Organizational Culture

Employee Engagement: What It Is and Why You Want It

This is part one of our employee engagement series – check out part two here. 

Our philosophy on employee development is rooted in the conviction that training should aid an organization in achieving its business goals.

Our client success managers, content creators, and product developers keep this in mind when we continually expand and improve The BizLibrary Collection; our goals remain to eliminate obstacles to business success through training.

These challenges constrain a business’ profitability, and overcoming them elevates a company’s market standing.

Despite being the subject of this blog series, employee engagement is not listed among the challenges that we’ve identified as solvable through a single solution. We’ll explain this in detail later on, but for now, keep this in mind: employee engagement is not something a company can directly fix – it’s the result of focusing on underlying factors. 

We’re quite familiar with the engagement struggle facing the corporate world. Statistics say that worldwide, only 15% of employees are actively engaged. Consider then, that global GDP is expected to exceed $87 trillion in 2018, and all of that capital hasn’t been able to create a solution to low global engagement.

Is there any hope for today’s organizations to engage their workforces? Yes. In fact, the HR or learning and development professional who can successfully engage a workplace would be doing their employer an invaluable service.

In this five-part blog series, we’ll explore how companies can cultivate engagement in their workplaces and reap the benefits that engaged employees bring.

First, however, it is crucial to understand employee engagement as a concept. As with almost everything, changing culture requires leadership buy-in.

Because of this fact, it’s important to be able to explain to your leadership why they should care about employee engagement.

Employee Engagement is a Dependent Variable

The mistake many companies make is seeking to fix employee engagement with a single solution, or even more common, to mistake engagement with satisfaction, and invest their capital into a solution for a separate issue.

Employee engagement is not the same as employee satisfaction. It is possible for an employee to be satisfied, but not engaged. Consider Jim Halpert, the lovable paper salesman from the popular network comedy The Office.


Mr. Halpert enjoys his coworkers and the freedom granted to him in his workplace to pull workplace pranks and goof off. For most of the show, Jim demonstrates very little actionable desire to leave Dunder-Mifflin, the paper supplier that employs him.

Yet, Jim demonstrates throughout the series that he is far from engaged in his work.

He puts very little effort into growing Dunder-Mifflin’s business, and despite his high potential and ability to lead the organization, Jim has completely separate priorities and does very little to act on his potential.

Jim is satisfied with his job, but not engaged.

The trend in recent years has been for employers to increase employee satisfaction, through foosball tables, snack bars, and even video games. This trend is largely driven by most employers’ desire to increase engagement.

That approach is flawed, because engagement is actually a dependent variable, and like any dependent variable, depends on a set of factors. Those factors will be the subjects of later entries in this series, but for now, it is adequate to simply define employee engagement as we mean it for these purposes. To accomplish this, we’ll borrow a definition that Custom Insight used in a terrific article on this topic:

“Employee engagement is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work.”

Why You Want Engaged Employees

Globally, 85% of employees are disengaged, and yet global GDP is higher than ever. Does that mean that businesses are soldiering on just fine without fully engaged workforces?

The Pareto principle states that 80% of success can be attributed to 20% of the effort put forth. If the pareto principle is true, then 80% of the global GDP is created by the effort of 20% of all employees, which are your top employees.

We’re willing to bet there is significant overlap between that 20% of productive top employees and the 15% of engaged employees. We can say so confidently, because we are aware of these facts, thanks to a Gallup report.

Compared to the 85% of disengaged employees, those who are highly engaged have:

  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 25% lower turnover in high-turnover organizations
  • 65% lower turnover in low-turnover organizations
  • 28% less shrinkage, or profit lost due to wastage or theft
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents
  • 10% higher customer metrics
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 22% higher profitability

When you consider these facts and can translate these numbers into the potential impact on your organization, you have a strong case to present to leadership.

How much would your organization change if even half of your employees were 22% more profitable? That could fundamentally change the direction your organization is headed, or at the very least, get you to your goals faster!

As this series continues, we’ll explore in greater detail the factors that influence the level of engagement present in any given organization.

Check out part two here!

To learn about the factors involved in employee engagement, be sure to check out our free ebook, “Understanding How to Influence the Employee Journey,” with research by Rusty Lindquist.

Training & Development Industry Researcher | Derek researches, discusses, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. He regularly interviews L&D and HR professionals, sharing their insight on trends and best practices that help organizations create stronger training programs, and help to grow their employees and their business.