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Employee engagement is one of the hottest buzzwords in the workplace right now. That’s no surpriseemployees who are highly engaged at work are a significant asset to your business. They’re more productive, profitable, and pleasant to be around.

Engaged employees have a strong emotional commitment to their work, their team, and your company's goals. But what are the characteristics of engaged employees? This is important to know to figure out who your most engaged employees are and find the employees whose level of engagement is lacking.

Conducting a broad employee engagement survey is vital to understanding the overall engagement level in your department or company. But it won’t help you identify the engagement level of individual employees.

Instead, you should look out for these eight traits of engaged employees. If your workers have many or most of these qualities, then they’re probably highly engaged and a great asset to your business.

What is an engaged employee?

An engaged employee is enthusiastic, driven, and highly motivated to perform well. That’s because they’re more than just satisfied - they find meaning and motivation in their work and your company. 

Engaged employees truly believe in your organization's mission and connect to your goals, and see how the work they do every day fits into that larger picture.

Why engaged employees matter?

Engaged employees make your workplace happier, more cohesive, and highly profitable. They work more effectively while keeping the big picture in mind. They work well with their colleagues and managers and create an environment where everyone can succeed. And they help your organization achieve the goals it sets and more.

That's why it's such a surprise that their jobs engage only 33% of American workers, and that number is even lower worldwide. If you're wondering if your employees are engaged, you should be looking at those eight traits to see most of your people are hitting the target.

Characteristics of engaged employees

Engaged employees have many traitsbut here are eight of the essential traits of engaged employees.

1. They are innovative

Engaged employees have the energy and emotional bandwidth to take on new and challenging tasks. They are thinking ahead and outside of the box—they're coming up with new ways to improve their jobs and the company culture.

And since they feel connected to their team and the organization, they're not afraid to share those ideas with the people around them.

Innovation comes from looking past the day-to-day tasks that need to get done and seeing the big picture. If your employees are disengaged, they're only thinking about the functions they need to get done right now.

While that might be acceptable, it's not where new and fresh ideas come from. That's the role of your highly engaged people.

2. They are leaders

Employees who are merely satisfied or, worse, are actively disengaged are typically reluctant to take on leadership tasks and roles. It's too much work for them, and they don't have the energy and excitement to do it.

However, highly engaged employees are willing to take on leadership tasks, both large and small. They might jump at the chance to lead a new project, manage a team, or liaison with the upper levels of your department. That's because they have the confidence and drive to take these leadership tasks on.

3. They are open communicators

Communication keeps the channels of work flowing smoothly. Engaged employees communicate proactively with their peers and managers about day-to-day tasks and what's going on more broadly.

They feel empowered to share concerns and give feedback when needed, and bring up any improvements they see as possible.

Communicating is about more than just talking, however, engaged employees also tend to be good listeners—they know the critical role that each of their colleagues plays in the organization.

They can take feedback and openly communicate with people at every level. They're likely to recognize peers for a job well done, which creates a supportive environment on the team.

4. They are excited to come to work

This might seem basic, but you would be surprised at how many employees (at all levels!) dread getting out of bed to come into work every morning.

According to Gallup, higher levels of disengagement lead to employees taking significantly more sick days. 

Engaged employees show up more and produce more when they show up. That's because they don't just see their jobs as punching a clock and waiting until the first second they can leave for the day.

Their role is strongly connected to the organization's goals, they have a deep understanding of that connection, and they have the autonomy and knowledge to do their job well. That makes them excited to come into work every day - they know they're doing more than just pushing pencils.

5. They collaborate effectively

If you see your employees collaborating frequently and openly, that's a great sign that your team is highly engaged. That's because engaged employees want to do great work for the organization as a whole—they're open to working with others to get things done instead of focusing narrowly on their tasks.

Collaboration comes from wanting others to succeed and reach their goals as well. Engaged employees are focused on more than just their career development - they want to help everyone on their team do great work. That makes the workplace more productive and more pleasant since it's more about collaboration and less about competition.

6. They pursue development opportunities

One of the main behaviors of engaged employees is their pursuit of opportunities to enhance their skills and career path. They're not content to remain in their role with no growth forever—they want to challenge themselves to learn new things and grow.

Engaged employees will actively seek out these opportunities - maybe they'll look for conferences to attend, sign up for training on their own, or volunteer for speaking assignments.

Engaged employees see this kind of development as more than just a way to succeed in their careers. They also see these new skills as bringing value to the organization. They want to contribute as much as possible, and career growth is a side benefit of that growth.

7. They adapt well to change

Change is a given in any organization, from the smallest startup to the world's biggest corporations. Employees are asked to adapt to changes regularly, whether that's new coworkers, managers, processes, technology, organizational structure, or something else entirely.

Engaged employees are motivated by their emotional commitment to your organization, not the tasks they do every day. That makes them more adaptable to change, as long as it's communicated why changes occur.

They're not afraid to learn new things and grow, even if it's a little uncomfortable at times. This willingness to adapt is highly valuable in today's fast-changing world.

8. They go the extra mile

An employee who walks into the office at precisely 9 am every morning, leaves promptly at 5 pm, and never goes beyond their job description might be getting most or all of their work tasks done. But they're not going to make your organization go beyond the most basic goals.

On the other hand, highly engaged employees are willing to do what it takes to go above and beyond if they see a valuable opportunity.

Engaged employees will usually surpass the goals you set for them - and when they don't (which is rare), they'll do a thorough analysis of what went wrong, so it doesn't happen again.

That's probably why companies with a highly-engaged workforce are 22% more productive than ones with low engagement rates. 

How to engage your employees?

If you're not seeing many of those traits or most of your employees seem disengaged, that's not greatbut there's hope. The first step is to measure your current employee engagement rate accurately. Running an employee engagement survey will help you measure how engaged your employees are right now so you know if you need to take action.

Measuring results over time, which you can do easily with the pulse survey features in Empuls, will help you track your progress. And the detailed analytics and critical KPIs in the Empuls reporting will help you pinpoint exactly what your organization needs to do to engage your employees more.

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Kathleen O'Donnell

Kathleen O'Donnell LinkedIn

Kathleen is a freelance writer and employee communications and culture expert, with 6+ years of experience in corporate internal communications.