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Six HR strategies for improving employee engagement

Disengagement can cause real damage to an organisation’s productivity and profitability – giving HR teams an opportunity to spark significant positive change.

Low employee engagement remains a persistent problem for organisations of all sizes around the world: in 2017, a global Gallup study found that just 15% of adults in full-time employment are ‘engaged’ at work – defined by the research company as being “highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace”.

Often, it’s HR teams who are tasked with measuring and solving employee engagement problems – despite poor engagement being a critical business challenge that causes a real dent in productivity and profitability. In fact, the same Gallup study found that business units in its top quartile for engagement were 17% more productive, and 21% more profitable, than units in the bottom quartile.

Here are six strategies that HR professionals can deploy to better engage employees with their work and with your organisation.

1. Communicate deliberately and regularly

As organisations grow, the ties that bind co-workers can loosen and weaken and, before it’s too late, departments are working in isolation and staff become disconnected from their colleagues. Unless you have a dedicated internal communications team, it’s likely to become HR’s responsibility (potentially with assistance from your management team) to take charge of company communications.

You’ll want to start communicating news more frequently and intentionally wherever your employees are spending their time – be that digitally or physically. Simple steps such as making use of your intranet or HR system, or even putting up posters in shared spaces, will help keep your people in the loop with what’s going on, whether that’s a change to your HR policies, good news about a client, or that it’s someone’s birthday.

Managers who work remotely or who manage remote teams will have to be even more intentional about their communications; you’ll want to encourage them to make full use of your chosen digital tools (whether that’s Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Workplace by Facebook, for example), and schedule regular check-ins with their direct reports and management colleagues.

2. Invest in wellbeing

Engage 4 Success (E4S), which has been at the forefront of UK research into employee engagement, has argued that engagement and wellbeing are closely linked. Speaking to taskforce member Wendy Cartwright said:

“where there is high engagement but low wellbeing, there is a risk of burnout over time, and where there is high wellbeing but low engagement, employees may be feeling generally satisfied and well but are unconnected to the organisational purpose”.

Taking steps to create a healthy workplace – such as by introducing an employee assistance programme (EAP), training mental health first aiders, and promoting healthy eating and exercise – can all help to improve staff wellbeing. But you’ll want to take a look at your organisation’s culture and the behaviours it expects employees to demonstrate: is there, for example, a ‘long hours’ culture with people often staying late, either to cope with high workloads or in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to demonstrate their commitment? Do people come into work when they’re ill and should be resting at home? Is there evidence that people take days off simply to catch up on work? Carry out your own research into the causes of mental and physical ill-health in your organisation, and then create and implement appropriate interventions to tackle the issues you’ve uncovered.

3. Invite feedback – and act on it

One of E4S’s four ‘enablers’ of engagement is employee voice: that views are sought, listened to, and acted on by senior leaders and managers. Technology makes it easier than ever for employers to regularly seek and collate employee feedback – such as through anonymous online surveys – but introducing such tools will have little impact if leaders don’t give merit to the opinions expressed by their staff, and don’t respond to their views. This might require a step change in your culture that your organisation realistically isn’t ready for yet, so think carefully about how, when and why you might want to create formal feedback channels.

4. Define your organisation’s purpose – and share it

When an organisation’s purpose and vision is not only clearly defined but also ‘lived’ by its senior leaders and managers, employees will buy in to the company’s mission more completely, and better understand how projects and actions are aligned to its overall goals. To make progress in this area, first, challenge your senior leaders: is the organisation’s stated mission still valid, or has the business moved on? How might it need to change? How can people throughout the company contribute their ideas and sentiments?

Then, challenge your own HR policies and behaviours.

  • Are the attributes you look for in new hires aligned to your organisation’s mission and values?

  • Are organisational values measured through your appraisal process?

  • Can reward and recognition (see point six, below) be aligned more closely to your goals?

5. Empower your people

It’s understandable that some leaders resort to micromanagement in times of crisis, or where team members are incompetent or unable to respond to pressing deadlines. But when micromanaging becomes the norm, employee engagement comes under threat. Workers’ enthusiasm and creativity will be worn down by constant correction and negative feedback. Workflows will become stifled by managers that are acting as roadblocks to action. And, ultimately, retention and recruitment will suffer.

The alternative is to empower, support and trust your people to work autonomously, and refer back to you if they need more guidance. As an HR professional, if you see micromanagement in action, speak to the manager in question. Help them to understand the consequences of their management style, and help them develop an action plan to trust and delegate more authority to their employees. You can also help them to identify staff development opportunities, and put in place appropriate courses or resources.

6. Recognise good work

Does your organisation regularly, publicly and willingly recognise and reward its people? Even if a few of your leaders and managers thank their staff for their efforts, there’s always more to be done – at all levels of an organisation. Putting in place digital channels through which staff can thank each other for going the extra mile – or introducing an incentive-based scheme or awards programme are great ways of cultivating a culture of public thanks and recognition.

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