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Engaged employees in the workplace
6 Min Read

What Employee Engagement Means

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Stefanie Jansen

You’ve heard it. You’ve considered it. But do you really know what it is? More importantly, why should you care? Employee engagement is no longer a differentiator. It’s a requirement for any organization that expects to be and stay competitive in an era of accelerating change.

The history and evolution of employee engagement

As a society, we have gauged engagement and success at work differently over time. Employers have historically measured workers’ performance and their compensation based on their output.

But we’ve changed greatly as a society — in what we value, the products we use, the way we communicate, and how we spend our leisure time — which have all had an effect on how we function at work.

Some reports even predict that 65% of children entering elementary school today will end up in a job that doesn’t even exist yet.



9 to 5

Flex hours



Incentivized by money

Incentivized by meaning/impact

On-the-job presence

Remote availability




The definition of employee engagement

Here’s how we at 15Five define employee engagement:

An employee’s intellectual (head) and emotional (heart) connection with an employer, demonstrated by motivation and commitment (hands) to positively impact the company vision and goals.

Engagement isn’t summed up in a series of annual survey responses. It’s not an award or rating that an outside party gives you. It’s simply the way your employees feel about your company and what it stands for — and how they demonstrate that in their daily work.

Satisfaction vs. engagement: understanding the difference

On the surface, “job satisfaction” and “employee engagement” seem interchangeable. But a happy employee doesn’t always mean a healthy one.

In the past, company leaders have demonstrated this misunderstanding by simply throwing money at the problem of disengaged workers with increased pay and perks. But when employee engagement is built on motivation and commitment, those things won’t do much to make people stay.

Think of it this way:

Job satisfaction: You’re leaning back in your chair. Not unhappy, but not all that excited about your work either.

Employee engagement: You’re leaning forward in your chair. You’re excited and motivated to do great work and move the business forward.

To solve the problem of disengagement, leaders must get to the heart of the matter by allowing employees to voice their opinions before they’re headed out the door.

By surveying employees with questions that are based on actual psychological drivers of engagement, you can generate more valid results that address underlying disengagement instead of mere dissatisfaction.

Job Satisfaction

Employee Engagement

Asking employees if they’re “happy”

Surveying around proven engagement drivers

Relying solely on perks like bonuses and free snacks

Drilling down deep to address fundamental issues

Conducting a one-time annual survey

Regularly polling to keep a pulse on the employee voice

Surveying for “vanity metrics” to benefit PR and recruitment

Surveying for real, non-filtered feedback

The state of disengagement: is your company at risk?

Don’t think you have an employee engagement problem? Consider this: a whopping 70% of Americans say they’re currently disengaged in their jobs, according to research from Gallup. Even companies with “cool” cultures and otherwise engaged employees could be at risk of disengagement.

You prepare your yearly and quarterly sales goals, you analyze your financials, and you pour over your customer service data. Why not your employee engagement levels?

If you think the risk is minimal, think again. Lack of employee engagement not only affects your culture and ability to recruit top talent but can also have a detrimental impact on your bottom line and ability to compete in the marketplace.

The massive potential for employee engagement (and what to do about it)

Companies who focus on engaging their employees (and keeping them engaged) stand to make substantial gains in a number of ways. In addition to positive impacts on culture and morale, employee engagement also increases your overall productivity, retention, and revenue.

To ignore the need for employee engagement would not only cause you to miss out on incredible opportunities for profit and innovation, but could even result in massive turnover and, thus, huge costs to replace talent and stay afloat.

Chances are, you already know engaging your employees is important — you’re just not sure where to start.

3 necessary steps to measuring true employee engagement

There’s no one “magic formula” to solving the problem of employee disengagement. But by implementing the following three solutions, you can build an effective strategy for (re)engaging employees and yielding better results as a business.

1. Get the data you need

You can’t improve your employee engagement if you don’t know where you’re starting from. But one-time annual surveys are often clunky, irrelevant, and can leave you with more information then you know what to do with.

Checking in with employees on a more regular cadence (i.e., quarterly) that isn’t too frequent but allows you enough time to react and take action is best. 

We call this “agile engagement,” a methodology that allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of your organization with regular feedback you can take real action on.

2. Dig deep for the insights you need

If you’re unable to dig in and slice and dice your data, it will be more difficult to make changes for different types of employees with different needs.

At Emplify, we slice and dice engagement data based on segments like these:

  • Role type (tenure, seniority level)
  • Location (office, remote)
  • Department (division, team)
  • Gender
  • Generation

By segmenting the data, you’ll know exactly where to make a change when you uncover an engagement problem in a particular area.

3. Take action, then measure again

Survey data alone won’t help you increase employee engagement. Demonstrating to employees that their voice is heard positively impacts engagement by supporting a listening environment in which employees feel empowered and supported.

Make effective use of your feedback analysis and time:

  • Communicate the results to your team to show you heard what they had to say and share the specific changes you’ll make to address their feedback.
  • Use your segmented data to make action plans that address the needs of those unique groups.
  • Follow up with employees with qualitative or open-ended questions that address more specific concerns or needs they may have. This allows you to pinpoint opportunities for improvement and help you crowdsource some great ideas with your employees.

Remember — the process doesn’t stop there. To effectively improve employee engagement and achieve your ideal culture, you must continue the process by regularly measuring, assessing, and taking action on results.

Measure, take action, repeat.