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What Is Employee Engagement?

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Learn how to define and drive employee engagement to improve your company culture and foster better business outcomes!

What is employee engagement? Employee engagement is defined as an employee’s emotional commitment to their work and the workplace.

Making sure employee engagement stays high and creating an environment in which employees feel motivated and enthusiastic about your company’s vision is harder than many people — even some managers and HR professionals — realize. Understanding what drives an engaged workforce and preventing disengagement on both an individual and team level is well worth the extra effort. When you have an effective employee engagement strategy, you can help employees do their best work, boost your business outcomes, reduce absenteeism, and more.

In this article, you’ll learn what employee engagement is and why it’s so important, break down the different types of employee engagement, and find out how ActivTrak’s data-driven approach to employee engagement can help employees stay excited about your company’s mission.

Choose where to start:


What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is distinct from employee happiness or employee satisfaction (we will discuss the reasons for that in the next section), though it can be associated with both traits. An engaged employee is someone who is completely invested in their work and cares about their job, their coworkers, and their company as a whole. Engaged employees experience a real sense of fulfillment from their work on a day-to-day basis, which is not only reflected in their individual employee performance but also in broader business outcomes.

As a manager, it’s important to know the major types of employee engagement. These include:

  • Cognitive engagement: Employees who experience cognitive engagement are aware of and fully engaged with their organization’s overall plans. They know what they need to do to get the best possible return on their job efforts. Cognitively engaged employees also understand and are clearly aligned with their company’s mission.
  • Physical engagement: Physically engaged employees devote both their emotional and physical energy to their work. In order to be physically engaged, employees need to be equipped with the physical and mental energy to devote a large part of it to work. Companies looking to have physically engaged employees must take steps to support the health and overall well-being of their employees.
  • Emotional engagement: Emotionally engaged employees have an emotional connection with their work and positively channel their feelings into their jobs. These employees have a sense of belonging, are confident in their organization, and feel good about the work they do. Emotionally engaged employees have greater job satisfaction and help boost business success.

Every organization is unique, and engaged employees won’t always fall perfectly into one of these categories. Instead, these types offer a helpful way for companies to conceptualize and direct their employee engagement strategy to better support their employees while also preventing disengagement.

Unfortunately, disengagement is a major problem across industries. A recent Gallup study showed that only around 36% of employees in the US are engaged in their jobs. That number drops to 20% if you include metrics from around the globe. Disengagement statistics are also concerning from an employee retention perspective. Gallup found that 74% of actively disengaged workers are either watching for job openings or actively seeking new employment. That number drops to 55% for not engaged employees and only 30% for engaged employees.

Why is Employee Engagement Important?

Employee engagement is central to both employee retention and performance. Employees who feel that their company values their well-being, recognizes their contributions, provides opportunities for advancement, and enables them to do their best work are typically more dedicated to the company’s success and more motivated to help achieve its goals. On the other hand, disengagement and generally poor employee experiences contribute to high rates of employee turnover and can negatively impact an organization’s profitability and bottom line.

In fact, Gallup found that a highly engaged workforce increases profitability by 21%, while disengaged employees can cost companies as much as $550 billion annually. Managers must take employee engagement seriously to boost bottom lines, regulate workforce productivity levels, and make long-term investments in their company’s success and the success of their employees.

The Challenges of Understanding Employee Engagement

Understanding the drivers of employee engagement is essential to making improvements, but getting a real read on levels of employee engagement is much easier said than done. While tools like employee engagement surveys can point you in a general direction, they can be skewed by the same self-reporting problems that can affect other forms of employee feedback. At their best, survey results can only capture a single point-in-time sentiment and there’s no guarantee that those sentiments are accurately reported since employees often don’t know what constitutes “normal” when it comes to engagement. Also, some employees might not be honest about their employee experiences in pulse surveys because they’re afraid it will reflect poorly on them if they bring up their concerns.

With a diffuse workforce that largely works behind a screen, it becomes even harder for managers to get a real sense of overall employee engagement or of individual employee support needs. To get that sense, managers need to move beyond employee feedback and surveys and use data-driven metrics to better understand and address levels of employee engagement.

How to Measure Employee Engagement Effectively

The ActivTrak approach uses quantifiable data to gauge employee engagement and drive effective initiatives that will help your employees work wiser. ActivTrak’s data-driven workforce analytics software empowers managers and employees to play an active role in improving employee engagement as well as employee satisfaction and well-being. With ActivTrak’s metrics, managers can isolate early indicators of disengagement, measure employee engagement accurately and effectively, and even unlock personalized employee engagement ideas to take the right action at the right time. Here’s how:

  • Personal Insights: ActivTrak doesn’t just give managers insights into its collected employee engagement metrics and analyses, it also lets individual employees gain personal insights about their performance. By encouraging employees to take advantage of the Personal Insights dashboard, managers can empower workers to take an active role in improving their employee experience and well-being, both of which can lead to higher levels of employee engagement.
  • ActivTrak Coach: ActivTrak’s coaching feature identifies early signs of low focus and inefficiency — classic indicators of disengagement. It then gives managers personalized, data-driven suggestions to proactively address these issues with their team members before employee engagement and employee performance begin to suffer.
  • Workload Balance: This employee engagement metric is essential for recognizing and understanding the signs of employee burnout. Managers can use it to assess workload across teams and identify who is overutilized and who may have additional bandwidth. You can then leverage these insights to re-assign projects, prevent employee burnout, and increase engagement among under-utilized employees.

Increase Employee Engagement with ActivTrak

Engaged employees are the backbone of any successful business. They play an essential role in fulfilling a company’s goals and creating a positive company culture. Unfortunately, disengagement continues to be a problem across in-person, remote, and hybrid work environments. It’s up to managers to understand the value of employee engagement and take concrete steps to build open, transparent, and data-driven employee engagement programs.

At ActivTrak, we know that quantifiable data is the best tool a manager can use to measure employee engagement and create proactive initiatives to improve it. With the aid of both raw metrics and analysis that offers actionable insights, ActivTrak is here to help managers increase employee engagement and access all the benefits that come with it.


  • Remember that the definition of employee engagement is different from employee happiness, employee satisfaction, or employee experience
  • Go beyond employee engagement survey results or performance reviews to proactively measure employee engagement metrics and gain actionable insights

Prioritize employee engagement initiatives to boost business success, improve employee retention, and more

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