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Why employee engagement is the secret sauce for your team’s success

Caeleigh MacNeil contributor headshotCaeleigh MacNeil
January 8th, 2024
11 min read
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Employee engagement is the connection and enthusiasm your team has for their work. It’s a critical component of business success, but research shows that only 34% of employees are engaged. Learn how to boost engagement and help your team feel excited about their work—so they’re empowered to take on new challenges, share their ideas, and make strong connections with their teammates.

If you want your team to feel stoked about work and crush their goals, engagement is the key. Employee engagement, that is—not the kind that requires a diamond ring and big commitments. 

So pick up your pen and paper, because this secret is too good to keep under wraps. 

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the connection and enthusiasm your team has for their work. Engaged employees feel empowered to dive into tasks, bring new ideas to the table, and make strong connections with their teammates. They know why their work is important and feel inspired to take on new challenges—even if it means they might fail. 

According to our research, 44% of employees feel more motivated when their work is engaging and enjoyable. That means engagement is one of the most important things for managers to focus on in order to help employees grow, achieve their goals, and feel satisfied at work. And as a manager, you’re the person with the most power to drive employee engagement on your team. 

Align teamwork to your mission

What employee engagement isn’t

Employee engagement isn’t about high performance or making your team work harder. It’s about removing barriers like imposter syndrome, burnout, and unclear goals so your team can feel excited about the work they’re doing. That means engaged employees shouldn’t feel like their value is determined by how much they can produce—or that they need to prioritize their job over their personal lives. 

What are the benefits of employee engagement? 

Employees are the heart of your organization. Their daily work is what enables you to grow your business and achieve your goals—and when employees are engaged, they want to contribute to your team and bring their full potential to the table. 

Prioritizing employee engagement helps you:

  • Keep top talent around longer. Engaged team members are more likely to stick around because they’re excited about the impact their work is making. According to Gallup, companies with high engagement have up to 43% less turnover—meaning all the effort you put into your hiring and onboarding process will pay off in the long term. 

  • Boost team morale. It feels good to engage with your work and your team, and studies show that employee satisfaction and engagement are closely related. This makes sense because engaged employees not only feel like their work matters—they also collaborate more, make more interpersonal connections, and have a more positive employee experience. 

  • Produce better work, faster. Engagement and profitability go hand-in-hand. Studies show that companies with an engaged workforce are 18% more productive and 23% more profitable than organizations with low engagement. These companies also have 10% higher customer satisfaction and 41% less product defects, since engaged team members are empowered to produce high-quality work and proactively solve problems before they start.

Engagement is critical to the success of your team and your business, but studies show that only 34% of employees are engaged. That means if you focus on engagement, you have a huge opportunity to improve employee retention, job satisfaction, customer experience, and business outcomes all at once.

Types of employee engagement

Employee engagement comes in three main forms, and you need a different strategy to drive each type: 

  • Engagement with your company: This is how engaged employees are with the organization as a whole, including how they feel about senior management. To drive company engagement, focus on company culture and company values in order to make employees feel confident in your business and its leadership.

  • Engagement with your manager: This is how employees relate to and interact with their direct supervisors. There are a lot of things you can do to drive manager engagement, like making sure your team members feel valued and giving them the feedback and guidance they need to succeed. 

  • Engagement with team members and stakeholders: This is how employees interact with their fellow coworkers. As a manager, you can drive this type of engagement by giving your team opportunities for connection—like with team building games and cross-functional projects. 

Read: 16 management techniques to boost team engagement

How to measure employee engagement

You need to know where you stand before you can build an employee engagement strategy. 

To do this, regularly measure your team’s engagement with quarterly pulse surveys, so you can see what’s going well and what you need to do better.

Engagement can be hard to quantify since there are so many factors at play. But a well-constructed employee engagement survey lets you accurately measure and track how your team’s engagement changes over time. For example, Gallup uses the following 12 prompts to measure employee engagement. To standardize employee survey results, respondents fill in the following options for each prompt: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, and strongly disagree. 

  1. I know what’s expected of me at work.

  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

  4. In the last seven days, I’ve received recognition or praise for doing good work.

  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

  6. There’s someone at work who encourages my development.

  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.

  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

  10. I have a best friend at work.

  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

  12. This last year, I’ve had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Align teamwork to your mission

10 ways to drive employee engagement

Studies show that within companies, 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager. That means engagement isn’t just up to your human resources department—as a team leader, you’re in the best position to improve engagement on your team. And luckily, there’s a lot you can do: 

1. Connect daily work to goals

Research shows that when individuals understand how their work ladders up into business goals, they’re twice as motivated. That means employees need to know that their work matters in order to be fully engaged. 

One way to connect daily work to goals is with objectives and key results—a methodology that pairs objectives with the metrics you’ll use to track progress. So if your executive team sets company objectives, that means individual teams set their own key results and plan how to invest their resources. Then, each team member sets their own personal key results that ladder up into broader team KRs.

For example, imagine your company has an overarching goal to grow their team. You work in recruiting, and your team sets a key result to hire 12 new employees during Q1. To break it down even further, each individual team member sets a personal KR to hire three new employees during Q1. 

2. Provide clarity on tasks and roles

Engaged employees know what they’re responsible for and how to do their work. They don’t need to waste time figuring out who should do what—instead, they feel empowered to jump right in and tackle tasks that fall within their area of responsibility. 

When responsibilities and processes aren’t clear, simple projects become much more complex and time-intensive—ultimately leading to overwork and burnout. In fact, research shows that one in three knowledge workers feel overworked from a lack of clarity on tasks and roles. Plus, a lack of clarity caused by unclear processes is a top driver of missed deadlines. 

At Asana, we solve this problem by giving team members clearly defined areas of responsibility (AoRs). Each AoR lists out specifically what that person is responsible for—plus, it’s documented and clearly accessible to everyone at the company. And since we (obviously) use Asana for everything, we can take this clarity a step further with our day-to-day tasks. Each task we work on has a clear owner, stakeholders, and deadline—so everyone in Asana has total clarity into what their team and cross-functional partners are working on.

3. Focus on strengths 

Research shows that managers who focus on the strengths of their employees create the strongest levels of engagement. By concentrating on strengths instead of weaknesses, you show team members how they’re unique—plus how those unique talents can help them contribute. This helps your team feel engaged and empowered to use and develop their strengths. Plus, it shows team members that you recognize and value their unique contributions. 

Here are some ways to emphasize your employees’ strengths: 

  • Adjust your employee’s workload so they can do the work they’re best at.

  • Give regular positive feedback during 1:1 meetings. Tell your employee how their strengths contribute to the team. 

  • Encourage employees to explore and grow their strengths through courses, conferences, or projects. 

  • Show public appreciation when your employees succeed. 

For example, imagine you work on a sales team. One of your employees is extroverted and good at communicating with customers, while another is more introverted and excels at behind-the-scenes coordination. Instead of trying to fit each team member into the same mold,  you can acknowledge their differences and help them grow their unique strengths. This is a win-win for your employees and the team as a whole, since communication and coordination are both essential to achieve your team goals. 

4. Provide opportunities for growth

One of the top reasons employees feel bored or disengaged at work is a lack of opportunities to grow and learn. According to a study by Culture Amp, 80% of employees said learning and professional development opportunities would help them feel more engaged on the job, while 24% of employees who stayed at the company long-term said they had the development opportunities they needed. 

As a manager, you can help your team members find development opportunities and coach them as they take on new challenges. The best way to do this is through regular growth and impact sessions—ideally on a quarterly or biannual basis. After each session, be sure to follow up with concrete goals and action items to help you and your employee track their progress over time. 

5. Build a strong relationship with direct reports

An employee’s relationship with their manager has a huge impact on their level of engagement. In fact, research shows that when managers have the skills they need to effectively coach and communicate with direct reports, their teams are more engaged and perform better as a whole. 

Luckily, there are lots of things you can do as a manager to build a solid relationship with your team. Here’s where to start: 

  • Schedule regular 1:1s. Meeting with your direct reports on a regular basis (weekly or biweekly) is essential to build rapport and help team members stay engaged. 1:1s provide dedicated time for you to check in on how your direct report is feeling about their workload, projects, or life in general. These meetings can be informal or structured—but most importantly, they should be tailored to help your direct report get the most value out of your time together. 

  • Practice active listening. Active listening is the practice of listening to understand what someone is saying. As a manager, this helps you engage in deeper conversations with your team members and ensure they feel heard. 

  • Individualize your approach for each employee. Everyone has different motivations and strengths. As a manager, that means the approach you use for one employee might not work for another. During your 1:1 meetings, ask employees what motivates them, what they need to work well, and what makes them feel valued—then follow through on that feedback. For example, if your employee feels valued when others respect their time, you can try to make your meetings as efficient as possible, show up on time, and use asynchronous communication when you can.  

  • Seek feedback and act on it. Research shows that only 15% of employees feel completely heard by their organization—and when you don’t feel heard, it’s hard to feel engaged at work. As a manager, you can help by regularly asking for feedback and translating that feedback into concrete action items. Following up on employee feedback is key because it demonstrates that you value your team’s input. 

6. Encourage collaboration

According to a study by ADP Research Institute, employees who feel like they’re part of a team are twice as likely to be fully engaged at work. That means collaboration and teamwork are key drivers of employee engagement, especially if you work remotely and don’t have opportunities for in-person connection and office chit chat. Luckily, there are lots of ways to help your team make positive connections: 

  • Make sure employees have plenty of time to meet and get to know their teammates during onboarding

  • Encourage employees to set up monthly coffee chats with their teammates.

  • Schedule regular team meetings so remote workers can see and talk to each other on the same video call. 

  • Use icebreaker questions at the beginning of meetings to help team members get to know each other. 

  • Organize team building games and brainstorming exercises to build a sense of camaraderie and emotional connection. 

  • Set up group focus time for team members to work together in the same room or video call. 

  • Help employees take on cross-functional projects so they can get to know people outside their team. 

7. Establish shared values

Research shows that employees are more likely to be engaged if the culture around them aligns with their own values. That means establishing core company values is one of the best ways to help employees feel engaged with their work environment. 

Company values are the core principles that define how your company approaches work, collaboration, and employee well-being. For example, one of Asana’s values is “be real (with yourself and others).” This means we value authenticity and prioritize building an inclusive environment, so people can feel safe and excited about being their full selves at work. 

Values illustrate what matters most to your company, leadership, and employees as a whole. Clearly outlining your company values not only helps create common ground for existing employees, but it also helps potential candidates decide whether they want to work at your company in the first place. As a result, you can hire team members who support your values and therefore are more likely to be engaged. 

Read: What makes a good manager? 11 actionable tips to help your team succeed

8. Encourage bottom-up decision making

An employee who feels their voice is heard is 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. And one of the best ways to help your team feel heard is by asking for their ideas, opinions, and advice. 

Bottom-up decision making is when leaders consider input from employees in order to make business or team decisions. This decision-making style shows employees that their ideas and opinions matter, which in turn can help them feel more confident and engaged. 

To incorporate more bottom-up decision making, try soliciting ideas from your team during meetings. For example, you can ask for guidance on projects, feedback on company decisions, or advice to help you resolve a tricky work situation. Just be sure to take concrete action on your team’s advice to show that you take their ideas seriously. 

9. Combat imposter syndrome

62% of global employees feel imposter syndrome, which is a sense of self-doubt related to work accomplishments. Imposter syndrome can present in many ways, like thinking you’re duping your coworkers, that you need to produce perfect work all the time, or that someone is going to “figure out” you’re not as competent as you seem. Regardless of imposter syndrome’s specific symptoms, it’s a huge barrier to employee engagement—because if you don’t feel confident, it’s hard to put yourself out there and take risks at work. 

As a manager, you can help prevent imposter syndrome on your team. We go into these strategies in more detail in our imposter syndrome article, but here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Establish clear expectations and short-term goals during onboarding. Then, help your team members set longer term key performance indicators (KPIs) so they can measure how they’re doing in a concrete way.  

  • Assign a mentor to new hires so employees have someone to talk to that isn’t their manager. 

  • Make a communication plan for your team to clarify which communication tools to use for what. This helps eliminate guesswork around communication—so team members can feel more connected and less isolated. 

  • Ask how your employees are doing. By checking in frequently, you can identify when imposter syndrome is creeping in and stop it before it starts. Remember that disengaged employees aren’t trying to do a bad job—they may just be struggling with imposter syndrome or something else in their personal life. 

10. Promote sustainable work habits

Research shows that 80% of global knowledge workers report feeling overworked and close to burnout. And to top it off, 82% of employees feel less engaged at work when they’re stressed. That means burnout is a big cause of disengagement, so combating it is essential. 

Burnout is a feeling of emotional, physical, or mental exhaustion as a result of overwork. It happens when you work too hard, too much, or for too long—and it can happen to anyone. As a manager, you can help prevent burnout by balancing your team’s workload and encouraging healthy work habits. For example, you can encourage team members to completely sign off at the end of each day, take time off, and take breaks throughout the day. In this case it helps to lead by example—because when your employees see you taking time off and stepping away from work, it’s easier for them to do the same.  

Congratulations on your (employee) engagement!

When your team is engaged, you can crush your goals and feel good doing it. And most importantly, helping your employees feel engaged empowers them to grow and expand their skillset—so they feel confident in their ability to tackle challenges as they come. 

So cheers to employee engagement, the secret sauce for your team’s success. 

Align teamwork to your mission

Related resources


Unmasking impostor syndrome: 15 ways to overcome it at work