What is employee engagement and which factors influence employee engagement?


Employee engagement is the measure of how much effort employees will give to achieving their organization’s goals. While employee engagement matters a great deal to organizational leaders and human resources (HR) professionals, fundamentally, it’s an attitudinal state within the employee. Employee engagement is getting employees to put their “hearts and minds” into their daily work.

Engaged employees want to feel that their efforts can make a difference. The term encompasses both employee satisfaction and the employee’s desire to remain with the organization (retention). Unfortunately, increasing employee engagement appears to be difficult. One recent study concluded that less than a quarter of workers feel engaged at work.

A recent IBM Institute for Business Value study identifies a number of factors that influence employee engagement.


The relationships employees create and sustain can influence their individual effectiveness and the perceptions of their organizations. The goodwill that generated through these relationships, or “social capital” can impact many factors – from facilitating cross-organizational knowledge sharing to boosting individual employee satisfaction.

Physical Workspace and Environment

The configuration and design of individual and team workspaces are critical components of employee engagement. Organizations can use reconfigurable furniture and equipment to accommodate flexible work teams. Well-designed communal spaces can facilitate information flow and encourage serendipitous interactions, while quiet spaces promote concentration. Proper furniture ergonomics can reduce employee stress and limit physical injury. Ambient lighting, temperature control, noise, ventilation, and even office location can impact employee productivity and engagement.


With a greater reliance on software-based tools, there are issues that, if left unaddressed, can increase employee frustration and reduce productivity. The design of the physical equipment that houses the software is key. Employees want to spend their time doing their work, not figuring out how to use the technology behind it. With an increasingly diverse and aging workforce, tools that can accommodate potential visual, auditory and mobility challenges are taking on greater importance.


Employees want to feel they can influence their work, build mastery and understand their work’s overall purpose. Employees are more satisfied when they understand how a task fits into the work unit’s goals and the larger organization’s mission. Also helpful is if employees have, possession of relevant knowledge or expertise, access to additional information or experts as needed, and availability of timely feedback – either from managers or automated systems.

Social Platforms

Companies are using internal social platforms to support organizational innovation, expertise location, and knowledge sharing and to help employees connect to others across the globe. These social platforms provide a common environment where employees can find relevant insights. Organizations need to create a critical mass of users to sustain the necessary level of content and attract other users. Also, they must establish rules of engagement that clarify what can be said and how the organization intends to use data shared on the platform. Leaders need to publicly support the use of the platform and recognize those who make substantive contributions.

Strategy and Culture

An organization must consider each of these previous facets of employee engagement in light of overall business goals and culture. Defining these underlying tenets is necessary to designing experiences that not only match the needs of the individual but are aligned with organizational priorities. Once a company defines its strategy, it must help ensure that leadership behaviors, people practices and management systems consistently support employee engagement. Informal practices matter too. If the culture is fear-based or hierarchical, employees may struggle to collaborate on open, social platforms.

Key features of effective employee engagement

By creating a differentiated work experience for employees, a company helps its employees thrive and grow in a constantly changing environment. One IBM study identified several practical “best practices” that help employees become more engaged:

  • Publish a statement of the organization’s mission, vision, values, or strategy.
  • Conduct an employee opinion survey.
  • Sponsor activity or training sessions aimed specifically at quality improvement.
  • Collect customers’ feedback about the organization’s products or services and share it with employees.
  • Conduct regular performance appraisals.
  • Cross-train employees to perform other jobs in the organization.

Another IBM study identified five practices that organizations are currently using to create more effective experiences:


Many companies recognize the importance of balancing the needs of the organization with the unique characteristics of individuals and workgroups. Therefore, they are looking for ways to tailor the employee experience to address both requirements. From a social perspective, this might include enabling employees to develop profile pages on a collaborative platform. At the physical level, this might include empowering individuals to configure their work areas to match both their work requirements and their personal tastes.


Employees want to know how their efforts contribute to larger goals and have a purpose. In fact, meaningful work may be the biggest contributor to better employee engagement. The HR Exchange Network in 2018 found that one of the most effective tools for increased employee engagement is the use of social media. The use of social platforms gives individuals a forum to raise concerns, contribute innovative ideas and maintain an ongoing dialog with leadership. Social platforms can also reveal informal networks and identify influence leaders.


Even simple activities, such as running an effective meeting, are often complicated by conference rooms equipped with incompatible technology and virtual platforms that freeze at key moments. Simplification efforts, like removing non-value-add process steps, providing easier access to knowledge bases or changing the way information is displayed, can create a more positive work environment.


It’s important to align employee experiences to the organization’s culture and value system. Organizations can express corporate values in numerous ways, from the physical design of corporate headquarters and local offices, to the establishment of corporate events. If a company’s philosophy isn’t reflected in their interior design can be seen by employees as inauthentic – an impression that can trickle down to clients.


Consumers want to provide input and they expect companies to respond to their ideas and concerns. By embracing employees’ willingness to engage, organizations can work more effectively with an increasingly vocal and dispersed workforce. Companies can gain valuable insights and turn those insights into action to improve organizational knowledge, productivity, performance and employee engagement.

Please visit https://www.ibm.com/ for more details and complete study reports.


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