Employee engagement – what is it and where does L&D fit in?

So, what exactly is employee engagement? What role does L&D play? And how can we help get it right? Let’s find out.

Written by Mind Tools for Business
Published 24 May 2021
Employee engagement – what is it and where does L&D fit in?

Employee engagement is big business. In the US alone, organizations spend nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars every year on it. [1] But research suggests they’re missing the mark, with an estimated 340 million Americans “actively disengaged” right now. [2] The outlook is just as bad in the UK, where one in five workers intend to leave their employer in the next two years. [3]

What is employee engagement?

A CIPD report finds the term hard to pin down. It argues that “engagement” is used so often, and attached to such a wide variety of things, that it risks becoming redundant.

That’s why researchers recommend using “employee engagement” as an umbrella term to cover areas such as motivation, how people feel about – and identify with – their organizations, and their dedication to work. [4]

What engages employees?

While the term “employee engagement” can be vague and ambiguous, research finds common, concrete factors that engage employees. And consistently at the top are:

1.    Support and feedback from managers and colleagues.
2.    Being empowered and having the skills and the confidence to a job well. [5]

Let’s explore how L&D fits in with each. 

How L&D can help engage employees

Before L&D teams rush to the rescue, let’s consider who’s best placed to engage employees. Our research reveals it’s managers – and they’re almost twice as influential in motivating team members to learn than colleagues. 

But managers' influence goes beyond just learning. A Gallup poll found that managers can swing employee engagement scores by up to 70%. [6]

Helping managers help employees

You can point managers to learning resources to help develop their feedback skills – and other hot topics. 
Right now, learning resources may have to be online, but our research shows managers are much more likely to look at resources remotely than in the office.

Despite this, just 22% of L&D teams give managers access to learning resources, compared with 76% of top-performing organizations. [7]

Finally, managers should benefit from feedback from their managers. So, L&D teams must help organizations create a culture of support and ensure managers make time for each other. For example, 360-degree feedback can help all employees get support from across the organization.

Helping empower employees

L&D can have a more direct role in helping employees build the skills they need to feel empowered and confident to do their jobs well.

But rather than push development, our research finds that today’s ‘consumer learners’ are looking to pick up skills in the flow of work. To help them:

  • Listen to what employees want – These could be specific skills they need to do their job or wider needs such as feeling recognized. Also listen out for barriers to learning like lack of time to study, uninspiring or irrelevant content.
  • Offer the right mix of learning resources – Do people want classroom, online or on-the-job learning? Or a mix? Our research finds a blend of learning activities lets employees develop when, where and how they want to. And leads to greater staff autonomy. [8]
  • Nudge learners – During the pandemic, employees are twice as likely to access work-related resources when alerted with emails and other updates. What learning campaigns can you run?

Keep engaging employees

As the CIPD report reveals, employee engagement is a huge topic and too big to cover in one article. To explore further, you can look at:  


[1] ‘Bersin & Associates First-ever Employee Engagement Solution Provider Buyer's Guide Identifies Latest Trends in a Fast-Growing $1.53 Billion Market’. Available here.

[2] ‘Passion at work: Cultivating worker passion as a cornerstone of talent development’. Available here.

[3] ‘UK workers lag behind the world for employee engagement according to new research’. Available here.

[4] ‘Employee Engagement’. Available here.

[5] ‘Employee engagement: an evidence review’. Available here.

[6] ‘The Most Expensive Mistake Leaders Can Make’. Available here.

[7] [8] ‘Learner Intelligence Report: Addressing the disconnect between strategy and practice’. Available here.

About the author

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business brings accessible, on-demand performance tools and resources focused on leadership, management and personal effectiveness that empower colleagues to perform in today’s progressive workplaces. Helping them build happy and successful careers and to contribute positively to the success of organizations, the world over. At Mind Tools for Business, empowering people to thrive at work has been our passion for 25 years.

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