Employee engagement reconstructed

Businesses with higher employee engagement rates tend to be more profitable and productive. Most managers say engagement is the critical factor in their business success. What is it? How do you know if your employees are engaged? 

The most common way to find out is to do an engagement survey. We’ve all answered or at least seen these questions:

  • How likely are you to recommend our company to your friends?

  • Do you feel aligned with the company goals?

  • Do you feel comfortable contributing ideas and opinions in our workplace?

  • Do you plan to be at this company two years from now?

  • Do you think the company cares about your physical and mental well-being?

There are a few concerns about this way of measuring engagement. 

Most people don’t like these types of surveys. They either ignore them or answer ‘yes’ to everything to get them quickly out of the way and return to what they were doing. Unless the situation is really bad in which case people will go with ‘no’ for everything.

And here’s another issue. What happens if the results are worse than expected? Who does what? Recently, I heard that one company stopped sending surveys because of bad results. It doesn’t hurt if you don’t see, right? 

Another way of measuring engagement is watching the team’s behavior. For example, the HR department measures attendance rates at team events. The idea is that if you participate in a weekly trivia night, you are engaged. What if I prefer to do a great job and spend my evenings with my family? Does this mean I am not engaged enough? 

I believe that actions speak louder than words, but some team events are more about entertainment than engagement. We can’t make every team member engaged the way we see it. Therefore, it’s important to deconstruct engagement and focus on key drivers.

 What is team engagement and what are the key drivers? 


‘Employee engagement is the degree to which employees invest their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral energies toward positive organizational outcomes.’

Engagement has three main components: 

  • An ongoing conversation with a manager who cares and mentors

  • Peer recognition

  • A sense of belonging

About 70% of a team’s engagement is down to the manager or team leader alone. Human resources should give managers tools to facilitate conversations with the team and empower members to connect and collaborate. Management and HR should watch behavioral trends and act accordingly. 

1. Communication with a manager

One study asked, what is the most important thing a manager or a company can do to help employees succeed? And 37% cited recognition as the most important method of support.

What can you do about it? 

It means that people need two-way communication with their manager instead of unengaging one-way surveys compiled by the HR department. 

This is where asynchronous 1-on-1 works great. HR can manage the frequency and questions the team answers. Managers reply and use a coaching management style to communicate with their teams.

This way, people feel appreciated and listened to. Both parties can interact on their own time, without a meeting. You can also be more thoughtful and structured with your answers in written communication. 

2. Peer gratitude 

Portland State University researchers found a link between expressed gratitude (a simple ‘thank you’) in the workplace and employee physical and mental health. 

What can you do about it? 

A public thank you message is the best way to express gratitude. Everybody is proud to be in a team that appreciates each other. 

We have a Kudos Slack channel and bot with a weekly reminder to give kudos. Managers should be responsible for building the habit of noticing positive behavior and thanking people for it. With time, it becomes contagious and fosters a positive culture. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

3. Organization collaboration

Having a diverse team is a wise business strategy says Harward Business Review. But there’s one but. Research at Berkley showed that a diverse team outperforms others as long as it is aware of team members’ differences, knows its strengths, and weaknesses, and trusts its team members' expertise. 

So you not only have to hire different people but also make sure they communicate and know about each other's differences. 

What can you do about it? 

Make sure you ask for more personal information while onboarding. Let your organization know your interests and fun facts about your new team members. Collect this information to organize activities around interests that are popular in your organization. 

Ask everyone to write short ‘How to work with me’ manuals. It’s an easy way for the team to discover how to work with the manager and with each other. Read more about it here.

Set up automatic Slack channels for asynchronous communication. Imagine scaling ‘water cooler conversations’ so the entire team can participate.

Some ideas for your Slack channels:

  • Moment of the week where the team shares photos with happy moments

  • Question a day where the team connects with random questions

  • Dad jokes where you can get a random joke

  • Daily-stand-up to know what’s everyone up to and if they need any help

  • Channels based on your organization’s top 5 interests

Check out MyZenTeam:

  • To learn about your team’s interests, similarities and differences

  • To set up asynchronous Slack channel to drive engagement

  • To give your team tools to build positive habits 

Sign up here