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Employee Engagement — What Is It & Why Is It Important?

By Erika Rahman
Illustration of Carl the yeti working at a desk.

There’s no doubt that if you own a business or manage a team, you’re always looking for new ways to keep your employees happy and maximize results. You might know this as “employee engagement” — the key to increasing motivation and productivity in your workforce. But what is employee engagement? And why is employee engagement important?

Let’s find out.

What is employee engagement?

image with text - Employee engagement is the process of creating a workplace culture where every employee feels they make valuable contributions and are an important part of the team.

Time to get down to the basics. Employee engagement is the process of creating a workplace culture where every employee feels they make valuable contributions and are an important part of the team. It’s all about building meaningful relationships with your employees so they feel motivated to deliver their best work every day. Next thing you know, you’re seeing higher productivity, a more motivated workforce, and increased loyalty to the organization. Sounds great, right?!

What does employee engagement mean to an employee?

When an employee is engaged, they experience a deeper commitment to the goals and values of the organization they work for. It isn’t as simple as employee satisfaction — an employee who feels “satisfied” with their job and is happy to go to work every day still might not be highly engaged and give their best performance.

A truly engaged employee will view their work as much more than a paycheck. They will feel genuinely committed to the organization, always motivated to do their absolute best work, and go the extra mile because they believe in and share the company’s values and goals. They will also feel like an integral part of the team, congratulate their peers on good work and want to contribute to a positive workplace culture.

What are the different types of employee engagement?

In his 1990 research paper, Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work, psychologist William Kahn identified the three different types of employee engagement:

1. Cognitive employee engagement

Cognitive employee engagement occurs when an employee has a full understanding of the organization’s vision, strategy, and goals. The employee knows what they need to do and where they need to focus to help the company achieve its goals. The more cognitively engaged they are, the more likely they are to think creatively about every problem and find effective solutions.

2. Emotional employee engagement

Emotional employee engagement is when an employee feels a genuine, deep-rooted connection to the company they work for. An emotionally engaged employee believes in the values of the company and feels a strong sense of belonging. They are also likely to want to foster good relationships with their coworkers — as a positive workplace culture filled with positive teamwork is important to them.

3. Physical employee engagement

Physical employee engagement is the amount of physical and mental effort an employee is willing to put into their work. The more physically engaged an employee is, the more energy they will be able to expend in carrying out their tasks, making them feel more confident and competent.

Differences between the types of employee engagement

Each type of engaged employee works differently and develops a unique relationship between themselves, the people they work with, and the company they work for.

Cognitive employee engagement is associated with finding meaning at work. When an employee is cognitively engaged, they feel that their work is meaningful and worth the time and energy they’ve used to put in their best effort.

Emotional employee engagement is what makes an employee feel safe within the organization. They feel free to be themselves and express ideas without fear — they’ve created such a sense of safety and belonging that they don’t worry about the consequences of expressing themselves in the right ways.

Physical employee engagement gives the employee the feeling that they have sufficient mental and physical resources available for their best work. They feel that they can be happy at work without feeling compromised or drained.

Ideally, for an employee to be fully engaged, all three types of engagement need to happen at once. When this is the case, employees will feel that all their needs are being met at work. They will actively want to do the best work they can because they feel secure and supported. They find deeper meaning in their work and feel it’s worth making the extra effort.

However, employee engagement isn’t a fixed concept. An employee can experience different types of engagement at different times. They can also become disengaged if they are not nurtured at work. Equally, someone who was not initially engaged can learn to be if their talents are recognized and they feel they have a place in the organization.

The benefits of employee engagement

Having an engaged workforce is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your business. Here are some things you can expect when you invest in employee engagement:

1. Increased productivity

Productive employees get more work done. They aren’t wasting any time at work and are intentionally focusing on the right tasks. You can probably expect higher quality in their work because they want to contribute to the bigger picture.

Higher productivity means better customer satisfaction — resulting in increased sales, repeat business, and profits. Engaged employees see the point of their work and feel happy and safe doing it. This is something you really can’t afford to ignore.

2. A more collaborative workplace culture

Your company is a team, where everyone has to play their individual part to the best of their ability. Each employee needs to understand and care about the goals of the company and be comfortable working alongside each other and resolving conflict.

Employee engagement is essential for creating positive collaboration in the workplace. If everyone feels secure, they are much more likely to feel confident enough to contribute. They are also more motivated to encourage their peers and congratulate them on their successes, because a team player understands that every little ‘win’ is a step forward to the ultimate goal.

3. Recruiting top talent

Every organization needs great people to be successful. Employee engagement is a big part of employee recruitment and retention. Great people are in demand, and let’s face it, they want more than a great salary. They want a job that will make them feel good about themselves; where they feel recognized and valued.

With social media these days, it’s easy for prospective employees to do their research on the company culture before they agree to take a job. If your current employees are truly engaged, they say good things about you — whether online or in person. This means the people you want probably will want you too.

4. Loyalty to the company

Engaged employees are more likely to show loyalty to the company they work for. This has more than one benefit for your business. It means you get to hold onto your top people, so you have a consistently reliable workforce. It means you don’t have to deal with the dips in productivity that happen when people leave. It means that you can save yourself a whole lot of money on recruitment because your turnover rates are low.

How to improve employee engagement

This all sounds great but how do you make it happen? Here are a few ways.

1. Build connection to the company

Get to know your employees’ individually and give them opportunities to shine. Encourage them to get to know their peers so they can recognize each other’s strengths and form friendships. When everyone on the team feels more connected, you’re bound to experience greater employee engagement.

2. Ensure everyone gets recognition for good work

We all want to feel that our efforts are being recognized, especially when we work hard and go the extra mile. By recognizing hard work and rewarding employees for a job well done, you can engage your team on a different level.

3. Be a good leader

Managers have a great influence over workplace culture. By putting the right strategies in place and making sure you have plenty of reliable resources and tools at your disposal, you will be a better leader. You can encourage employees and create more meaningful relationships with them. This will make them feel more engaged and appreciated.

4. Listen to your employees

You can’t create an engaged workforce without finding out how your employees feel about their jobs. Talk to them, ask questions, and, most importantly, listen to their answers. Use employee engagement software to gain all the valuable insights you need to understand how satisfied your employees are feeling at work. Once you have a detailed picture of your current culture, you can start putting effective strategies in place to increase employee engagement.

Find out more about employee engagement

Employee engagement is a complex field, but it’s worth understanding it if you want to get the best results from your team. If you want to engage your employees in every aspect or want to find out how to make things easier with employee engagement software, get in touch with Motivosity — the experts in employee engagement. We would be happy to help!