Employee engagement

What Is Employee Engagement?

Connie Du
May 7, 2020
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This is the first chapter in our series about employee engagement! Get ahead of the game by downloading the whole guide here

To start off, employee engagement is the emotional commitment an employee has to their work, their team's goals, and their company's mission.

Engaged employees feel like:

  • They have a purpose at their company,
  • Are aware of how their work helps them grow, and;
  • Understand the impact they make on others.

Many people have different definitions of employee engagement, associating their own meanings with the term and making a relatively simple subject more confusing than it needs to be. Leadership and employee engagement expert Kevin Kruse offered a useful disambiguation for what employee engagement isn't:

"Employee engagement does not mean employee happiness."
"Employee engagement doesn't mean employee satisfaction."

This isn't to say that happiness and satisfaction are not part of employee engagement—in fact, they're integral elements of the larger ecosystem that drives engagement. So how do you inspire emotional commitment? The first step is to understand what drives it.

Every company is different, as is every employee. To support an emotional commitment from employees, organizations have to create a strong, tailored cultural foundation to truly achieve high levels of employee engagement.

Now, let's dive into the factors that drive the kind of great company culture that prioritizes employee engagement. 🏊


The human yearning for purpose in work isn't a new idea. It's a universal human desire!

"92% of Actively Engaged employees feel that their job contributes to society, versus 44.6% of Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2019 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

Considering that we'll spend an average of 35% of our waking lives at work, to find purpose and meaning at work contributes a lot to a meaningful life.

Over the past 40 years, researchers confirm that people seem to have an inherent need and desire for meaningful work—work that is experienced as significant and purposeful.

Today, experiencing a sense of purpose in work is more important than ever.

The research supports it: Organizations that enable the experience of purpose in work inspire their people to be more engaged, motivated, and fulfilled.

It can feel disheartening to read this if your job doesn't seem stereotypically aspirational, but this story from Zach Mercurio showcases how every worker has the potential to make a difference. Internalize this idea, and then communicate it to your wider team!

Here are a few ways to communicate purpose to your employees:

  • Regularly show people how their work benefits others
  • Tie their everyday tasks to a bigger purpose worth committing to
  • Make contribution goals more important than achievement goals

What it comes down to is a clear and concise message of how your company's mission makes an impact. When you get this communication right, you can help people experience positive meaning and stay engaged with their work.

Psychological safety

When a workplace is psychologically safe, it means that employees are comfortable being vulnerable with each other and taking risks, without fear of punishment or embarrassment.

And it's not necessarily about being nice to each other.

Dr. Amy Edmonson, professor at the Harvard Business School and a leading researcher on team performance and psychological safety, explains: "What [psychological safety is] about is candor; what it's about is being direct, taking risks, being willing to say, ‘I screwed that up.' Being willing to ask for help when you're in over your head."

As you can imagine, psychological safety is crucial to employee engagement. Without it, employees are less likely to take ownership over their projects and bring their whole selves to work.


In a recent pay and benefits survey, 76% of respondents chose a flexible work schedule as the best incentive their employer could offer.

The definition of flexible schedules varies at every organization, but generally, these schedules are flexible in that employees aren't required to be at their desks for eight hours a day. Scheduling a doctor's appointment or running out to pick up kids from school during "work hours" is acceptable and encouraged. It signals that you trust your employees to get their work done.

Flexible work schedules are prevalent at modern organizations, and offering this kind of flexibility is a common perk for "Best Places to Work" honorees. This trend allows workers to stay engaged with work on their own terms.

Flexible work schedules are appreciated by most job seekers, and they're now expected by many prospective employees, especially those applying for remote positions. In a workplace preference survey, 77% of millennials indicated that a more flexible work schedule would heighten their productivity—a sentiment echoed by similar studies. It's a major motivator and engager, and will continue to be as we develop the technology necessary to make remote work seamless.


At its core, inclusion is the degree to which employees feel "valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organization."

A company's workforce may be diverse, but if employees do not feel safe, welcomed, and valued, that company isn't inclusive and will not perform to its highest potential. On the flipside, in inclusive cultures, companies foster a sense of equity, belonging, engagement, and psychological safety for all employees.

When employees feel comfortable at work and can bring their whole selves to the office, they're happier and more innovative.

Professional development

"85.4% of Actively Engaged employees work at companies that offer professional development opportunities, versus 35.4% of Actively Disengaged employees."
Bonusly's 2019 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

Employees now expect a wide range of learning and development opportunities to stay engaged and invested in their roles, and are especially interested in programs that equip them for the future. Engaged employees have the drive to grow and improve, and failing to empower their development can lead to stagnation.

Instead of thinking about professional development as subsidizing training costs for an employee's next employer, view it as an investment in human capital. Continued learning is a critical component of an engaged team, where leaders have the ability to directly influence the growth of individuals.


Employee recognition is the open acknowledgement and expressed appreciation for an employee's contributions to their organization—and it's one of the fastest-growing trends related to employee engagement.

That's because recognizing employees and rewarding them is a powerful way to improve employee engagement. When asked what leaders could do to improve engagement, 58% of professionals recommended giving recognition.

According to our Employee Engagement and Modern Workplace ReportHighly Engaged employees are 2.1x more likely to work for a company with an employee recognition program than Actively Disengaged employees. You can't really argue with the facts! 💡

Aside from its effects on employee engagement, recognition statistics show that it can reduce turnover, enhance productivity, and improve morale.

You can make the most of a strong employee recognition program by using specific, timely, frequent, and visible recognition.

Recognition can be helpful by itself, but by tying recognition to real rewards, organizations will see greater adoption and return on program costs. One Deloitte report "found that employees who receive regular small rewards, in the form of money, points, or thanks, are a staggering eight times more engaged than those who receive compensation and bonus increases once a year."

Gone are the days of employee nomination programs. Offering varied and creative rewards can help you win employee advocates and create a positive effect on employee engagement.

These are the pillars of a strong company culture, but the question remains: Is the effort to improve employee engagement worth it? See our answer in the next chapter. ➡️

If you’re looking for an easy way to start improving employee engagement, we invite you to take a tour of the Bonusly and join one of our recognition experts for a demo.

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