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Employee engagement is a human resources metric that essentially tells an employer how happy its workers are.

A high engagement score means workers are satisfied, committed, proud, loyal and understand how their role impacts the organization as a whole. It translates into high productivity and creativity in peoples' jobs. A low engagement score often correlates with high absenteeism and low morale and is a clear indication of an unhealthy workplace.

The Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) recently polled its members on the validity of the employee engagement metric in the 21st century Canadian workplace.

Eighty per cent of the 850 HR professional respondents came back with a strong affirmation of the metric, with more than a third saying it's a concept that's increased in importance over the years.

Engagement across the generations

Seventy-six per cent of respondents agreed that engagement means different things to different generations: mature workers want to be valued as full contributors, rather than people nearing the end of their careers; while millennials want continuous learning and advancement opportunities – they really want to enjoy their work and want their voices to be heard.

Building engagement

"Respondents said the most commonly shared drivers of engagement are supportive managers, compelling work, career opportunities, good salary, work/life balance and recognition," said Kristina Hidas, HRPA's vice president of HR research and development.

Using comments from respondents, five useful tips on building an engaged workforce shone through:

1. Know them
It is vital for managers to know their employees. Senior leaders should know – and understand – their workforce, while every front-line manager should know the individuals on her/his team.

"Executives, managers and employers need to know who their employees are. Not only names and faces, but also work experience, education, outside interests, families. You want someone to be engaged when they show up at work? Know that they have a sick parent, or kids, or that they're training for a race, or love to play cards. Remember who they are when they leave at the end of the day."

2. Grow them

Help employees to improve their skills, including providing training and career development.

"Too often we think 'growing employees' means developing a formal internal career path, or doing courses at night. Wrong. There are many ways to grow employees, and they all make them feel more engaged in their work lives. Send someone who's afraid of public speaking to [a leadership workshop], support someone's hobby, encourage a worker to do a presentation on her favourite charity. These are all growth opportunities and they make all the difference in how people feel about their work."

3. Inspire them

Every worker should know exactly how their efforts support the organization's strategy.

"This means keeping employees in touch with every aspect of what the organization is doing and showing them that we are all working to a larger strategy and vision. When people feel they are part of something bigger, they're engaged in it."

4. Involve them

Solicit employee input to leverage their experience and foster creative problem solving.

"Get employees involved in challenges that don't directly touch them. If they can give an opinion on an issue that affects another team, it's good for everyone. It generates ownership, and ownership leads to engagement."

5. Reward them

Aside from compensation, reward employees according to what they value.

"Compensation means a lot of things. We have to pay employees fairly and competitively. But it also means benefits and vacation, flex hours and the ability to work from home. One of the pillars of engagement is the ability to compensate individuals according to what they value, and according to what stage they're at in their personal lives."

The Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) is the professional regulatory body and the professional association for Human Resources professionals in Ontario.

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