As the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to resonate around the world, some qualities of the employee/employer relationship and experience have shifted. And because the uncertainty is requiring companies to embrace new ways of working, employee engagement is one of those affected factors.

recent Gallup poll found that businesses are experiencing the “most significant drop in U.S. employee engagement since 2000” at 31%. This drop follows right on the heels of a May 2020 Gallup poll that found that 38% of employees were engaged with their work, the highest percentage since Gallup started tracking this specific metric in the year 2000.

There are many possible reasons why employee engagement has dropped so dramatically.

Perhaps it’s dropped since employees started working from home and they’re struggling to juggle unexpected responsibilities. Or maybe your employees are feeling distracted because of current events going on in the world.

What’s important beyond those reasons are the implications that low employee engagement may have on a company and its success.

Why Employee Engagement Matters

Graphic for why employee engagement matters

Highly engaged employees are passionate about their jobs, feel confident about their purpose and role, and bring energy to their work projects and team. And according to Forbes, employees who are most engaged have reduced absences and are less likely to leave their jobs.

In short, high employee engagement can lead to better performance and higher profitability.

But what is employee engagement? It can be difficult to define, but it generally can be outlined by some key factors:

  • Leadership: Company executives have a large influence — if they walk the walk and lead by example, they can impact how employees view and interact with a company.
  • Career development: High-engagement organizations encourage the growth of all employees and they leverage learning and development programs and manager coaching programs to do so.
  • Internal communication: Using internal communication as a tool for creating an open and dynamic communication network is a smart strategy for engaging employees.
  • Company culture: Creating a strong and unique company culture is essential for building an atmosphere where employees can thrive and feel engaged.

Understanding these elements and how they factor into employee engagement for your whole workforce is important when considering the overall employee experience and can help make you a more effective leader.

Of course, there are many other variables that affect employee engagement, such as fostering your employees’ particular personality types or learning styles. Every employee is different and one size does not fit all when it comes to employee engagement.

Four Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

Graphic for support four ways to improve employee engagement

Now that we’ve covered why employee engagement is important, let’s talk about how you might consider improving it.

Keep in mind while reviewing our recommendations below that one common thread that can have a significant impact on the success of these tips and your overall employee engagement strategy is effective and thoughtful employee communication.

1. Get back to basics

Something about a global pandemic can make us reassess our lives a bit. There’s no reason why that shouldn’t also apply to you and your company, too. Sometimes it’s good to revisit your company’s goals, maybe take a look at your company’s purpose statement, and consider your company’s principles.

Taking a step back to reassess these important items will help ground your employee engagement strategy, and will remind you what is most important to your company and what sets you apart. Plus, it gives you a chance to redefine any goals or principles that may be more relevant now.

Maybe you don’t have clearly defined company goals or a purpose statement, and that’s okay, too. Take the time to articulate these items and share them with your workforce.

This will give your employees a common goal, a guiding light that they can look to that makes them feel included in something larger than themselves and makes their work feel purposeful. And identifying these core principles not only affects your employees’ engagement levels and how they feel about their jobs, it defines your company’s image and ultimately helps shape your company culture.

2. Use surveys

If you’re looking for honesty, don’t be afraid to go right to the source. Giving employees a platform to voice their concerns and relay their feelings in a secure and anonymous environment could provide you with valuable insights and data you could use to help improve employee engagement at your company.

Surveys are also an economical way for you to get a baseline of your company’s current engagement and help define areas for improvement.

When you think of employee surveys, your first thought may be a lengthy time commitment. But we recommend keeping your survey brief and as focused as possible — this will help you get responses that are more focused on your desired topic. This will also increase your response rate, as employees may be more tempted to fill out a survey that takes one minute rather than a survey that takes five.

Surveys also go hand in hand with maintaining open communication channels with employees — another strategy we highly recommend. Employees appreciate a two-way conversation. Just remember, if you’re making a point to ask employees for their opinions, they will likely expect further action or future change as a result of that survey.

3. Invest in your employees

By investing in benefits, resources, and programs that make employees feel valued, you can help increase employee engagement. There are so many options for you to choose from, finding the right balance and mixture that meets your employees’ needs should be your goal.

Consider these suggestions:

  • Employee assistance program (EAP)
  • Financial wellness program
  • Learning and development program
  • Retirement plan and planning resources
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Employee discount program
  • Healthcare benefits
  • Paid parental leave
  • Unique benefits (pet insurance, volunteer time off, tuition reimbursement, loan repayment, etc.)

By investing in these kinds of programs and resources, you’re signaling to employees that their health and wellbeing matters and that you’re willing to invest in them. And though some of the benefits above may not be practical for you and your company, you might consider how responses from your survey could help inform ideas for new benefits that your employees are specifically looking for.

Making a point to provide a comprehensive mix of benefits and resources for your employees impacts your company culture, creating an environment where employees feel supported and appreciated, leading to higher satisfaction and hopefully, increased employee engagement.

4. Be patient

Making improvements can take time — there is no quick fix that will improve employee engagement overnight. So, don’t feel frustrated if you don’t see results right away or if your original plan isn’t working out.

The best thing you can do is to just start. You can make adjustments as needed and refine your strategy to best fit your company's and employees’ needs. By listening to your employees and finding creative solutions to what may be preventing them from feeling engaged at work, you’ll be able to create a successful employee engagement strategy unique to your company.

Whether you’re confident in your employees’ engagement or you feel there may be some room for improvement, this may be the perfect time to pause and consider how there may be opportunities to boost your overall employee engagement.