Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of Employee Engagement
There is no better way to gauge business performance than through the process of gathering, measuring and analyzing information. Your company probably tracks things like profit & loss, customer satisfaction and performance to goals. Another important indicator of company health is employee engagement.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that employee engagement has a positive impact on company performance, and naturally – employee retention & employee satisfaction (Gallup, 2017; Harvard Business Review, 2013; Wiley & Kowske, 2011 and others). If it’s important, you should be measuring it. But how?
You should check websites like Glassdoor regularly, as you may learn something new. However, it’s also important to take negative reviews with a grain of salt. In the world of employee feedback, review sites tend to be a magnet for disengaged employees longing to express their views. Conversely, employees who feel satisfied usually don’t have the same incentive to share their opinions.
What should I measure for my employee engagement strategy?
The best source for this kind of data, of course, is your own people. I have a couple of ideas on how to gather the information you need, but let’s look first at what you should measure. Here I’ll describe three sets of engagement factors/potential metrics, and you can choose the ones that seem most important and relevant to your organization. I strongly urge you to get input from employees on this decision — after all, when looking to create an environment that drives employees to high performance, listening is often the best way to start.
One of the most comprehensive studies of levels of employee engagement comes from Dr. Jack Wiley, an author, consultant, researcher and instructor. His book RESPECT: Delivering Results by Giving Employees What They Really Want (2011) is based on data collected over 30 years.
Dr. Wiley focused on two big research questions: what do employees most want and what organizational factors best improve employee engagement, performance confidence and business success? His findings are summed up in RESPECT: recognition, exciting work, security, pay, education & career opportunities, conditions and truth.
Another set of factors/metrics comes from the Gallup organization. They sent pulse surveys to more than 31 million clients and employees to learn what is important to them and how well their needs are satisfied. The survey results, published in their State of the American Workplace report (2017), indicate that highly engaged employees (1) feel their opinions count, (2) feel cared about as a person by their supervisor or company, and (3) have the chance to do what they do best every day.
The third factor is something I learned about by running a 100% virtual company since 2009. At PeopleG2 we also had the opportunity to confirm it through an academic study. The factor is work-life balance. I was approached by Dr. Aaron Lee, then a graduate student who was studying the relationship between employee engagement and remote work (Lee, 2018).
Dr. Lee’s hypothesis was that working remotely will undermine employee engagement. Instead, through employee engagement surveys and interviews at multiple companies he found that remote work promotes work/life balance by giving employees more control over their time, and therefore engagement is higher in remote models. You can read more about Dr. Lee’s study in the book I wrote with Kim Shepherd, Remote Work: Redesign processes, practices and strategies to engage a remote workforce (2021).
How should I measure it?
Once you have decided on what data to collect, you need to determine the best action plan. While annual employee surveys are common, they are also a problematic choice. For one thing, timing can skew your results. As I argue in The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits (Dyer 2018), If you ask employees about motivation during a slow time of year, you’re likely to get a different response than asking at a busy time. Another drawback to annual surveys is that they don’t allow you to course correct in a timely manner.
As an alternative, two approaches can be used together to gauge engagement. The first is to have monthly one-on-one meetings between individual employees and supervisors. These meetings can serve several purposes, including coaching. To incorporate engagement, have each employee assess their own and overall employee engagement according to the parameters your organization has chosen.
In addition to engagement insights, this can provide the supervisor with insight into what motivates Pat in comparison to what motivates Kim. Supervisors should probe into each topic, particularly if a topic gets a mediocre assessment and doesn’t change from month to month, and certainly if an assessment indicates a red flag.
The second approach is one of my favorites and we’ve been using it at PeopleG2 for years. I send a weekly one-question survey, and employees are able to respond anonymously. This approach has several advantages:
I get 52 questions answered over the course of a year.
Employees are not overwhelmed having to answer a slew of questions all at once — they can give one question some good thought.
If an issue shows up, my leadership team and I are able to respond in real time.
I prefer questions that are open-ended and draw out responses that go beyond yes or no. Examples:
What are you struggling with?
If you could change anything at the company, what would it be?
What could you be doing better?
What is your biggest obstacle?
How could we help our clients more effectively?
I alternate between sharing the results publicly and keeping them confidential, and let the employees know in advance. I find that the responses are a little less candid when people know they will be public, but the public ones tend to promote discussion . . . and discussion is a form of engagement.
Most leaders get it: their most engaged employees usually are also their most productive ones. That makes employee engagement just as important a metric as lead conversions and customer retention. With a little creativity, I think you will find that tracking it is not only highly valuable, but also can be fun.
Dyer, C (2018) The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits. Kogan Page, London.
Dyer, C and Shepherd, K (2021) Remote Work: Redesign processes, practices and strategies to engage a remote workforce. Kogan Page, London.
Gallup (2017) State of the American workplace. Available from: www.gallup.com/file/reports/199961/SOAW%202017%20FINAL.PDF [Last accessed August 24, 2021]
Harvard Business Review (2013) The impact of employee engagement on performance. Available from: https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/achievers/hbr_achievers_report_sep13.pdf [Last accessed August 24, 2021]
Lee, A (2018) An Exploratory Case Study of How Remote Employees Experience Workplace Engagement, The George Washington University, 2004 BA, The University of Virginia, 2000 Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Management Walden University August 2018
Wiley, J & Kowske, B (2011) RESPECT: Delivering results by giving employees what they really want, Pfeiffer, Hoboken, New Jersey