Employee engagement is critical for success. It drives everything from an organization’s culture to its productivity, helping to define its work environment. An engaged employee base is far more likely to be the innovative, driven asset that every organization needs to drive growth and market share. But what are the key drivers of employee engagement itself?
We’ve isolated 13 separate engagement drivers that, together, propel organizations toward their goals – both culture and performance-based – to help them reach their vision. Along with academic research and guidance from industry experts, these drivers also helped form the basis for our Employee Engagement Framework & Survey Templates, which Human Resources can use as a foundation for their engagement strategy.
As you’ll see, while any of the following 13 drivers can provide a significant boost to employee engagement levels on their own, tapping into their collective strength is what truly separates ordinary enterprises from extraordinary ones.
While this driver might seem redundant at first, it serves as the critical centerpiece for all of the other drivers. It’s more of an all-encompassing factor that relates to an employee's overall feelings of engagement and attachment to the company.
In essence, the engagement driver is a high-level litmus test that gives an employer a general overview of engagement levels, relying on the other 12 drivers to drill into specific areas and employee feelings. When engagement is low, it corresponds with low favorability towards the organization, a person's work, the work environment, or any number of aspects crucial to a successful organization.
The company performance driver informs an employee's perception of how well the organization is performing and if it’s able to meet its goals. If employees sense that their company is outperforming the competition and dominating the marketplace, they’re naturally more ready, willing, and able to engage with their work, coworkers, and employer. However, if employees have a negative view of company performance – whether their perspective is accurate or not – it often leads to low overall morale, eventually affecting productivity.
Measuring how employees perceive company performance is a convenient way to gauge the overall attitude towards the company, and how well the organization is communicating company successes or failures to its people. Employees thrive on transparency, allowing them to feel as if their thoughts, attitudes, and opinions are relevant and vital. Communicating both good and bad news on company performance lends itself to greater transparency and better employee engagement.
No matter the size of an organization or its industry, leadership will always be an absolutely key engagement driver. It speaks to an employee's confidence in senior leadership to make healthy, well-informed decisions. Like the company performance driver, attitudes on the relationship between leadership and employees work as a barometer for more far-reaching perceptions on culture, vision, and the importance of teamwork and communication.
Organizations that need to improve this engagement driver often have employee bases that feel disconnected and siloed from decision-makers. In these instances, it's common for a person to feel as if leadership doesn't "walk the talk." In other words, leadership's actions don't align with their message, creating a distance between seniors and employees that can drag on engagement levels.
This driver differs from the leadership driver in that it relates specifically to an employee's experience and relationship with their direct supervisor. Good relationships between employees and managers are essential to ensuring that work is getting done and that employees are growing and thriving.
Aside from their coworkers, managers are the people that have the most interaction with an individual employee. As such, managers have a significant impact on individual engagement levels as well as the job satisfaction needed for employee retention.
A manager is usually the individual that has the most significant impact on an employee’s engagement levels.
Also, if an employee has low engagement levels with the overall company but enjoys working with and for their manager, they're more likely to stay put and go the extra mile, despite their attitude to the employer itself. Alternatively, an employee might really like their employer but, if they have a poor relationship with their manager, they’re more likely to put in the bare minimum of work or even leave the company. Therefore, a manager is usually the individual that has the most significant impact on an employee’s engagement levels.
This engagement driver stems from employees’ interactions with their coworkers, often demonstrating whether or not they feel a sense of safety, trust, and camaraderie. Since most employees spend the majority of their time with their peers, this is a critical engagement driver that reflects on teamwork and cohesion. If someone feels as if others aren't doing their equal share of work, for instance, it's likely to negatively impact their overall engagement with the organization. Likewise, if they lack trust in their team or don't feel they’re a part of a team in the first place, their engagement level will likely be lower.
This is a broad driver that relates to the quality of communication, both company-wide and within an employee's own team. It also reflects on the leadership engagement driver, speaking on the effectiveness of communication lines between senior levels and employees. Naturally, communication is vital for everything from culture and vision to individual productivity and company performance.
When an organization doesn't have effective communication, every other engagement driver breaks down, obviously having a massive impact on employee engagement levels. Everything springs from healthy communication, and any broken link in the chain impacts every employee and corner of the organization.
Workload is another driver that works in conjunction with others on this list. It gauges whether an individual employee feels their responsibilities are manageable and, in a broader sense, if work is fair and equally distributed across a team. If a specific employee feels overworked, underappreciated, or as if others aren't pulling their equal weight, their overall engagement levels are bound to fall.
Likewise, if a person feels overwhelmed, it feeds into a lack of safety, security, and trust, all affecting the collaboration and teamwork engagement driver as well. From a performance perspective, excessive workloads lead to shoddy work as employees cut corners to make deadlines and meet their quotas. Therefore, the workload engagement driver is imperative for both employee morale as well as performance standards.
As an engagement driver, a sense of purpose connects an individual to the organization at a personal level. Instead of determining how well an employee aligns with a company's mission statement or values, this driver reflects on how important or valuable someone feels their contributions are to their team and company. Employees with a greater sense of purpose towards their role are more likely to be engaged in their work and motivated to succeed.
Although closely linked to a sense of purpose, meaningful work is a separate engagement driver based on how inspired a person feels towards their work and if they're personally motivated to succeed. For example, an employee could lack a sense of purpose within a company through work that feels unappreciated. However, that same employee could still feel as if their work is meaningful if it leads to bigger career opportunities or allows them to use a particular skill set.
The environment engagement driver relies on both a physical and psychological work environment to provide employees with a sense of safety. The physical component of this driver relates to a couple of different notions – the level of physical safety an employee feels as they perform their job, as well as their level of comfort, including everything from lighting and ergonomic keyboards to accessibility features and decor. When employees feel as if their work is dangerous or the environment itself is unhealthy and unappealing, it's likely to create disengaged employees.
Factors like diversity and hostility levels will influence employee engagement dramatically.
On the psychological side, a mental and emotional sense of safety can encompass a lot of different things. Factors like diversity and hostility levels will influence employee engagement dramatically. Also, a sense of safety in both the physical and psychological environment is important in avoiding lawsuits as well as disruptions that can have cascading effects across the entire organization.
Feedback and recognition, as drivers of engagement, are incredibly important for overall employee engagement, but are often overlooked. When employees receive feedback from their managers or the organization itself, it makes them feel better about themselves, their work, and their place within the company. Feedback and recognition help breed a culture where everyone is striving to do their best, something that obviously reflects well on the entire organization and its overall performance.
Without sufficient feedback on performance, employees never have a good understanding of how their individual work stands up against standards, or what their work means for the bigger picture. Closely linked with the communication driver, if a person continues to miss out on promotions, never gets a raise, and continuously gets work returned to them, they'll inevitably become disengaged without feedback explaining the underlying issues to them. When this happens on a larger scale, turnover rises, labor costs escalate, and margins shrink.
Both personal and career-related growth help drive engagement within an organization. Employees don't want to feel as if they're stuck in a dead-end job. Instead, they want to know that there is room to progress and climb the corporate ladder. This driver has become much more important in recent years as employees are now far more willing to change employers if they don't feel like they have career development opportunities. In fact, low growth engagement scores almost always go hand-in-hand with higher turnover rates.
While we've discussed in the past how money isn't the most important engagement driver as many think, compensation and benefits are obviously still vital to keep employees motivated and engaged. When a person sees that their pay and benefits package is noticeably worse than those in similar organizations, they can quickly feel undervalued. Once this occurs, performance suffers and employees start looking for other jobs. Needless to say, something like poor benefits can have a considerable impact on employee engagement levels.
All 13 of these engagement drivers provide employers with a valuable sense of direction in their employee engagement strategies. They can inform the engagement survey questions that reveal the insights needed to maximize engagement. However, it’s important to remember that each of these drivers is dynamic and fluid, just like an employee base.
Therefore, paying consistent attention to these engagement drivers and their levels within an employee base is critical for identifying and addressing trends before they spread and become much bigger problems. When integrated within an effective engagement survey strategy, these 13 drivers allow HR and managers to draw granular details from specific employee segments that drive action plans and emphatic, positive results.