Employee engagement and performance go together like peanut butter and jelly — but much like the perfect sandwich, there’s a fine line between a well-balanced bite and an overwhelming mess.
If you don’t survey employees about whether your performance management strategies are working, it’s easy to miss glaring issues and opportunities to boost engagement at work.
The trick is to consider performance and engagement metrics in tandem, not separate strategies. So HR teams must be measuring metrics for both factors, and use them to inform the strategies designed to boost performance. Here’s how to make it happen.
The Relationship Between Employee Engagement and Performance
Performance doesn’t exist in a silo — it’s influenced by a myriad of other factors both in and out of the workplace. While HR leaders and managers can’t control external factors, they do have the power to shape engagement. When employees are engaged, they’re more motivated and productive, which in turn drives performance.
“Decades of research have established that engagement drives both business and talent outcomes,” said Kamela Lupino, director of culture and engagement practice at Kincentric. “Engagement matters because it’s an indicator of an organization having a healthy culture that’s aligned to the business strategy and driving a consistent employee experience,” she added.
Engagement doesn’t solely impact performance. It’s linked to better customer outcomes and bigger profits, too. Engaged employees are also less likely to leave, which also impacts your bottom line — something that’s particularly important in a tight economy.
But pushing for high performance shouldn’t come at the cost of employee well-being. “It’s actually not hard to achieve performance without burning out the team,” explained Lupino. She said this relies on senior leaders achieving the following:
- Having a clear and compelling business strategy that serves as the organization’s North Star.
- Aligning the culture to that strategy, including organizational systems, processes, tools, and behavioral expectations.
- Creating a consistent employee experience.
- Holding themselves accountable for all of the above, while expecting managers to reinforce with actions that are aligned with leadership priorities.
Traditionally, engagement and performance are managed and measured separately. But integrating them can give HR leaders a more accurate view of employee sentiment, and help with identifying environmental factors that are creating barriers to performance.
The Key Elements of Employee Engagement
Everyone’s work day consists of much more than the tasks or projects at hand — a holistic view of your company’s work environment can help identify the levers that are easiest to pull to improve engagement, as well as the ones that will require more intention and effort.
To remain engaged and perform their best, employees first need their foundational needs met. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs offers a useful framework that explains how employee engagement relies on some basic needs being met before employees can perform at their best. Do they have time to eat, sleep, and take breaks? Asking the right questions in an engagement survey can help uncover which needs are being met, and areas that might require improvement.
Company culture is made up of the values and behaviors that create the foundations of an organization, and it can have a huge impact on engagement. Employees want to know that their work matters — a 2023 Gallup survey on workplace engagement found that 40% of U.S. employees agree the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important. To keep employees engaged, clear company culture can help show the impact their performance generates.
Psychological safety is a foundational workplace need and means employees feel safe voicing their opinions, without fear of punishment or retaliation. Cultivating a strong feeling of psychological safety not only helps protect the mental health of your employees, but also helps to improve collaboration and productivity, boosts learning and development, and fosters a sense of inclusion and belonging.
The belief each employee has in their own abilities to complete workplace tasks has a strong effect on their performance. A 2019 study on self-efficacy found it’s also intrinsically linked to engagement, making it a key stepping stone in the relationship between engagement and performance. A company culture that empowers employees with belief in their own abilities and gives them the tools and resources they need to succeed is a powerful way to drive better performance.
Managers have a direct impact on their employees — with 2021 research from Gallup showing they influence engagement and performance more than any other factor. But most great managers are made, not born. To boost engagement, companies must build on their managers’ strengths and help them understand how to create a culture of trust within their teams. This can include tactics to prioritize employee recognition, communicate with compassion, and help their teams feel valued.
Managers might need to drive performance, but they also need to cultivate trust and respect within their teams. Employees at companies with a strong culture of trust report being 74% less stressed, 106% more energized, 50% more productive, and 76% more engaged. They’re also 40% less likely to suffer from burnout. But knowing how to increase trust can be difficult. Building a work environment where leaders show vulnerability, encourage growth, and intentionally cultivate relationships with their team is a great start to a culture of trust and autonomy.
Measure Employee Engagement — and Then Shape It
When looking to measure and shape engagement, asking the right questions is key. “Engagement is usually measured via an index of questions about pride, satisfaction, advocacy, commitment, and similar psychological concepts,” said Gena Cox, founder at Feels Human LLC. But managers can’t often impact these factors on their own.
Instead, Cox suggests flipping the narrative to focus on themes known to impact engagement, like the ones we’ve explored above.
“Managers should focus on enhancing the environment in which employees operate,” Cox said, “so [employees] have a sense of psychological safety as they work, and believe their manager is their primary advocate to make sure they are treated fairly regarding the tools to do the work and develop, and can access to the opportunities that support career progression.”
When employee sentiment around the key elements of engagement is high, performance usually follows. Once you’ve established baseline engagement levels, it’s possible to start working on strategies to improve them.
The latest results from Gallup’s 2023 global engagement survey report that only 33% of employees in the US feel engaged, a decrease from employee engagement levels of 36% reported in 2020. The research also revealed that 16% of employees felt actively disengaged, leaving 51% in the ‘not engaged’ category. Imagine what increasing the engagement of these two categories could mean for employee performance at your company.
To capture the sentiment of those employees, include opportunities for comment within your surveys.
“Over the years, organizations have over-relied on quantitative data from surveys and under-utilized qualitative data,” said Cox. “In this highly dynamic talent market, the lessons are in the stories employees tell in the comments. Organizations should pay more attention to those stories.”
Reading every single comment might seem daunting, especially for small HR teams. But Lattice’s intelligent sentiment analysis tool scans and analyzes open-ended comments so you can uncover insights that scores can’t.
What Types of Employee Engagement Surveys Should You Use?
Engagement surveys have moved on since the anonymous ‘suggestions box’ in the hallway. Instead, it’s better to embed conversations around engagement into the everyday culture of your company.
To achieve this, use a blend of both detailed engagement surveys and shorter pulse surveys.
Use engagement surveys to capture in-depth feedback.
Longer engagement surveys, typically made up of 20 or more questions, provide valuable, in-depth feedback, and can be tailored to capture data about a specific topic, or wider engagement in general.
“This survey will be able to help identify gaps and create a roadmap for celebration and opportunity for your organization,” suggested Fallon Carpenter, head of people and culture at Sentinel Benefits & Financial Group. “The roadmap should then be aligned with any strategies set forth for the year.”
It’s a good idea to complete these longer surveys at least twice a year, but preferably quarterly. Using templates can help speed up the process, and ensure consistency.
Leverage pulse surveys and feedback loops to track engagement in real time.
To capture real-time engagement data, pulse surveys are an essential complement to your longer engagement surveys. “These are a nice way to get a quick snapshot of what might be happening throughout the year,” said Carpenter.
Pulse surveys can be used to continuously track engagement in-between longer surveys, and are typically sent out weekly or biweekly. They should include just a couple of questions around a key theme, although it’s also useful to include a comment box, or use open-ended questions for additional employee feedback.
Conversations around engagement can also be included in performance reviews and one-to-one meetings. Exit interviews can be a valuable source of information too, especially if employee retention is an issue.
14 Employee Engagement Survey Questions to Help Boost Performance
To connect the dots between engagement and performance, we’ve developed 14 employee engagement survey questions. Use these to help identify sources of low engagement and spot potential risks for losing top performers to burnout. Employee answers should be rated on a Likert scale, with five answer options: strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree. By separating questions into key themes, it’s easier to gauge whether engagement is being impacted by a specific area.
- I feel comfortable asking other members of my team for help.
- I feel comfortable sharing constructive or challenging feedback to members of my team.
- I have a clear understanding of my responsibilities and expectations at work.
- I understand how my work contributes to company goals.
- I’m able to prioritize my work according to my goals.
- I have the autonomy I need to do my job well.
- I have the tools and resources to do my job.
- I know where to look when I need help or resources.
- I trust the decisions of the senior leadership team in this company.
- My manager communicates clear goals for our team.
- My manager gives me actionable feedback on a regular basis.
- My manager regularly shares relevant information from their manager and senior leadership.
- My team communicates effectively.
- We have the right people on my team to do the work we need to do.
So Your Employee Survey is Complete: What’s Next?
Collecting and analyzing the results of an employee questionnaire is one thing, but the magic happens when you follow up with your team and turn their feedback into action. But for many companies, this crucial step isn’t given the attention it deserves.
“Post-survey action continues to be a consistent weakness in how organizations use survey data,” said Cox. In this case, she says it’s better not to complete a survey at all than to run a survey and fail to take action on the results.
Cox explained how she achieves this: “I quickly share the results with employees following my ‘Thanks — Doing Well — Need to Improve — How We Will Improve’ formula.”
As an example, Cox mentions that this could sound something like: ‘Thanks for responding to this survey. As a result of your input, we now know we are doing well when it comes to A and B, but that we can do better when it comes to C and D. So, we will be talking with you more about how to improve on C and D, starting next week.’
If your survey reveals low engagement, that’s also something to be taken seriously. “Leaders need to identify the main issues that might be stemming from low engagement,” said Carpenter. “Is it trust in leadership, bad managers, or no growth opportunities?” Once you’ve identified problem areas, Carpenter recommends creating opportunities to improve these areas, and communicating what you’ll be doing to improve them.
If you’ve got the right HR tech, it’s also possible to segment data by employee performance, which provides even deeper insights into what drives performance and what areas need action.
Once you’re ready to turn your engagement survey results into action, download our ebook and we’ll guide you through the steps needed to analyze your results, set actionable goals, and start transforming performance by harnessing the power of engagement.