10 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement (Tips for Hiring, Onboarding, and More)

Employee engagement has become the holy grail of the business world. Get it right, and you could see a boost in productivity, higher innovation, increased retention, and a better reputation for your organization. What’s more, it keeps your staff happy too.

But the magnitude of these benefits is exactly what makes employee engagement difficult for organizations to perfect. Poor employee engagement can lead to declining morale, disruptive turnover, and lost opportunities—and once your organization succumbs, it can be difficult to get back on track. What’s more, you’ll need to ensure your well-meaning strategy doesn’t stray into cringeworthy Michael Scott-isms or empty words.

In this article, we’ll cover how to improve employee engagement at every step of the employee lifecycle–from tips on hiring to finding insights in exit interviews.

Along the way, we'll also offer expert tips for measuring employee engagement over time. At BambooHR, our award-winning software helps HR professionals trade tedious spreadsheets for accurate people analytics that capture the state of your business in real time.

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How to Define Employee Engagement

The polling company Gallup has been tracking employee engagement in the U.S. since 2000. While there are many definitions of employee engagement, Gallup’s survey divides employees into three categories:

Gallup reports a slow decline in U.S. employee engagement since the start of the pandemic – dropping from 36% in 2020, down to 32% in 2022. Active disengagement increased by 14% to 18% in the same period. The ratio between actively engaged and actively .disengaged employees now stands at 1.8 to 1.0 – the lowest since 2013.

Gallup cites a decline in several key metrics, which they term ‘engagement elements’ Employees feel less connected to their companies, are less clear on what is expected of them, and have fewer opportunities to learn and grow1. The findings demonstrate a clear disconnect between employers and employees on the global stage.

However, some organizations appear to have bucked the trend – and have doubled the average employee engagement. Gallup notes how these companies have embraced flexibility, maintained strong relationships between staff and managers, and kept employee wellbeing at the front and center of their operation1.

10 Tips To Improve Your Employee Engagement Strategy

The benefits of increasing employee engagement are reasonably clear. According to Top Workplaces, unwanted staff turnover can drop, and productivity can increase. You might even boost your own profile as an employer.

But for many businesses, the strategy for boosting employee engagement is less clear. Let’s go through 10 ways to improve employee engagement.

1. Invest in Software Tools for Employee Engagement

If you're serious about measuring and improving employee engagement, you'll need the right HR software.

Human resources professionals often struggle to measure employee engagement. Not only is it an intangible, sometimes subjective dimension of organizational health, but employees aren't always forthcoming about their true feelings.

Instead of struggling with Google Forms and spreadsheets, we recommend investing in an all-in-one HR software. This type of technology (often referred to as an HRIS) bring the full spectrum of HR activities into a complete, centralized software. These include:

BambooHR brings these features—and more—into a complete, intuitive platform that puts employee engagement metrics at your fingertips. Plus, our vast array of integrations seamlessly sync with our platform, so you can continue using many of the tools you know and love.

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2. Make Sure Hiring Aligns With Company Culture and Values

When you’re hiring new employees, the decisions you make can lead to dramatically different results, not only in individual employee engagement but also in workforce engagement across the organization. Every new hire has the potential to shake up how employees interact with each other, either reinforcing your organization’s values or detracting from your culture.

To be a great hire, a new employee needs to align with the organization in several different aspects:

In brief, job candidates will ask themselves two main questions:

When employees can answer both questions with an enthusiastic yes, they’re ready to engage with your organization.

During the Great Recession, some employers took the second question for granted. But when the economy is strong and there are more job openings than available candidates, it becomes more important than ever to keep new employees engaged. This isn’t just about employee engagement in HR terms but also the financial impact of poor hiring.

Consider a 2018 survey from Jobvite, which indicated that 33% of new hires quit within the first 90 days (those are some crowded off-ramps). Factor in an oft-cited SHRM statistic that lists $4,129 as the average cost-per-hire, and it becomes clear that each mis-hire can affect your personnel budget, making it even harder to make a good hire.

Strategies for Effective Hiring

Write job descriptions, not employee descriptions. Sometimes hiring managers base their job ad on their best employee instead of analyzing the real requirements to do the job. This can lead to distorted expectations from the organization while excluding qualified applicants from the recruiting process. And if a candidate meets these high expectations, there may not be room to grow with your organization, limiting opportunities for employee engagement.

Identify training capacity. It’s easier for candidates to align with the organization when the organization is also able to make adjustments. For each job description, identify which skills are needed from day one and which skills can be learned or refined on the job.

Develop a compensation plan – and stick to it. Even if talent is in short supply, making comp exceptions to get someone in the door is a bad idea. According to a study from compensation research firm PayScale, how your employees perceive your compensation plan has five times the impact on engagement as the actual compensation numbers. Cutting a new hire a sweet deal may leave current employees asking why they didn’t start at such a high salary, and leaving the new hire no room for a raise may cause doubt about your company’s capacity for development.

Hiring with long-term employee engagement in mind can help new hires stick with you for the long haul. Look for candidates who align well with your organization’s values, who can appreciate the compensation you offer for your work, and who have room to develop with your organization.

Looking for more effective hiring strategies?

Our free ebook can help! Download "Your Talent Acquisition Ecosystem: Managing the Employee Lifecycle" today.

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3. Don't Overlook Onboarding

Have you ever forgotten to run an errand while driving home from work because your brain is on autopilot? Sometimes, our normal routines are ingrained so deeply that they almost disappear. This feature of how the human brain forms habits can be one of the biggest challenges to keeping new employees engaged during the onboarding process.

New hires are just learning to navigate the twists and turns that more experienced employees take for granted and may need help with tasks that senior colleagues barely think about anymore. Understanding their perspective is the first step toward providing an onboarding experience that keeps them engaged.

The Jobvite survey referenced previously went into more detail about why 33% of new hires quit their jobs in the first 90 days. 43% of those employees who quit reported that the day-to-day role described during the hiring process wasn’t what they experienced when they started work.

First impressions have an enormous impact on new hires’ expectations. But first impressions don’t stop when new hires accept an offer. Your newest employees size up their experience more carefully during the first few weeks with your organization. If it matches what you promised during the hiring process, it strengthens that initial good impression from your company and paves the way for employee engagement.

So while onboarding requires many different tasks for compliance, it’s important not to overlook the training and relationship building that set a pattern of employee engagement from the beginning.

Onboard to Engage: 4 Critical Questions for New Hires

Did you know you can increase engagement and retention through more meaningful conversations during onboarding? Tina Schust Robinson, founder of WorkJoy, will show you how.

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Strategies for Effective Onboarding

Clear the paperwork. With everything new employees need to learn on their first day, there are much better ways to spend time than reading, signing, and walking around with paperwork. An HRIS with e-signature capabilities lets new hires complete forms in advance so they can focus on more important matters.

Make a great first day. Along with the orientation presentation, provide some time for new hires to get to know their new teams. We recommend a team lunch to start developing colleague engagement (because a restaurant meal with new friends beats a first-day PB&J in an empty break room).

Assign a mentor. Even the best first day can’t cover everything, but after that introduction ends and work begins, it can be difficult for a new hire to know when or how to ask questions—or who they should ask. Providing each new hire with a mentor gives them a known resource for technical or cultural questions.

Pace the learning. No matter how thorough the orientation meeting is, there will be some aspects of your organization that new hires won’t understand without the context of their own experience. Providing additional orientation sessions for new hire groups (such as a financial benefits Q&A with your 401(k) provider) can help give every part of the employee experience the attention it deserves.

Centering the onboarding process on a great employee experience shows new hires that your organization isn’t just on autopilot. It shows that you’re willing to support each individual’s specific needs.

4. Offer Consistent Employee Development

Conventional wisdom says that a new car loses a few thousand dollars of its value as soon as you drive it off the dealer’s lot. There’s also pervasive advice telling employees that they need to switch jobs every three years to maximize their earning and development potential.

When employees feel that their employer doesn’t care about their professional development, they can see themselves as a depreciating asset, as shown in this post on employee engagement and development. Study after study finds countless employees disengaging from their organizations because of a lack of professional development.

Why does your organization value its employees? Is it for what they provide right now? Or do you value what they can become during their time with you? When you can align your organization’s development opportunities with the factors that motivate employees, it can lead to greater employee engagement.

Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs to explain the wide range of human motivation, starting with physical needs at the base and extending to self-actualization at the top. While the needs at the base of the pyramid take precedence over the needs at the top, fulfilling the needs at the top is a stronger indicator of satisfaction.

Put another way: your employees aren’t going to be worrying about their main purpose in life if their hair is caught in the factory machinery. But when their basic needs for safety and salary are met, they start considering their higher needs and look for an organization that will provide them.

Compensation alone won’t cut it. “I could take or leave the company, but they pay well” is hardly a ringing endorsement. When the economy is strong, employees have their choice of organizations, all eager to pay them a salary. Keeping employees engaged when they have a choice takes more than signing checks.

Strategies for Effective Employee Development

Break up the performance management behemoth. Managing performance doesn’t have to involve the time-consuming, all-encompassing monster known as annual reviews. Instead of trying to cram evaluation, compensation decisions and position changes into a single process, set up a structure that gives each subject the time it deserves.

Open up one-on-one communication. Give managers time and structure for one-on-one meetings where the only purpose is to talk about the employee’s recent performance. Half an hour each month is generally enough for managers and employees to discuss what went well, identify areas for improvement, and ask each other for clarification or support on upcoming projects. Adding performance management software to track goals can help improve the results of these meetings and increase workforce engagement between managers and employees.

Recognize your employees. There is more to recognition than bonuses (even if employees won’t say no to some extra cash). Evaluate your organization’s recognition structure. Are managers providing regular informal recognition for good performance? Do higher-ups recognize individuals or departments after successful initiatives? Meaningful recognition supports employees’ higher motivational needs and shows them that their experiences with your organization have value.

Make clear succession plans. Employees want to know what your organization can offer for their future.

Help employees and managers become familiar with these possibilities at your organization. Your organization might benefit from employees’ hidden talents and your employees might find greater satisfaction in a position that better matches their skills and plans for the future.

Offer appropriate transparency. It’s hard to promote employee development to employees who believe the organization is circling the drain—they’ll doubt your capacity to deliver. Providing appropriate context for how employee efforts fit in your organization’s larger mission and vision can show employees how their efforts matter and help them stay engaged on a higher motivational level.

Lasting employee engagement doesn’t come from a single event. The employees who are willing to engage with your organization need to know that your organization is willing to engage with their lives and provide appropriate support for all their motivational needs.

5. Measure Employee Engagement Through Exit Interviews

There comes a moment in every employee’s experience when it’s time to trade in the clunker for something better. Engagement doesn’t prevent turnover. But it does give you more of the good kind of turnover, where employees move on from your organization instead of running away from your organization. How employees leave can have an impact on employee engagement throughout the company and even make a difference in your recruiting efforts.

There’s a term that describes the macro-level interactions that people have with your company: employer brand. Kleenex and Band-Aid received enough favorable exposure for the public to make their brand names more popular than the words “tissue” or “bandage”—and as people are exposed to your organization, they’ll decide who you are, what you do, and how they feel about it.

In the past, employers had more control over this exposure. It was harder to get a hot take on the employee experience without calling a current employee or visiting the organization. But today, nearly half of all job candidates research companies on Glassdoor, where reviews from current and former employees are as prominent as the official company line. Job candidates can get the dirt with a single tap on their mobile devices.

This doesn’t mean you should panic if a terminated employee delivers a nine-page tirade on their way out. Bide your time. Job candidates tend to focus on the most recent reviews, and most employees only care about reviews from the last six months.

The ratings employees leave will provide a pattern for people considering your organization and help shape their first impressions. What’s the pattern of compensation in your organization? Are you improving on your flaws or ignoring them? If your employees remain engaged when they leave, their honest reviews can help build a positive, attractive employer brand.

Strategies for Engaging Departing Employees

Keep clarity throughout the exit process. If you’ve followed the advice in previous sections, regular communication between managers and employees has helped develop engaged employees. The exit interview process is a chance to continue this effective communication, letting managers, employees, and leadership offer honest feedback and learn from each other.

Take action where appropriate. Even when the economy is booming, your organization shouldn’t feel that it’s too difficult to replace a toxic or incompetent employee. Employee engagement doesn’t mix well with employee disengagement. If an employee doesn’t take the opportunities you offer to improve performance or make needed changes, termination can show accountability and help protect the other employees on that employee’s team.

Provide appropriate transparency. Your employees will look for the reason behind every departure. Providing appropriate details when team members depart can help the remaining employees process the change without pessimistic guesswork. It’s also important for the organization to be open when macro-level decisions lead to layoffs or resignations. It’s better for your employees to know that your organization tries to use its mistakes to improve than it is to leave them blind to continuing challenges and wondering whether they’re next on the chopping block.

Recognize employees’ reasons for leaving voluntarily. Understanding and categorizing the reasons employees leave can help your organization improve.

For example, is the employee:

While some departures might be for personal reasons outside of your control, others might be to do with workplace culture, benefits and development. Keeping tabs on staff departures can help you understand what your business needs to do to improve employee engagement and keep staff for longer.

» Learn More: Attrition vs. Turnover: Learn How to Calculate Rates and Why They Matter

Leave the door open. When engaged employees leave voluntarily, stay connected with them. Some organizations even curate alumni networks to keep in touch with former employees. This can provide access to expanded networking and recruiting opportunities, and some employees may decide to return to your organization with new skills and experiences when a different position opens up.

6. Give Your Staff More Autonomy

If your employees are feeling disengaged from their work, then you might find that switching up responsibilities could help.

Offering your staff flexibility to try out new tasks can help them understand what they’re good at, and what they’re interested in. Some graduate schemes, for example, allow new starters to try out different departments before they settle into a specific role. This not only allows staff more say over their responsibilities but helps them understand the big picture of your operation too.

Giving your staff the autonomy to set hours, holidays and workloads can also help your staff maintain a solid work-life balance. Remember, with this freedom often comes a sense of responsibility – companies like Netflix foster staff autonomy to help the company innovate.

7. Build Teamwork

Effective teams can improve the productivity and creativity of your business. And on a more personal level, it can increase job satisfaction for your staff too.

As reported in Forbes, a study from Stanford University sheds light on the importance of teamwork – noting how participants persisted almost 65% longer on a challenging task when they worked as a team, rather than when they worked alone. Another study of over 1,100 companies showed how businesses that encouraged collaboration were 500% more likely to be high performing.

Here are a few ways to build a culture of teamwork and collaboration at your workplace:

8. Provide Equipment, Tools, and Resources

No one wants to go to work without the tools they need for success. Whether they work in an office or a factory, you’ll need to ensure your staff have everything they need to work efficiently. Worn-out equipment slows down progress and frustrates your team. Investing in tools, computers, and software shows your commitment to your team.

9. Give Time, As Well As Money

During the pandemic, the average workday increased by 48 minutes, according to one study. Needless to say, this has a big effect on work-life balance and can lead to burnout.
Remember – even the best-paid workers need time to unwind. Make sure that your staff have ample time off work. You’ll find you could be rewarded with better performance, efficiency and morale.

You can do this by increasing vacation time, or even implementing tools to stop your staff from logging on after hours. If your staff routinely need to work after hours to meet a deadline, respond to an emergency issue or join an international client call, make sure they get that time back.

10. Encourage Employee Resource Groups

Employee resource groups (ERGs) represent certain interests, backgrounds and demographics within your workforce. They can be relatively lighthearted and hobby-based – a film society, for example – or can focus on issues like diversity and representation in the workforce. Funding and encouraging ERGs not only helps people connect with each other in your business, but also demonstrates your organization’s commitment to inclusivity.

Build Employee Engagement That Lasts

Picking one element in this article as the most important part of employee engagement is like deciding whether the engine or the tires matter more on a vehicle. For optimal employee experience, your organization needs the tools, time, and strategy to cover every aspect.

As you measure the employee experience, facilitate open communication, and respond to feedback, you can cultivate employee engagement — from their first day to the last.

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