How to successfully measure employee engagement

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Written by Kate Pritchard

Organisations today understand the importance of employee engagement to business success. They know that engaged staff are more productive, likely to stay with the company longer, and advocate for the brand and its products and services. This means you need to constantly improve employee engagement and address any weaknesses within your strategy to positively impact key business metrics. The first step to improvement is to measure current levels and gain staff feedback on areas that need work.

This blog provides a guide to successfully measuring employee engagement, particularly in light of the pandemic and the rise of remote working. We’ll cover the areas to focus on when measuring engagement and the survey methods you can use to collect and analyse employee feedback.

1. What to focus on when measuring employee engagement

Unlike job satisfaction, you cannot measure engagement effectively by asking a single question. As we discussed in our last blog, engagement looks at rational and emotional commitment, as well as discretionary effort. This means that typically engagement is measured by creating an index of a small number of questions.

At Tivian, we advocate measuring engagement in the context of Head, Heart, and Hands:

We also make a distinction between just being engaged and productive engagement. An employee can be engaged but not effective. For example, they lack the tools or skills to contribute to the company’s goals, or their behaviour doesn’t fit with the company culture. Essentially, employees need to be enabled (through access to the right resources) and aligned with company goals to ensure productive engagement.

This model can be used to measure engagement, whichever survey method you use to collect engagement data. When it comes to the employee engagement survey questions you ask, be sure that they are jargon-free, easy to understand, and will lead to clear answers. We’ll cover this in more detail in a future blog on running a successful employee engagement survey.

2. The pros and cons of different measurement methods

There are multiple ways to measure employee engagement, and the best combination will depend on your company’s specific needs and business context. Bear in mind that you need to collect both quantitative and qualitative data to measure employee happiness and engagement.

Annual surveys

The traditional annual employee survey (AES) has been the mainstay of engagement programmes for many years. Often carried out by external providers, it is in-depth and covers the entire company. The findings are used to calculate an engagement score, which can be compared to previous years or other companies in your industry. Additionally, open-ended questions are used to highlight specific areas to work on. For example, if you believe you have issues with your culture, you may use the annual survey to drill into more detail.

The advantages of the AES are that it is comprehensive, covering the entire company. It gives both an overall picture of engagement and how it compares between departments and offices. You can see how scores have changed year-on-year, while analysing results enables you to understand what factors impact employee engagement.

On the downside, carrying out an annual survey is time-consuming, requiring a large amount of resources, particularly if you are still using paper-based surveys. The long gap between collecting feedback means it is not well-suited to fast-moving industries – particularly as it can take considerable time to analyse results, draw up action plans, and roll them out. Particularly now, staff want to have their voices heard and issues dealt with quickly. Running an AES alone is therefore not frequent enough to meet employee needs.

Pulse surveys

These are shorter, more targeted surveys that cover specific groups of people or are focused on particular areas. For example, you could run them within an office or department where you think there are engagement issues. This enables you to uncover the true picture, and you can then check in later to see whether your actions have made a difference. They can be scheduled or ad-hoc/on-demand, depending on your needs.

Pulse surveys are faster to roll-out and action than an annual survey. That means they can help investigate and monitor engagement in specific areas. The most significant disadvantage is that they don’t necessarily provide the comprehensive, organisation-wide view of an annual survey.

It is also important to consider frequency and how it aligns with your business needs. For example, running a pulse every six months may not be frequent enough to capture recent changes. Equally, weekly pulses may not leave time for action, leading to survey fatigue and eventual disengagement.

Continuous listening

Continuous listening exercises are based around a small number of simple questions and run through survey platforms, email, or social listening. These surveys provide a monthly or weekly snapshot of sentiment around employee experiences and highlight areas for immediate action.

Their frequency and short length mean that issues that impact working life can be picked up rapidly, which is particularly useful in today’s fast-changing times. They are also easy and quick for employees to fill in, avoiding potential survey fatigue. Issues raised can be worked on collaboratively as a team, closing the loop and solving problems. You can also build a detailed picture of engagement over time, specific to your organisation.

Continuous listening is less in-depth than pulse or annual surveys. Therefore, they might not provide the breadth of data that organisations may need. Additionally, companies need to act rapidly to fix any issues raised, or employees will become disengaged with the programme.

Employee lifecycle surveys

Employees go through multiple stages at an organisation – from recruitment through onboarding to promotion and eventual exit. Each of these lifecycle stages has specific requirements. Listening and collecting feedback can uncover areas where engagement (and retention) can be improved, helping ensure high-performing staff. For example, by monitoring engagement levels amongst new joiners, managers can see if and when it dips and put preventative actions in place. This improves the chances of retaining the specific employee and helps fix any bigger problems, boosting overall retention rates.

Employee lifecycle surveys focus on specific groups of staff, making them best suited to larger organisations. These have enough joiners and leavers to give sufficient data to analyse effectively.

Face-to-face

At a basic level, managers can ask people how they feel and how happy they are, either formally or informally. Face-to-face check-ins provide immediate, useful insights and help build an understanding of what motivates people. It also highlights what gets in the way of them doing a great job.

However, relying on this approach alone is not scalable, rigorous, or transferable in terms of results – how individual managers judge engagement may be wildly different. Additionally, team members may feel uncomfortable speaking openly to their manager. This is particularly true if their feedback is negative or concerns the manager directly, especially if meetings are part of annual appraisals.

Adopting a blended approach to measuring engagement

As this blog shows, each way of collecting feedback has its strengths and weaknesses. No single method is enough to give the complete picture. Every company is different, meaning you cannot take a “one size fits all” approach but must blend different methods within your strategy.

However, your measurement should be based on four key principles:

  1. Ensure that you can quickly action feedback – otherwise, it will lead to disengagement
  2. Dedicate sufficient resources to ensure the measurement is ongoing and effective
  3. Close the loop by sharing feedback with managers and your people, involving them in coming up with solutions. Then ensure you measure again to see if improvements have resulted
  4. Demonstrate the value of employee engagement to senior leaders by linking your results to business outcomes, such as retention and productivity

You need to use multiple methods to measure employee engagement effectively. Getting the proper processes in place can appear daunting in terms of resources, particularly for organisations that already carry out annual surveys. However, now more than ever, it is vital to ensure employees are engaged, committed, and motivated to drive improved business performance. In our next blog, we’ll explain how you can effectively run engagement surveys, whatever size of organisation you are.