3 Ways HR can Improve Employee Engagement

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There is no denying that we have a talent issue in the workplace.

Every week new research seems to come out highlighting  “talent” as the number one issue on CxO’s mind – and it’s one that isn’t going away anytime soon.  In the United States, unemployment rates continue to stay at near record lows.  In both US and Canada, skilled workers are becoming rarer, people are less willing to commute, and worldwide, more workers are leaving traditional roles to enter the freelance economy – with many stating they would not return to a full-time job if offered, according to ADP Research announced at their March 2018 event.

HR’s Role in Disengagement

Gallop finds less than 30% of workers at enterprise level companies (5,000 employees +) are engaged at work, and you can go to any host of HR conferences and hear survey’s showing exit survey details highlighting the front line managers, compensation plans or event the hours.

As HR leaders we need to look a little more reflective into our role into disengagement and what we can do.

It could be the fact we refer to them as “talent” instead of people;  the way we pipeline them like marketing leads sorting out those that are worthy of a response from those that aren’t before they are hired; how we fail to have them ready for success day one with poor on-boarding programs; the approach to feedback via antiquated annual review processes that ignore them the rest of the year; the lack of training and development for skills that will help them move internally; or, how we plan out their future without ever talking to them in super secret succession plans they aren’t privy to.  (Or it could just be they don’t like their manager. )

Often Forgotten Areas of Engagement

When we start looking at all the touch points and interactions we have with our people, we can start breaking it down from the beginning into areas we have the most control over fixing – and areas that are often overlooked when building engagement strategies.


Think about your interaction with any brand, store, restaurant, company.  Your opinion of it starts the second you first hear it mentioned and evolves with every interaction – either directly or via marketing and feedback.  Our companies are no different from the people that will eventually become our candidates and employees.

  • Employment Branding – You don’t have to go all out on employment branding if you don’t have the budget – but you should have a career site that talks about your organization and what makes it unique.  What it is like to work there.  How you are impacting the world. (Every company affects the world, you just need to figure out the how sometimes)
  • Make applying easy and straightforward, and make sure your online application is mobile friendly.
  • Understand the types of people you are trying to hire.  Build persona’s and a process that is unique for the different segments.
  • Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.  Respond to applications – yes or no – quickly.  Schedule interviews and provide feedback – yes or no – quickly.  Nothing is worse than silence or the resume black hole.

Treating people well and letting them feel like they are getting an “insiders view” during the recruiting and interviewing process will be remembered and start to build engagement.   All of this is simple to do with even the most basic ATS and human compassion.


Onboarding a new employee starts the second you extend an offer.  From that point forward they are part of your team and what you do sets the stage for how they feel they will be treated when they reach their first day.  I have worked with some companies that faced high turnover rates in the first 14 days.  The internal change always looked at the job first, in most cases we found people didn’t feel wanted or valued from the start; the job was the final straw.

  • Communicate, but be excited at each step – the offer, the background check, the drug screen schedule.  Taking a new job is a scary time, many may already have anxieties thanks to the fear of the unknown.  Ease the concern and continue to communicate.
  • Have a standardized program. It needs to go beyond orientation to include culturalization and socialization to help them drink the kool-aid a bit.  Make them feel part of the team and that you are excited about them.  A standard checklist (at a bare minimum) will help you ensure people are getting a similar experience and you aren’t missing anything.
  • Be Prepared.  There is no faster way to impact engagement than showing up on your first day and no one ordered your computer, your cubicle is covered in old boxes, and your boss booked meetings all day, so you just sit there.  Questioning everything.   Every company should be using an onboarding tool to manage the internal side of onboarding if not the employee facing portion as well.  Keep track and hold accountable departments that don’t do what they are supposed to do.  (i.e. Jim in IT who always forgets to load the right software)


As much as we like to talk about engagement and focus on the things we can do, we often forget the best thing we can do is listen.   Engagement strategies for existing employees are different than pre-onboard.  Once employees are part of our team some other factors HR has less control over, come into place. The impact is often unique to our business vs. global stats and can vary even to the location or department – so the best thing we can do before we set up any new initiatives or strategies is to ask the people that work there, then listen and believe what they say.  Trust me, not everyone under 40 wants a ping pong table no matter how many books on culture highlight companies that have them.

  • Check out Feedback sites like Indeed, Glassdoor & Fairygodboss.   I’ve been able to identify things that were impacting engagement, retention, satisfaction, and referrals by merely taking the time to read – with an open mind.  People really do want to share feedback, but don’t know how or feel safe doing it at a lot of companies.  This should be a serious data point you consider in trying to get a full view of the landscape.
  • Conduct Exit Surveys.  Nearly 80% of companies are doing exit surveys according to Quantum Workplace‘s latest whitepaper on Employee Engagement Strategies.  From my experience,  many are not doing them well or doing anything with the results.  Make sure your exit interviews are asking the right questions and not just a check the box part of the offboarding process.
  • Use your data.  As HR Leaders we hold the keys to more of our people than we even realize.  Your HRIS, ATS and Talent Management Suite offer a lot of data if you know how to use it.  Look at what the numbers are telling you to identify trends and issues within certain teams, departments, and roles before a full-scale engagement challenge takes place.    Are people moving out of individual positions?  Does one location have high turnover?  Does one manager’s department have fewer success stories/promotions?   All of these will help uncover where you need to explore.  The data itself is never the answer, but the analysis of the “why” often is.


If we want to succeed in the Future of Work, it isn’t just about the technology or trends; it is also about the people.

We have to change our mindset on engagement from recruit then engage then replace if needed to recruit to retain.  By putting more focus on our perspective and existing workforce, identifying where HR has a role and build out small, easy fixes that we can put in place in weeks, not years, we can find places to have direct impacts on our Engagement in often overlooked places.   And slowly but surely, fix some of the basics so we can start to focus on the big stuff.

  1. RPM Jobs says

    Very Interestisng Article there, I have recently started a HR Tech company and one of the challenges is how to engage your audience. The article is well thought and structured. Using Data is the key to understand where we stand today and where we expect to go. Great blog. Love to keep coming back.

  2. Humantelligence Inc says

    All points are great to improve the employee engagement.
    The article is well written.
    Great blog.
    Thanks for sharing it

  3. Built for Teams says

    I really like your point on being prepared. I’m amazed at how often employees start and it’s a scramble (and a day or two wasted) before they even have the tools to start being successful. I also agree with the idea of tailoring the process and perks once an employee is onboard.

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