The Dos and Don’ts of Measuring Employee Engagement
Many things are easy to quantify in the workplace. The number of times you can get up from your desk and chat to your work spouse? As many as it takes for your manager to tell you to get back to work. How many coffees you’ll need to get through back-to-back afternoon meetings? The limit does not exist. Employee engagement? A less tangible concept to measure.
Every company is unique. Each employee within a company is distinct, too. How you engage your employees will look different across teams, departments, and entire organisations. Measuring employee engagement helps you understand what your employees want and need and how you can translate that into initiatives to suit your organisational culture and business goals. But if employee engagement is about as concrete as the wind, how do you measure it effectively?
In this article, we’ll talk you through how to measure employee engagement, why it’s so important, the most effective metrics for developing an engagement strategy, and some missteps to avoid.
Why measuring employee engagement is important
Eminent management consultant Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.” Measuring employee engagement will get you up to speed on areas where you’re on track, areas you’re lagging in, and areas that might be about to derail.
A little recap: employee engagement is the mental and emotional investment employees feel for their organisation. The more connected a person feels to your values, mission and ideals, the more likely they are to be engaged, empowered, and a loyal, long-term employee. Research has shown highly engaged employees are 17% more productive than their disengaged, I’m-just-here-for-my-paycheck counterparts. And aside from being productive worker bees, engaged employees are in the top percent of talent, make their organisations up to 20% more profitable, and are more likely to see out the lifetime of their career with the same company.
The gist of all these statistics? If you don’t understand what is appealing to them (or causing them to check out), you won’t be able to effectively increase or maintain engagement.
Measuring Employee engagement requires you to ask for their feedback, which shows you listen and care about their opinions and builds trust. Your employees are often sponges for information beyond the walls of your company, so measuring their engagement treats them somewhat like industry experts. Understanding their connection to your company goals and processes will reveal the industry trends they think it’s time to adopt and the benchmarks for business being hit over time and across various teams and locations.
How to develop a measurement strategy
So, you’ve decided to measure your employee engagement. Now what?
Start at the end. Decide on the impact you want your metrics to have and work backwards from this goal (or goals). Figure out who will be responsible for following up on the results, who will take action based on those results, and what exactly that action will look like.
How employee engagement is measured boils down to the size and structure of your organisation, but the most common metric used is the humble survey. Surveys can be distributed en mass for little to no cost, easily analysed, and tailored to address the outcomes specific to your organisation. The important point is your measurement strategy should not be targeted at a subset of your staff or to garner favourable results; everyone from new hires to C-suite should be asked to answer honestly. And if you don’t think your managers will skew the results all that much, think again. Your ‘middlemen’ have more influence on employee engagement than you might expect.
How to measure employee engagement
An engagement survey is not the place to figure out if your employees like the brand of beans in the coffee machine. It’s an astute measurement mechanism that should be designed with your metric goals in mind. When creating your engagement survey, you’ll need to:
Determine engagement outcomes and drivers
Questions focusing on engagement outcomes assess the behaviour or feeling of an engaged employee, typically around perceptions of organisational pride, loyalty, and advocacy. These questions will give you a snapshot of the current state of staff engagement in your organisation.
For example, ‘I would recommend this organisation as a good place to work’ identifies a behaviour you should aim to maintain or improve.
When asking about topics such as teamwork, career development, communication, pay packets, recognition, and trust, you are measuring engagement drivers.
For example, ‘I see a clear path for career development in this organisation’ shows the degree to which your employees believe you are training and developing them, and in turn, their intent to stay. Your drivers would then be programs your organisation can implement that encourage action.
Define a goal for the outcomes
Just to get it out there now: The goal shouldn’t be simply to ‘improve employee engagement’ (but you can read about how to do that here). To set a useful goal (or goals), link it to one of these three concepts:
- Improving company culture;
- Managing talent more effectively; or
- Creating a high-performing company.
Your goal will be intrinsically linked to the current size and culture of your organisation, but nevertheless aligning the results of measurement with business outcomes will help you determine priorities.
The Gallup Q12 Survey identifies twelve core questions that best predict employee performance. These questions cover what the employee gets from your company, what they contribute, whether they believe they fit into the organisation, and if the individual has the opportunity to grow.
Perform an analysis of drivers
Through a drivers analysis, you can identify which drivers are linked to higher engagement. You also want to understand the weak spots in the top drivers, so you can create more efficient initiatives to inspire action linked to engagement.
For example, employees may indicate they would be more engaged in a workplace that routinely recognises high achievers, but you may have poor or no recognition programs. Implementing programs to improve lacking drivers is a direct goal of measuring employee engagement.
Develop a continuous listening strategy
Behaviours and preferences change over time. The state of the world in the past eight months has shown that where people would once have been happy to work from home in their pyjamas, they’re now being driven crazy by the same four walls and how loud their partner chews. It’s important to frequently administer employee engagement surveys and in different formats to accurately capture employee voice and feelings.
Enter the cool kids of survey tools: the pulse survey. Pulse surveys are short (usually taking less than five minutes to complete), simple (asking focused questions to collect complex data), and flexible (varying on topics, platforms, audience, and frequency as opposed to their more rigid older sibling, the annual survey).
Measurement mistakes to avoid
Funnily enough, there are smart and not-so-smart ways to ask your employees how they’re going. (Basically, don’t just ask how they’re going.) It’s also crucial not to fall into the trap of asking leading questions; the point is to gain an accurate understanding of employee engagement, even if it’s eye-opening or disappointing.
Don’t exclusively use pulse surveys
We know we just called these guys the cool kids of survey tools (and shorter, more frequent surveys do have their place), but alone pulse surveys represent only snapshots of a focused topic at a particular period in time. Annual surveys help you zoom out and see the big picture across the whole of your organisation. This data is crucial to building overarching organisational strategies.
Lifecycle surveys can also help to reduce the friction between pulse and annual surveys by measuring the engagement of your employees through key stages of their journey. Someone who has just been onboarded would likely have different feelings than an employee celebrating their ten-year work anniversary.
Don’t survey a sample population
Sample populations are great in science labs, but unwise in organisations. Aside from sending the message some people’s opinions are more important than others, leaving out broad sections of your employees will skew your engagement results and unfairly represent a broad spectrum of engagement. If you’re worried about survey fatigue, a well thought out and strategic survey strategy will communicate to employees how the results directly affect them.
Don’t focus only on the quantitative results
Again, this isn’t a science lab. Your results shouldn’t be purely numerical data if you’re measuring thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Quantitative results should complement your qualitative feedback, and vice versa. Put as much stock in open-ended comments as much as data points. In the same vein, don’t tell staff you must have 100% feedback or that you will improve engagement levels by X amount before the year’s end. This reduces them to a number – the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do.
Don’t rely solely on surveys to improve engagement
Staff satisfaction surveys are not the be all and end all of employee engagement. In fact, they’re only the beginning in an overall strategy plan to improve or maintain engagement. As we mentioned earlier, make sure your results can now be translated into a clearly defined action. Some of the best employee engagement metric tools and plans utilise virtual solutions such as a learning management system.
The link between culture and engagement
Much like wine and cheese, workplace culture and employee engagement are greatly enhanced by one another. You can’t have a positive office environment without engaged employees, you won’t have engaged employees without a workplace culture they can invest in, and you can’t measure engagement without considering culture.
But unlike pairing sauvignon blanc and blue cheese, there’s no wrong way to mix methods when determining how your employee engagement initiatives affect the sentiment between coworkers. As part of your engagement strategy, you should be measuring:
Across the organisation
We’ll say it louder for the people in the back: every single employee needs to complete your engagement surveys. This helps you establish a benchmark you can measure different teams and departments against, as well as a baseline for future surveys. Annual surveys provide that birds-eye view of the organisational strengths and opportunities.
Across groups and teams
Once you have that overall pie of company-wide data, you can slice it into functions. Division, department, job level, location – there are endless ways your organisation could be structured and analysed. Pulse and lifecycle surveys are perfect for getting to the root of issues in groups.
Your managers wield more power than you’d like to think, especially when it comes to the ever important employee experience. Keeping a finger on what makes your managers tick and the tools they might need to help their teams succeed will help you understand what is happening at an individual level. Recognition programs are great ways to motivate and empower at such a micro level.
The institutional relationship
This is what employee engagement is all about. The relationship between individuals and your organisation should be measured by attitudes towards and perceptions of policies, procedures, company mission, values, technology, and fairness. Conducting a stay interview (the proactive inverse of reactive exit interviews) with a long-term, high-performing employee allows you to figure out what about their role and your organisation keeps them coming back each day.
The vertical relationship
AKA, the relationship between manager and employee. This can be a mutually beneficial relationship at best and a toxic, unproductive one at worst. Think about it: employees rely on managers for communication, coaching, and feedback, while managers need employees to perform efficiently and build a good reputation for their team. Understanding these relationships will help you identify teams who are performing and those who are struggling.
The horizontal relationship
Many employees would say the people make the job. Beyond just having a work friend to get coffee with, the horizontal relationship between coworkers requires everyone to play fair and level, be respectful and accepting, inclusive and helpful, and share their knowledge and resources. Detailing what is happening between peers will allow you to align teams and individuals with similar motivations, or restructure to complement strengths.
Measuring employee engagement should be done with the goal of long-term organisational success. Surveys shouldn’t be a one-time event, nor should you limit resulting employee engagement strategies to certain time frames. After all, you’ll need to survey employees again, and again, and again to see if your strategies are working.
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