How to win at employee engagement

Enjoy an inspired, ride-or-die workforce with these best practices

Meeples making announcements

Think of a time when you were all in. Maybe it was a hobby, a competition, your family, or even love. Your commitment was a given, your presence unquestionable, and your focus freely granted. If any hiccups came your way, you shook them off and ate your Wheaties. That scrapbook, basketball final, or long-distance romance was going to be legendary. Sure, there was a bummer of a moment here and there, but you dealt with them instead of calling them deal breakers.

What is Employee Engagement?

That feeling of sustained and unwavering connection is the essence of engagement. In the workplace, employee engagement is the commitment your people have to the organization and its goals. Engagement is the glue that holds everything together, bringing out the best in people, and creating opportunity for the future. When team members are invested in their work, in each other, and in the organization, employee engagement is strong.

Engaged employees often go “above and beyond” their job description. They may offer to guide newer team members, volunteer for a special role, or simply be a great role model for other team members. The passion, commitment, and productivity of engaged employees make for a more efficient and successful organization.

What employee engagement isn’t

People often mix up employee engagement and employee satisfaction. A satisfied employee is content with their role, but not committed to it. A satisfied employee may be perfectly happy with the status quo (as long as their paycheck comes in on time), while an engaged employee wants to find opportunities to grow and improve. 

An employee who is fully engaged is enthusiastic and excited about the goals and objectives of the company. They show that commitment by fully diving into their work and taking it to the next level with new ideas.

“Engagement holds everything together, bringing out the best in people, and creating opportunity for the future.”

Benefits of employee engagement

Employee engagement has a lot to do with happiness, but it’s so much more than that. Employees are their best when they feel included, invested in, recognized, and able to make a difference.

Here’s some hopeful news: employees are more engaged now than at any time since 2000. In the U.S., 34% of workers are highly engaged, and only 13% are “actively disengaged,” the lowest percentage ever reported by Gallup. This engagement translates into tangible and intangible wins for a business and its customers.

Motivated workers

Motivated employees find untapped energy and are likely to put themselves on the line for the company. When you need them for that critical project or deadline, they’re ready and eager to dive in.

Higher loyalty

Employees who love their work and their company stay put and are more likely to recommend other high-performing workers for jobs. 

Better service to your customers

Good vibes are contagious. Engaged employees will exude that energy with your customers – and give them 110%. They’re focused, make fewer mistakes– typically getting the job done right the first time. With a workforce that gives its all, you’ll retain your clients while also showing your company as a place that hires the best.

Breaking down the elements of employee engagement

Gallup tells us that 53% of all employees are not engaged. They may be satisfied with their role and pay, but they are not willing to say that they’re going to stick around, give their all, and help the company reach the next level. 

Houston, we have a problem.

Developing and maintaining a truly engaged work environment is a choice. It requires commitment from the top to help employees be their best every day. Engaging your employees is work, but worth the effort.

Connecting puzzle pieces

We’ve spelled out the elements of employee engagement below, as well as provided a behind-the-scenes view of some companies that are doing it right.

Transparency

Transparency creates trust. Trust builds credibility. Credibility enables success. 

Transparency means putting the good, the bad, and the ugly on display in an effort to foster a better understanding of everyone’s needs and expectations. Transparency improves team performance by encouraging open dialogue and a free flow of information. Leaders must set the tone from the start and, as the company grows, it becomes the go-to model for the culture. 

At Atlassian, transparency is a big deal. It’s the cornerstone of how we work with each other, our customers, and partners. For example, our engineers are in direct contact with our customers – without talking points or extra training – so they can know everything about any issues they encounter and are better able to address them. We trust them to live our values and they never disappoint.

Communication

Improving your workplace communication can have a huge effect on employee engagement. Highly engaged teams talk often, share information, ask for feedback, check for understanding, and listen to each other. 

Virgin Group is a great example of an employee-centric company culture. When visiting Virgin offices around the world, founder Richard Branson was known for trying to greet every single person in the office. He would send personalized notes and make calls to employees to thank them for their work on special projects. Virgin leadership consistently makes time for open communication, collects feedback, and acts on that feedback to improve the company.

Recognition

Peer-to-peer recognition is a great way to applaud good work outside of the traditional review process. Team members often spend more time with each other than with their supervisors, so they’re in the best position to identify strengths, accomplishments, and areas for growth. By incorporating this type of insight into annual reviews (and anytime, all-the-time feedback) you can create an environment of positive reinforcement and continuous development. 

For example, Duke Energy relies on 360-degree feedback, which encourages employees at every level to complete surveys about their peers. That way each employee gets a clear picture of how well they’re working within their teams and what they should include in their plans for growth.

Social tools

A social platform at work connects employees, making a space for conversations about, well, anything! The weather, current projects, community events – it’s all fair game. Social tools allow employees to make connections across departments and locations, strengthening their bond with the organization.

Nokia created a sense of community by integrating blogging into their internal communications. Employees from all levels can kick off conversations and shed light on issues they face that other departments may not be aware of. Other teams can comment and brainstorm solutions while building camaraderie. 

Mentoring and networking

Organize workplace lunches, send employees to industry conferences and expos, or create other opportunities to get employees talking to each other. The more connected your employees that the company is invested in them and their advancement, the more likely they are to be engaged.

Atlassian regularly puts on events and conferences where employees can learn from industry leaders and share their own work with the world. Atlassian also offers user groups, which help Atlassian users share tips and best practices, and partner events. A wide range of opportunities for mentoring and networking give employees the chance to learn new skills and put them to use.

Employee engagement best practices

Plant sprouting

There is no employee engagement campaign that will magically make your employees fall in love with and commit to your organization. You can’t “Just do it” or press an “Easy” button. The only way to make this change is to re-shape company culture and your employees’ experience. 

That’s no small task. Here are a few steps you can take to get started: 

Open up

Transparency is a must, must, must if you want engaged employees. Start by giving equal access to information within your team and across your company. Default to Open, while remaining choosy about info that needs to be kept under wraps.

Encourage employee connection

Leaders may have the answers, but peers could have better ones. Ask your team to chat with their teammates for gut checks, brainstorms, or just to coordinate the next offsite. This way, they get their work done collaboratively while building solid working relationships.

Lighten the load

Most workers rate themselves as highly stressed having to juggle job and life demands. Lessen their burden by keeping work as sane as possible. Streamline processes, cancel unnecessary meetings, carefully plan projects to space out deadlines, and empower decision making at all levels.

"Developing and maintaining a truly engaged work environment is a choice."

Earn a “best boss” mug

One Gallup study found that 50% of employees leave their companies to find a new boss. The study showed that the more open and approachable the manager can be, the higher their employees’ engagement. The study found similar results for managers that set performance goals and highlight their employees’ strengths. So what does that tell you? Engagement is less about money, status, and power and more about the emotional currency a company and its leaders provide.

Leaders at Atlassian have explored this topic many, many times. Eight of our own shared their secret sauce to engaging employees, while this piece explores the concept of servant leadership. Check out these 17 tips for building trust in your team for things you can start doing right now.

Create safe spaces

Give employees a forum for working together – or simply staying in touch – no matter where they live and work. Set up an internal, online collaboration space and encourage workers to create and participate in groups there.  Make sure to set the tone that all voices are equal and welcome. Engagement levels rise when employees have a way to safely and constructively interact with peers and their leaders.

Prioritize wellness

Do your employees a solid by reminding them to take care of themselves – especially during work hours. Promote work-life integration, allow for flex schedules, and offer the ability to work out of the office. Stock the kitchen with healthy brain food, offer lunchtime yoga or meditation. Take a meeting outside on a nice day and suggest off-site events that promote exercise, like a fundraising run or walk.

Provide a social collaboration platform

Social tools that are designed to help teams work more collaboratively use notes, images, videos, tags, and other formats for a fun, interactive experience. Productivity that’s personal generates buy-in to a project and commitment to the work and the organization.

What’s next in employee engagement?

How we work, where we work, and what employees need to be successful continues to evolve. And therefore, so does employee engagement itself. What’s next in large part will be dictated by the generation entering the workforce now: millennials and Gen Z.

Social is everything, everything is social

Companies are realizing that with 81% of Americans using social media, it makes sense to bring that functionality in-house to encourage the sharing of knowledge, opinions, ideas, and feedback.

Tech native mindset

Millennials and Gen Zs are entering the workforce having grown up with smartphones and social networks, and they expect workplace tools to be just as quick and user-friendly. To keep up, companies should consider embedding the latest tech into the fiber of how they get work done.

Work with meaning

Your next set of leaders care deeply about whether their work changes lives for the better. Companies can prepare by developing and promoting their vision and mission statements and making sure their reason for being helps the greater good. Having a philanthropic arm of the business goes a long way too.

Work/life integration

More and more organizations are opting for programs and opportunities that enable flexibility and the ability for employees to work where and when they’re most productive. And that’s smart, because the next generation expects to work this way – remotely, on the go, at a desk or on a beach.

Everyone wins

“Dream job.” That’s what engaged employees say about their work. To them, it means they love what they do, where they’re doing it, and plan to stick around a long time. To your organization, it means you’ve created an awesome workplace that makes your employees proud to be part of your team. That pride translates into smarter ideas, higher retention, happier customers, and more profit for your company. 

And there’s more! Take a look at our Rules of Engagement play to jump into building an engaged culture today.

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