Organizations are realizing the business benefits of high employee engagement and more heavily investing in the programs and technology to measure and improve it. G2 Crowd’s recent HR trends prediction study estimates that employee engagement spending will increase by 45% in 2019.

At the same time, there’s significant discussion about workplace culture. Some organizations incorrectly assume that workplace culture and employee engagement are the same. This assumption results in organizations investing in employee engagement yet missing vital elements of healthy, modern workplace culture. 

What are the differences between workplace culture and employee engagement? Here are three reasons they’re interconnected, but not the same:

1. Employee engagement is an element of workplace culture

Employee engagement is defined as how committed and invested employees are to their work. It’s often improved by providing employees with more opportunities to contribute, learn and grow. When employees feel trusted, supported and respected by their employers, they’re more likely to be engaged. Employee engagement levels influence workplace culture (and vice versa), but it’s only a portion of what impacts it overall.

Other elements of workplace culture include the organization’s values, its leadership and communication style, policies about when and where work gets done, and how the organization approaches diversity and inclusion. The culture also sets the tone for how employees are expected to interact with their peers and supervisors, and it’s continuously evolving as employee expectations change.

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2. Workplace culture is the total experience of working for an organization

Workplace culture is more extensive than employee engagement. It’s the whole experience of what it’s like to be a part of an organization. Workplace culture provides contextual elements that drive how employees get their job done every day. Employee engagement, on the other hand, is how employees choose to interact with the culture — positively, neutrally or hostilely. The broad nature of workplace culture is another of the key differences between workplace culture and employee engagement.

We like to think about workplace culture as the canvas of a painting. Everything that shapes the culture — and makes the picture distinctive — are the visual elements added to the canvas. Employee engagement is one of these elements that impacts the final product and influences what it’s like to work for an organization.

3. Employee engagement is easily measured

Over the past few years, there has been a movement to measure employee engagement. As a result, organizations invest significant monetary and human resources into tools and measurement strategies. Measurement is one of the significant differences between workplace culture and employee engagement. Organizations can easily measure employee engagement, but measuring workplace culture requires analysis of numerous inputs (e.g., eNPS®, pulse surveys, productivity metrics, marketplace reputation). 

Workplace Culture Assessment

Employee engagement surveys ask questions about how happy the employee is at work, whether they feel valued, if they get support and recognition from their supervisor and more. Organizations can use these surveys to track engagement metrics over time. 

While an engaged employee population is a good indicator of how the culture is performing, it’s not the total measure. Other metrics to consider when assessing workplace culture include recruitment and retention metrics, sick time and PTO utilization.

Moving beyond employee engagement metrics 

Many organizations think they’re doing culture work because they’re doing employee engagement research. However, assessing workplace culture goes beyond engagement. It asks whether the organization is growing, healthy and highly recommended. It addresses whether an organization is recruiting and retaining at the desired levels. And it looks at the organization’s employer reputation in the marketplace, recognizing its reputation is a reflection of its culture. 

Employee engagement is essential but making it the sole focus neglects the other elements that complete the workplace culture canvas. Organizations must think broader when considering their workplace culture.