How to Improve Employee Engagement: A Guide for Managers

12 min read

Now more than ever, employee engagement has become a vital component of a successful workforce. 

From retail to restaurants and manufacturing plants, your employees are essential in keeping businesses running at optimal levels. 

While engaged employees’ intent is to “solve problems, innovate, and acquire new customers”.

Actively disengaged employees “may go as far as undermining your business.”

Whether it’s missing shifts, not bringing their A-game at work or simply not caring enough to think about your company’s long-term vision, disengaged employees can wreak havoc to your business in more ways than one.

It’s difficult enough as it is to find and retain quality employees, let alone worry about the damaging effects that an actively disengaged workforce can bring.

After all:

The best managers understand that their success and that of the organization relies on employees’ achievements.”

The big question is:

How can you improve employee engagement? 

Before we get into that, we need to clarify the true meaning of employee engagement by first explaining what it isn’t.

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Employee Engagement Aren’t Job Perks

While fully stocked fridges, fancy ping pong tables or half-day Fridays are great, they aren’t going to make employees go above and beyond in their job.

Why? Because they’re just that: perks.

Employee engagement has little to do with perks and more to do with a sense of fulfillment.

Employee Engagement Is Not Happiness

You can be happy at work but not necessarily engaged.

Think about the employee serving tables at a restaurant, it can be easy for them, they enjoy the interaction, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re fully engaged in their work. 

Or better yet the job security and structure an office job brings to an administrative assistant.

It may provide happiness on a structural level for an employee but it doesn’t reflect their engagement.

In other words: an employee’s happiness and engagement are not mutually exclusive.

Happiness can contribute to engagement but it’s not enough for employees to go the extra mile and be truly engaged in their job.

Employee Engagement Is Not Employee Satisfaction 

Think of employee satisfaction as “the price of admission”.

In order to be fully engaged, you need to have some degree of satisfaction. 

Yet their satisfaction isn’t the core driver behind their engagement.

An employee can be content with their salary, benefits and working environment but without being engaged with their company.

Experts agree that:

While higher pay and better benefits generally improve a worker’s satisfaction and overall contentment, they don’t truly drive engagement and the extra effort that comes with it.

What drives employee engagement beyond satisfaction, as you’ll discover shortly, has more to do with you than them.

Now that you know what employee engagement isn’t, let’s get down to the true meaning of what it is and why it matters.

What is Employee Engagement?

According to Gallup, engaged employees are “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace“.

In other words: they care enough to help your business achieve their long-term goals.

A quick way to discover if your employees are actively engaged is by seeing whether they put in the time, energy and effort in their job.

For example:

When a replacement is needed to fill in a shift or overtime is asked to pick business up from the ground up, do they willingly help out or find every excuse in the book to avoid it? 

A truly engaged employee will go above & beyond for your team and give their 100% because they believe in the company’s vision and their long-term goals. 

Their passion and energy are what sets them apart and are the driving force behind your business thriving. 

Why Employee Engagement Matters

With over 50 years of employee engagement research, Gallup discovered that :

“Engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees, across industry, company size and nationality, and in good economic times and bad.”

After studying the world’s most successful organizations, they’ve also come to discover that a “culture of high employee development is the most productive environment for both the business and the employees.”

Whereas disengaged employees will simply go through the motions of their job without ever really going above and beyond.

However, the danger zone lies with “actively disengaged employees.

Their high degree of disengagement can wreak havoc on your business in more ways than one.

According to Gallup:

“Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work, they are resentful that their needs aren’t being met and are acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.”

From frequently showing up late to a shift to not showing up at all and bringing negative energy in the workplace by criticizing others, this level of disengagement you want to avoid at all costs.

After all, in this current job climate, the last thing you need to worry about is having a high employee turnover and a bad company reputation.

What Drives Employee Engagement

If a good paycheck, fun working environment or fancy perks don’t drive employee engagement, then what does?

Turns out people want “purpose and meaning from their work, they want to be known for what makes them unique.”

In other words, they want to feel valued and acknowledged for the work they put in. 

It doesn’t stop there.

Now that we know what drives employee engagement, we still haven’t discovered “who” drives employee engagement.

Turns out, the “who” is you: managers and team leaders.

Employees “want relationships, particularly with a manager who can coach them to the next level.”

Here’s the kicker:

 One of Gallup’s biggest discoveries is that the manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement.

70% is HUGE.

After all, nothing is more motivating than having a manager or team leader that genuinely cares about their employees and supports them in their professional growth.

The big question remains: how can you improve employee engagement?

Let’s dive into that!

5 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

1.Communicate More Easily and Frequently

We know employees want an actual relationship with their managers, one that involves focusing on their strengths instead of fixating on their weaknesses.

You can therefore get started on improving your communication with them.

Since communication is the foundation of any great relationship, the question you need to ask yourself is two-fold: 

What method of communication will your team respond best with and which will you be the most receptive on?

Let’s face it, communication is a two-way street. 

The last thing an employee needs is a neglectful and inattentive manager with a 12 hour or more response rate.

In today’s digital age, that’s pretty much the equivalent to being ignored and sends the message that their concerns aren’t important enough to be addressed. 

Whether it’s through a built-in instant messaging platform that keeps your entire team connected or a virtual Google HangOut, you need to keep the communication consistent and easy for everyone on your team.

As Gallup discovered, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them

While having meetings to address employee concerns, responding within an appropriate timeframe and keeping the lines of communication open via instant messaging platforms are all great methods to improve employee engagement, there’s an additional way that’s rarely talked about.

In order to truly maximize engagement with your employees in the communication realm, you need to show an actual interest in your employee’s life that goes beyond their roles and responsibilities.

Employees are human after all, with real-life problems that value meaningful conversations.

Having a vested interest in their actual life outside of work shows that you genuinely care about their well-being.

While you don’t have to play the role of a therapist or be the listening ear to their personal issues, you can easily express an interest in their lives. 

Simply asking them what their plans for the weekend are and following up with them about it the following week is one easy way. 

Another is putting their birthdays on your calendar and wishing them a Happy Birthday the day will be sure to put a smile on their face and make them feel valued.

2. Prioritize Feedback (On Both Ends)

When it comes to offering employee feedback, it should occur more frequently than on an annual or semi quarterly basis.

After all, there’s a lot of learning that takes place on a weekly basis.

If employees don’t know their strong points or areas they need to improve on, there won’t be much growth or encouragement, to begin with.

In a 2018 study, managers who offered optimal amounts of feedback were rated higher by their team than those that didn’t provide enough.

Reason being? 

Employees are purpose-driven and a manager’s feedback directly influences their level of engagement. 

A good place to start is by scheduling weekly check-ins with employees.

For large-sized companies you can encourage middle management to “establish regular review sessions with their team as an ongoing initiative to improve employee engagement.”

By taking the time to prioritize employee feedback and providing individual attention, you’re showing you care enough to hear them out as well as provide valuable feedback that’ll encourage them to succeed.

3. Set Them Up for Success

According to a survey conducted with more than 10,000 people, the number one reason people gave for changing their jobs is career growth.

At the end of the day, if you want employee engagement to be optimal, you need to give employees a reason to stay instead of a reason to leave.

One surefire way is by providing them with the tools and resources they need to succeed. 

Whether it’s hands-on training, online courses, or ensuring they have the right equipment to get their work done while offering professional growth goes a long way in impacting their overall engagement.

In an ever-changing world, employees need to “be able to move quickly to be effective.”

By setting them up for success, you’re offering them the resources to be fully immersed in their job role.

After all, when an employee is psychologically invested in their job and has the optimal resources to work with, they’ll bring their A-game to the team.

4. Acknowledge Top Performers and Reward Them

Ever came across employees who’ll go the extra mile? 

You know the ones who pick up the missed shifts or tasks the rest of the team couldn’t complete and stays later than the rest?

Here’s the truth about these types of employees: they’re high quality and engaged employees, and we all know that combination is hard to find!

Instead of taking them for granted and leveraging their strong work ethic, why not reward and acknowledge them instead?

After all, engaged employees still want to know that “their leadership sees and appreciates their efforts”.

One way of doing this by utilizing your communication or instant messaging channels to “promote acknowledgements to the whole company.”

You can also speak to your HR department about implementing an incentive program as well.

5. Offer Flexible Scheduling 

We all know schedules can be a deal breaker. 

It’s what made Sally from restaurant A decide to leave and work for restaurant B who offered her a flexible working schedule that aligned more with her needs.

Studies have shown time and time again that what one of the top requirements employees (primarily millennials) seek in the workplace is flexibility. 

Flexibility is said to “increase perceived work-life balance, which in turn reduces the stress of commuting, marital conflict, and money spent on childcare.”

In other words:

Happy workforce = More productivity 

While flexibility may mean different things for everyone, there seems to be a consensus around offering flextime.

By offering flexible schedules, employees can enjoy the “life” side of work/life balance such as being there for their kid’s soccer game or dropping them off for daycare.

Case in point: In a study conducted by IBM, when hourly workers (who normally have the most rigid schedules) were given flextime, their work-family difficulties dropped drastically from 42% to 18% and an increase in productivity was seen.

These findings suggest that “people who feel they have control over their work schedules have more perceived control over their lives.”

As a result, employees feel less stressed out and motivated to work since they have a better work/life balance.

Whether your workforce is large or small, one thing’s certain: more companies are getting on board with the benefits that flexible scheduling provides not only for employees but for managers as well.

From increased productivity to better retention and reduced tardiness, offering flexible scheduling is a win/win for everyone.

By choosing the right employee scheduling software to create flexible scheduling that meets everyone’s needs, not only will you save time managing schedules but see an overall increase in employee engagement as well.


Now that you know what employee engagement truly is, why it matters and ways to improve it, you can be well on your way to increasing engagement in the workplace.

Whether you’re a small or large-sized company, one thing’s for certain: employees are the driving force behind your business.

Which is why keeping them engaged should be a top priority.

Need help with recruiting, scheduling and managing your workforce? Start a free trial of Evolia today.

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