective ways to capture and act on feedback is through a continuous listening and feedback solution, so you can…

15. Go beyond engagement to create great employee experiences

When you use a continuous listening and feedback solution such as Qualtrics EmployeeXM® , everyone – from new employees and frontline workers to managers and the CEO – can ensure their voice is heard. It’s the ultimate listening tool for gathering continuous feedback from every employee.

You’ll be able to take the right actions to improve the entire employee experience: from recruitment to alumni. It includes:

Employee Pulse Surveys

Keep up with your employees’ changing working needs by asking them – then acting on their feedback. Employee pulse surveys help you get rapid, actionable insights and trends on how your people feel and what they value – while avoiding survey fatigue.

People Lifecycle

Understand the moments that matter in your new employees’ experience so that your organization will meet their expectations, leading to higher engagement and greater intent to stay.


Put your frontline employees first, by tuning into their needs. It’s well known that good employee experience delivers good customer and brand experiences.  CrossXM pulls in data from every experience (EX, CX and BX) to find connections between them, and shows you actions to take that will keep your frontline employees engaged and your customers happy.

Manager Assist

Bring together – in one place – everything your managers need to increase employee engagement and productivity, and reduce costly and unwanted attrition.

Manager Assist is the only purpose-built hub for managers to easily understand feedback and take action on the things that will keep their teams engaged and productive.

Its built-in collaboration and action tools help the whole team brainstorm, collaborate, create plans, and share accountability – taking in everyone’s feedback.

Watch demo: Redefine your employee experience with People Engage