Businesses and nonprofits all over have become more focused on creating a culture of employee engagement. Employees today are looking for more than just a 9-to-5 job—they want to be in a place where they’re passionate about their work and invested in their company or organization’s purpose and mission.

In a study of companies with over 500 employees, researchers found that 71% of managers considered employee engagement one of the most important factors in overall company success. Yet, according to Gallup data, only 33% of employees reported they are engaged at work.

Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect. So, let’s talk about how to make employee engagement a reality at your workplace.

What is employee engagement?

First, let’s define it. Employee engagement is more than just job satisfaction (though that’s part of it) or feeling happy about your role or company. Employees can feel satisfied and happy without really being engaged. And, it’s that engagement piece that makes all the difference in creating a business or organization that makes an impact.

Employee engagement can be a bit difficult to put into words, but here are a few definitions that might help:

“Engaged employees are those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” —Gallup


“The emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” —Kevin Kruse, Forbes Contributor and NY Times Best Selling Author


“Emotional connection an employee feels toward his or her employment organization, which tends to influence his or her behaviors and level of effort in work-related activities.” —Business Dictionary


“A business management concept that describes the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward his/her job. Engaged employees care about their work and about the performance of the company, and feel that their efforts make a difference.” —Investopedia

Involved. Committed. Enthusiastic. Invested. Connected. These are all words that can be used to describe an employee who is highly engaged in their company or organization and (most importantly) making a difference.

employee engagement makes a difference

Why is employee engagement important?

When you have an engaging culture, you attract more people who also want that; engaged employees are going to attract like-minded people. That’s how a dynamic company culture begins to grow and take hold. You bring in the right people, not just to fit the job descriptions, but to enhance and foster your culture. At Firespring, we hire for culture fit first, and skills/experience second. Why? You can train people to give them the skills you need; but you can’t change them to fit the culture you’re trying to create.

Also, you’re more likely to keep engaged employees on board. When someone is invested in your company’s mission and purpose, they’re giving more than just their time; they’re putting some of their heart, soul and sweat equity into their job, and that’s a strong indication they’re likely to stick around for a while.

And this is huge: Employee engagement furthers your company or organization’s impact. You will be able to do exponentially more—and more passionately—when you have employees who are committed and invested in your purpose.

How do I create a culture of employee engagement?

This is the million-dollar question, and something that does not happen overnight. You can’t will it to happen; you have to make it happen. Firespring has been at this for 20+ years. We’ve been able to figure a few things out about how to attract, empower and retain top talent. Here are five important steps we’ve taken (and continue to take) to create a culture of engagement.

1. Recognize your team’s hard work and accomplishments.

Several years ago, we started a tradition called the Firestarter. This is an 11-minute company-wide, standup meeting that we hold at 11:11. We do not miss a day. It’s a time for every team to update others on their projects, their accomplishments and their challenges, which creates a culture of openness and transparency.

But even more, it’s an opportunity for accolades and shout-outs. Every team member is encouraged to call out others who have gone above and beyond to help them. Whether they covered for them while they were out, helped train them on a new skill or pitched in when they were swamped with their own tasks—anything that showed a level of care, concern or commitment. This provides a huge boost in company morale, and fosters employee engagement.

2. Engage your remote workers.

There’s a shift in the way many companies are doing business as those that can are allowing their employees to work remotely. You can expect this trend to continue past the pandemic, which means it’s going to be important to know how to engage employees, even if they’re not in your physical workspace.

We’ve had remote workers on our team for years, with several sprinkled throughout the country, and we consider them to be as much a part of our team as those who live in Lincoln where Firespring is headquartered. It’s important to keep remote employees engaged with regular Zoom meetings or check-ins and tools like Slack that make for easy and seamless communication. And think about the little things: Are you handing out new company swag to onsite employees? Mail it to your remote employees. Do you celebrate birthdays with onsite employees? Remember to celebrate virtually with remote employees. The little things matter, and they’ll keep those not physically with you emotionally engaged.

3. Listen to and act on employee feedback.

Everyone wants to feel heard, so it’s important to implement ways for employees to share their thoughts and opinions without feeling like they have to jump through hoops or wait for their annual review. At Firespring, we formed a Culture Club, a team of elected members who basically represent “the people” and help to create a culture of openness and communication. They plan fun events and do a lot of employee appreciation types of things. But, they also take employee feedback seriously and consider what every team member has to say.

We also have “Start/Stop/Keep” surveys, which allow every team member to share feedback anonymously without fear of judgement or retribution. And Quarterly Conversations let managers have one-on-one conversations with their team members, not just to review them, but to solicit their opinions and feedback on how things are going.

culture club

4. Be honest and transparent about how the company is doing.

Especially during a challenging year, it can be tempting to paint a whitewashed picture of how things are going because you either don’t want people to leave or you don’t want to hurt company morale. But trust me: It’s going to hurt company morale a lot more if you’re dishonest or vague about the reality of your company’s situation.

We check in daily with our Firestarter at Firespring, like I mentioned, but we only have 11 minutes—so we also make room on our calendar for extended quarterly meetings when our leadership team can provide more specific facts, figures and information about what’s happened, what’s currently happening and where we’re headed. You really can’t over-communicate when it comes to keeping your employees briefed on your company’s state of affairs and vision for the future.

5. Celebrate your team members.

There are so many ways to do this, so I don’t need to go into a lot of detail about how to do it—the important thing is that you do it. If you don’t have anything in place to celebrate the people who keep your company or organization running, start brainstorming ways to do this that are on-brand for your organization. We tend to think that people are typically motivated by financial rewards—raises, annual bonuses, etc. Those things are great when and if you can do them. But they don’t necessarily say “we appreciate you.”

At Firespring, we have a literal F on a chain (from an old Firespring sign) that we hand out each week to a team member who went above and beyond. Getting that coveted F is considered an honor and it’s a big deal! We also induct a number of team members into our Values Hall of Fame each year—people who have consistently lived out our company’s values in significant ways that need to be acknowledged. In your company or organization, what would communicate appreciation to your team members?

Show off your company culture in a book.

One other key thing we do every year to promote employee engagement is publish a yearbook—think of it as a yearbook of sorts. We highlight accomplishments; showcase fun pictures of our events, parties and key moments; explain again what it means to be a Certified B Corporation® (we were the first one in Nebraska) and how that ties into our mission to make an impact as a purpose-driven company.

Our culture book puts into words and pictures the essence of who we are, what we do and why we highly value the people who make Firespring their work family and home away from home. It’s where we celebrate both our purpose and our people and the impact we’ve made over the past year.

Sound like something you’d be interested in for your organization? We can help you celebrate everything that is uniquely you with your own yearbook designed to highlight your company’s people, culture and accomplishments. Learn more now.

Celebrate your organization