Employee engagement

The State of Employee Engagement in 2021: 4 Key Takeaways

Vanessa Kahn
December 1, 2021
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Engaged employees are the wind beneath your organization’s sails. ⛵️

Making sure you don’t hit rocky seas in terms of employee morale and motivation isn’t a set it and forget it process. Instead, the organizations with the most engaged employees are constantly measuring and adjusting employee engagement based on changing company culture and world events. Work doesn’t happen in a vacuum and building employee engagement strategies shouldn’t either.

We recently hosted an event with HR.com with Headspace Health, Guru, and Toast. If you missed it, we collected the key learnings in this handy blog post. We heard from the panelists that no matter where employees work, employee engagement has been a behemoth for HR folks to tackle in 2021. From Zoom fatigue to remote onboarding, employee engagement is a top priority.

After the event, our partners at HR.com surveyed 374 HR professionals from all over the world and the results are enlightening. ✨ We’ve rounded up the most important takeaways below.

Interested in downloading the full report? Grab it here. 

No surprise, employee engagement is inconsistent

Anyone working in HR can tell you anecdotally that employee engagement has been, well, all over the place. So, what did the data say about employee engagement levels in 2021?

When the HR professionals surveyed were asked whether employee engagement levels in their organizations had changed:

  • 52% said their engagement levels have risen (compared to just 37% in 2019)
  • 31% said they have fallen (compared to just 23% in 2019)
  • Only 18% said the levels have not changed in either direction (compared to 40% in 2019)

Now, what do we do with this information? First, we recommend finding a way to measure current levels of engagement in your organization. Establishing a baseline for this metric will allow you to focus on proving the value of certain HR programs or tools by showing the impact on key metrics over time. Consider employee experience and wellness surveys to make sure you’re investing in your employees’ well-being outside of work. From there, identify key areas and groups that need improvement.

One thing we know to be true is that having a peer-to-peer recognition program in place can help improve employee engagement. In fact, 93% of respondents to Bonusly’s recent user survey said that Bonusly improved employee engagement at their organizations. Remember to revisit employee experience and wellness surveys after implementing changes to your company culture to prove the impact of your programs.


We've admitted we have a problem, now what? 

Of those surveyed, most recognized that employee engagement had a large impact on important organizational metrics. For instance, 72% of respondents said employee engagement had a positive impact on employee retention and productivity. We know that retaining employees and increasing productivity results in better profit.

So, were organizations taking action to prioritize employee engagement? Survey says: not really. The survey found just 30% indicate senior leaders prioritize engagement, and only 24% say their organizations invest enough in engagement-related resources.

Don’t be discouraged! We see this low stat as an opportunity to convince senior leadership of the opportunity to prioritize employee engagement—and we think this blog post might help.

Measuring employee engagement is hard!

Let’s get the bad news out of the way: more than a third of those surveyed said they don’t measure employee engagement at all. 😱 That stat is in stark contrast to the 88% of respondents that said they believed there was an effective way to measure engagement.

Where's the disconnect? Measuring engagement is difficult to nail down and HR professionals lack consensus on which metrics to use. It’s one thing to acknowledge the importance of employee engagement, but measuring it is a whole different ball game! We have some suggestions on how to get started:

  • Survey your employees: If you’re looking for a place to start, here’s our guide to constructing the perfect employee engagement survey. Checking in with your employees directly will give you a great set of data as a jumping-off point.
  • Turnover rate: The percentage of employees leaving over a period of time can be a great barometer for employee engagement. Check out our cost of turnover calculator to understand the repercussions of turnover at your organization. Gallup's golden rule is to aim for 10% turnover or less. Of course, it’s important to take into consideration larger cultural events like the Great Resignation when assessing turnover at your organization.
  • Validate gut feelings with quick pulse surveys: In addition to robust and consistent employee engagement surveys, consider implementing more frequent pulse surveys. This can help validate observations you may notice about your team’s engagement. For instance, if your team seems less productive than usual, perhaps you have an issue with too many meetings you need to address. 
  • Segment your results: Once you have a good grasp on your overall data, segment your results by department, office location, tenure, etc. and look for patterns and areas to focus your energy and efforts. For example, you might identify that remote workers are disengaged because your organization doesn’t have the right infrastructure set up to make their remote experience inclusive and successful. These takeaways can arm you with data to convince the executive team of the need for remote work stipends, better meeting conference tools, and outlined processes for bridging the gap between in-person and remote employees.

Looking for ways to engage your remote or hybrid workforce? Download our hybrid work guide!

Who are the unicorns of organizations with high engagement levels? 

What’s the secret sauce to more engaged employees? 🍔 Well, to start, these organizations are:

  • Over 2x as likely to maintain a positive work culture
  • Over 2x as likely to say their leaders communicate clear expectations and take time to listen
  • 2x as likely to say leaders invest enough in engagement-related resources

Now that you have the data, let’s look at some resources that could help.

  • If you’ve diagnosed a company culture issue, but don’t know where to start, check out 10 Dead Simple Ways to Improve Your Company Culture.
  • If you know leadership needs to improve taking action on employee feedback, consider if you have the right tools in place to gather, understand, and act on employee feedback. Check out Bonusly Signals, our feedback gathering tool built to help you build a culture of feedback.
  • Lastly, if you’re concerned about your investment in employee engagement tools, check out our roundup of tools to build the ultimate HR tech stack.

Your employee engagement strategy will likely be just as unique as your organization. If you want to dig deeper into employee engagement, we recommend checking out our comprehensive employee engagement guide. With a tight labor market and the Great Resignation in full effect, there’s never been a better time to address employee engagement at your organization.

For a detailed analysis and additional statistics about the state of employee engagement in 2021, go ahead and grab the report. 👇

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