The Essential Employee Engagement Guide

10 Data-Driven Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is a wide-reaching and complex subject. To get started, here are 10 data-driven ways to improve employee engagement, based on our recent Employee Engagement and Modern Workplace Report and other research:

Measure engagement

"Highly engaged organizations are more likely than other organizations to measure engagement, and they are more likely to measure it more than once a year."-Bonusly's State of Employee Engagement

You're going to have a hard time improving your employee engagement levels if you don't know what your levels are in the first place!

It's important to collect data around employee engagement to understand where your team is at, understand what areas need to improve the most, and have a benchmark for future efforts.

If you're not already doing so, use an employee engagement survey, and make sure that survey is both relevant and actionable. A great place to start is with Gallup's Q12 survey, which consists of 12 carefully crafted questions that measure the most important elements of employee engagement.

After gathering responses (aim for 100% participation!) and reviewing the data, share the results with your teams. Transparency is important! Discuss trends and ideas, then determine where you should put your resources based on results.

Pie Chart

Here's an important next question: How often should you send out these employee engagement surveys?

Our answer: More than once a year!

It's extremely difficult to have a complete understanding of your workplace with annual surveys. They're heavily dependent on an employee's current engagement levels, and don't provide an accurate view of their day-to-day feelings. Plus, if there's a circumstance that you receive feedback about, wouldn't you want to address it soon after it happens, instead of six months later?

We highly recommend pulse surveys: frequent, short surveys meant to capture a snapshot of your organization's current vibes. Instead of one gigantic survey wrapping up your year, you break it down and receive actionable feedback year-round.

Coach leadership

"Employees who are supervised by Highly Engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by Actively Disengaged managers."
Gallup's 2017 State of American Workplace

An organization's leadership team and managers have a huge impact on employee engagement. It might not come as a surprise, but if your manager is engaged, you're much more likely to be engaged yourself.

To improve engagement, start by coaching leadership and keeping them accountable. Think about who's moved into leadership roles and how they influence your team. Listen to leaders, and equip them with the right education to be engaged and engage your team.

At the same time, encourage them to attend onboarding sessions for new employees to set the right tone. And when analyzing engagement, consider the leadership level of respondents if possible.

Onboard thoughtfully

"Highly Engaged employees are 2.3x more likely to feel confident in their organization's onboarding program than Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

Onboarding is a key time to connect new employees with their work, team goals, and organizational mission. Looking back at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, onboarding is an essential time for that middle step of Belonging. Think about your own onboarding experience and what stands out. Does it excite new employees, or overwhelm them?

When planning your own onboarding program, be sure to follow best practices like:

  • Introducing mentors that aren't direct managers to guide new employees in their first 12 months
  • Involving executive leadership in onboarding presentations and events
  • Prioritizing relationship building with new employees' coworkers
  • Creating smooth transitions from onboarding to regular work cadence

Need more guidance? Read our ultimate checklist for candidate interviews and employee onboarding.

Prioritize wellness

"62% of Highly Engaged employees feel their work positively affects their physical health compared to 22% of Actively Disengaged employees."
Gallup's Management Journal Employee Engagement Index Survey

"Actively Disengaged employees are 59% more likely to often feel anxious at work compared to Highly Engaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

When we talk about employee wellness, it includes both physical and mental wellness. Often overlooked, wellness is a powerful factor in employee engagement. Our basic needs, from rest to nutrition to stability need to be met before we can even think about higher level needs!

When it comes to physical health, is your company encouraging healthy living? Do your employees get enough sleep each night? Are they eating healthy inside and outside of work? Are they comfortable in the office?

As for mental health, do your company culture and benefits work together to create a welcoming and supportive environment for employees built on trust? Do you have a psychologically safe workplace? Do you offer a flexible work schedule? Do employees have work-life balance? Can employees talk openly about leaving for appointments with expectation of privacy?

Wellness–in and out of the office–is crucial to helping employees bring their full focus and engagement to their work.

Focus on feedback

"Highly Engaged employees are 2.3x more likely to say that their organization takes their feedback seriously than Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

"93% of Highly Engaged employees feel like they receive adequate feedback for their role and contributions compared to only 41% of Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

You simply can't have engagement without feedback. That means taking feedback from your team as well as giving feedback.

Mobile Cubes

If you're not already doing so, solicit feedback from your employees. Make it easy, offer anonymous methods, and test your feedback system to make sure it's easy and accessible.

Once you receive feedback, make sure leadership acts on that feedback. Even if changes aren't made, share your reasons why–at organization-wide meetings when appropriate, or privately.

An organization that doesn't listen to its employees is one that's likely to produce disengaged employees. Feedback is based upon the hope that the recipient will improve–and you never want your employees to not care about the ways you can improve.

Recognize contributions

"86% of Highly Engaged employees were recognized the last time they went above and beyond at work compared to only 31% of Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

"Highly Engaged employees are 2.7x more likely to work for a company with a peer employee recognition program than Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

The most powerful factor that predicts employee engagement levels is recognition. Highly engaged organizations are far more likely to recognize employees for a job well done than their peers.

"We usually fill in a negative when we don't hear anything"
-Paul White, author of
The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

It's important to give recognition; it's more important that the receiver feels recognized. Keep in mind that your coworkers may (and likely do) prefer to be recognized differently than you do. Learn how your team prefers to be recognized, and bridge the appreciation gap to maximize your benefits.

Effective recognition follows best practices and prioritizes peer recognition. It's timely, frequent, specific, visible, inclusive and values-based. When giving recognition, think about using the SBI model instead of just saying "good job"–that means describing the situation, the behavior that occurred, and the impact of that behavior.

Consider a recognition platform that meets your team where they're at and makes recognition accessible. Bonusly is an employee recognition and rewards program that empowers teams to enrich company culture, available on the web, mobile apps, and integrations with chat platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams as well as HRIS systems like BambooHR and Namely.

Want to learn more about employee recognition and see examples of employee recognition in action? Check out our Guide to Modern Employee Recognition.

Foster innovation

"Highly Engaged employees are 2.9x more likely to report working for an innovative organization than Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

Think about ways that your company can protect time to work on new, creative initiatives. You'll find that your employees' personal interest and passion projects can often lead to innovative, financially-impactful solutions for your company.

At Bonusly, we reserve a week every quarter for our team to work on something outside of their normal day-to-day projects. We call them our "hackathons!"

During these hackathons, we're able to bring together teams from different departments to work on creative projects with support from the entire organization. In addition to being a great team-bonding exercise, our hackathons have produced more streamlined processes and actual products!

Idea Books

It's also necessary to give your team autonomy. Laszlo Bock, former leader of People Ops at Google shares sage advice in his book, Work Rules:

"Give people slightly more trust, freedom, and authority than you are comfortable giving them. If you're not nervous, you haven't given them enough."

For an engaged workplace, encourage creativity and innovation on your team by supporting a culture that celebrates experimentation, welcoming failure, and reflecting after projects.

Encourage professional development

"89% of Highly Engaged employees are satisfied with their professional development opportunities compared to only 36% of Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

Here's a well-known but powerful exchange from Peter Baeklund:

A CFO asks a CEO, "What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?"
CEO: "What happens if we don't, and they stay?"


Part of your job is to help your team achieve their professional goals. That can manifest itself in many different ways, from internal workshops to team lunch n' learns to external education stipends. Employees focused on positive growth opportunities at their current role are more likely to stay engaged and less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Work with managers to implement career conversations in regular meetings with direct reports. Equip them with the skills to understand their team and help them plan for the future.

If your employees have the opportunity to work toward and be rewarded for reaching their goals, they'll be more engaged with their work and in turn, help the organization reach success.

Embrace transparency

"Highly Engaged employees are 2.1x more likely to report working for a transparent organization than Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

A transparent work environment fosters trust, which leads to a sense of belonging and stability. It also gives employees the necessary contest to understand how their own role connects with the wider team and stakeholders.

Look for opportunities to make your own organization more transparent. Consider defaulting to transparency. By making transparency the modus operandi, you'll always strive for transparency unless there's a particularly compelling reason not to. It means that concealing is the exception.

Start by discussing important company metrics at organization-wide meetings. Be vulnerable and ask for feedback. Work to break down barriers between teams by facilitating cross-team relationships through tools like Donut.

Collaboration Paper Airplane

Focus on purpose

"75% of millennials are willing to take a paycut to work for a values-driven company."
Cone Communications' 2016 Millennial Employee Engagement Study

"95% of Highly Engaged employees feel like their job contributes to society compared to only 64% of Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2020 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

Extrinsic motivation (motivation provided by external factors, like receiving a salary or health benefits) is necessary to an extent. People need to have enough to take care of themselves and their family.

However, thinking back to Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, intrinsic motivation (motivation from internal factors, like a personal desire to do good in the world) is necessary for our higher-level needs. Jobs need to provide meaning.

Scrutinize your company's mission and values. Then put them into action with the goal of your team embodying them every day. Your employees should know what the organization stands for and whether or not that aligns with their own values.

While you can't give an employee a sense of purpose, you can help them discover it for themselves. Show employees the positive effects their work has on their colleagues, the company, and the world around them to help encourage a sense of purpose.

Zach Mercurio shared a powerful story of purpose from one of his recent workshops:

A group of supply chain managers was recently asked, "Why does your job exist?"

A woman in the back of the room raised her hand and said, "I found out why last month. I got diagnosed with cancer and was in an MRI machine. I looked up and realized we distribute a widget in that model. I realized my job existed all this time to save my own life."

Talk about an antidote to disengagement. The group was instantly more energized, creative and passionate. When people can see that their work matters to another person, they are more motivated.

How does your own work impact others both inside and outside the company?

Now that you know the factors that cause turnover, what can you do to fix it? Keep reading to find out.

Want a head start? Check out Bonusly’s employee engagement platform for a turnkey employee engagement booster by requesting a demo.

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