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What Is Employee Engagement?

By Jan Fletcher
Updated May 17, 2024
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Employee engagement describes the process through which an employee develops positive social and emotional ties to an employer. This business management technique encourages employee involvement through various initiatives. These may include education and training programs, team building exercises, and offering employees performance-based incentives such as bonuses or special recognition. Employee engagement programs operate under the assumption that engaged employees will be more productive and will therefore create more profit for the business. If the employee works for a nonprofit, by the same assumption, engaged employees will be more committed to furthering the goals of the nonprofit.

Social psychology is the arena in which employers attempt to engage employees. Training programs are usually considered an essential part of encouraging employee engagement. These programs may be conducted in a group setting where interactive discussions can take place, as team building is another common technique used in generating employee engagement. If the employee is a new hire, then the engagement is called onboarding, which describes the process of bringing the person on board in such a way that he or she feels like a team member, not an outsider. An engaged employee is believed by some to bestow numerous benefits to a company, including improved public relations, because these workers may voluntarily assume the role of ambassador on behalf of their employer.

Communication strategies used in employee engagement run the gamut from individualized orientations and mentoring, to elaborate team-building events that involve rigorous physical activities, such as surmounting an obstacle. Such a strategy is believed to be transformative in forging new relationships, as people who complete these quests may experience a strong sense of bonding. Weekend retreats or charitable activities may be used to engage workers, too. Encouraging groups of employees to volunteer at a soup kitchen, for example, may serve the dual purposes of instilling a sense of pride in the employees for doing a good deed, and gaining social capital for the employer within the community.

While operating under this theory, employers may use a management style that attempts to instill in employees the belief that they should feel an ownership to their jobs, much as a business owner or entrepreneur would approach his or her work. Reward schemes are often employed in an effort to encourage this attitude. The rewards may not be limited to financial incentives, but may also include public accolades through press releases or honors awarded in public venues.

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Discussion Comments
By everetra — On Mar 11, 2012

@Charred - That’s a good point. It helps employees to feel ownership of their jobs. One way to figure out what really makes an employee tick is to distribute an employee questionnaire. These are good because they are anonymous. The “lone wolf” type you describe may in fact use this to express his true feelings, and through the results of the survey you’ll better understand what you need to do as a manager to inspire your employees.

By Charred — On Mar 10, 2012

Not all employee engagement activities will work for all employees. Some employees I’ve met are the “lone wolf” variety. They are not deliberately being antisocial, but they like to work in solitude and gather strength from quietness.

That doesn’t mean they’re not team members; they are more likely to work behind the scenes, without a lot of fanfare and fuss.

I think for these kinds of employees you need a different employee engagement strategy. You need to develop one on one relationships rather than throwing them into group activities, where they may be tempted to withdraw.

You may want to present special work challenges to these employees so that they can develop their skills and feel a sense of accomplishment. You have to tailor your strategies for each personality type in my opinion.

By Perdido — On Mar 10, 2012

I manage an office of ten employees, and I make it a point to get to know each of them. I know their hobbies, interests, and even a little bit about their families.

I use this information to come up with employee engagement ideas. I would much rather give John in accounting a gift card to his favorite Japanese restaurant and Anna in sales tickets to a local rock band's concert than organize a big company trip that no one really wants to go on, anyway.

I think they prefer this method, also. Most of them have kids, and going out of town for a weekend on a retreat just isn't convenient.

I feel that the more you show an employee that you know and appreciate their interests, the harder they will work for you. It seems to be working, because since I started doing this, I haven't had any employees leave.

By shell4life — On Mar 10, 2012
The company I work for is pretty small, but we still manage to do various things to engage employees in their work. I consider a person's first day to be the most important, and we do our own version of onboarding.

We all go out to lunch together, and the company pays for the new employee's meal. We use this time to socialize, and it is more of a relaxed environment.

That morning, before we have social time, the new employee will get a tour of the building. He or she will also follow around the person who is training them for the day, not actually having to do anything, but taking notes and seeing how it should be done.

By orangey03 — On Mar 09, 2012

@Oceana – I believe employee engagement is essential, not only to the employee but to the employer, as well. It's a mutually beneficial thing.

That's why I was so upset when my workplace started downsizing. The first things to go were the raises, bonuses, and free birthday lunches.

It may sound strange, but I was the most upset about the birthday meals. Little things like this really make a person feel valued by the company, and when you take that away, you are saying, “You are not important to us anymore.”

The sales reps were most upset about losing their bonuses for going over quota. Several of them left and went with companies who could offer them valid employee engagement.

By Oceana — On Mar 08, 2012

I think that employee engagement is an absolutely wonderful technique. The corporation I work for has a number of activities and rewards for its employees, and I can tell you from experience that it makes a big difference in the way I view my job.

I came from a smaller company that offered no incentives. There was no opportunity for growth, no raises were ever offered, and no bonuses were in place to motivate us.

You can imagine how thrilled I was to learn about all the potential at my new job. It was also nice to get to know everyone through team-building exercises. I have made some solid friendships here that I believe would last even if I were to leave my job.

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