It’s one thing to say employee engagement is critical to an organization’s success but another to actually measure and improve it. Much like the adage about a tree falling in the woods, how can a company know if its employee engagement strategy is working if it can’t accurately measure the results?

To give HR professionals and leadership deeper insights on measuring employee engagement, we’re going to discuss all of the relevant factors, including:

  • The definition of employee engagement
  • What makes it difficult to measure
  • Using engagement drivers and defined goals
  • Ways to measure employee engagement
  • Best practices & common mistakes when measuring employee engagement
  • What to do after you’ve measured engagement

Whether your company is new to employee engagement or trying to retool an existing engagement strategy, our thoughts on measuring engagement levels will help you track your progress toward reaching your goals and vision. As you’ll see, greater productivity, lower turnover rates, and an improved culture aren’t as far away as you might think.

Defining Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is about commitment and a shared vision. It’s the connection your employees feel towards their work, co-workers, and your organization. When employees are highly engaged, they feel motivated to succeed, recognizing that their efforts are an important piece to the overall puzzle. Conversely, low engagement levels correlate with poorer productivity, an unsatisfying employee experience, and unfulfilling culture.

Just how essential is employee engagement to an organization? Research indicates that companies with highly engaged employees have 36% greater retention rates and outperform their competition by 147%. Suffice it to say, employee engagement can be a significant competitive edge for companies that know how to harness and measure its power.

What Makes Employee Engagement Difficult to Measure?

Qualitative data points like employee engagement levels are naturally difficult – but in no way impossible – to accurately measure. Since engagement largely depends on extremely nuanced factors like emotion, transforming that information into actionable data can be both time consuming and inaccurate, at least when relying on traditional manual methods.

Further, an effective engagement strategy will typically have quite a few moving parts, and, to paraphrase another old saying, your strategy is only as strong as its weakest link. If any of the following steps fail, then the strategy will yield inaccurate results:

  1. Design concise, insightful survey questions
  2. Distribute the surveys within the flow of work for maximum participation
  3. Collect and analyze the feedback
  4. Create action plans based on the feedback
  5. Implement action plans

Any misstep along the way can skew the survey results and give misleading information to your decision-makers. That’s why it’s so important for companies to take an organized, informed, and calculated approach to employee engagement, using tools that allow them to automate the process.

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Without the benefit of properly implemented technology and processes to propel the strategy forward, the logistics alone are enough to either severely hamper or downright destroy even the best of intentions. This is particularly true for good-sized organizations that generate massive amounts of feedback data that changes with every survey.

Rely on Engagement Drivers & Defined Goals

We don’t mean to imply that measuring engagement is so challenging that it’s hardly worth the effort. In fact, choosing the right engagement platform, educating your employees on the importance of feedback and engagement, and using the right engagement tools all go a long way in creating an overall strategy that yields in-depth, timely, and accurate results. Providing employees with a forum to voice their opinions and concerns, listening to that voice, and taking action on their input are all integral parts of an effective engagement strategy.

To that point, an engagement survey is just one of the different tools available to measure engagement levels, albeit an essential one. Therefore, much – but not all – of your engagement strategy’s success depends on precise, insightful questions that allow you to identify and explore issues and trends within your organization. When using a, engagement survey, the first step in effectively measuring engagement levels is to ensure that your feedback stems from the right set of questions to begin with. Otherwise, you’re not even measuring the correct data points.

That’s why we developed our Employee Engagement Framework & Survey Templates, to give companies survey questions rooted in cutting-edge research from industry leaders. Whether you use our templates or create your own questions, however, basing your surveys on these 13 different engagement drivers we’ve identified as critical to improving engagement levels, will help ensure your feedback is insightful and comprehensive.

  • Engagement
  • Company performance
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Collaboration & teamwork
  • Communication
  • Workload
  • Purpose
  • Meaningful work
  • Environment
  • Feedback & recognition
  • Growth
  • Benefits

Aside from rooting your surveys in these drivers, starting with distinct goals is another crucial factor in creating measurable results. An employee engagement strategy is just like any other initiative your organization undertakes, needing well-defined targets to inform your decisions and guide your progress.

Once you’ve identified goals and begin implementing your engagement strategy, make it a habit to revisit your goals periodically. After your initial survey, subsequent polls and pulse surveys, or even after reading employer reviews on social media or employment websites are ideal times to check your progress. The entire process should be fluid and agile, where you make needed changes along the way for course correction.

Ways to Measure Employee Engagement

Although we’ve focused on survey-driven concepts thus far, a survey strategy is only one way to measure engagement in your company – albeit a critical one. Let’s look at the different ways you can measure employee engagement in your organization.

Surveys

Surveys are the primary means to measure employee engagement. The initial, longer-form survey, as well as quick follow-up pulse surveys and polls, allow you to probe specific issues over time and across the entire organization without human bias.

Using a small number of open-ended questions in your surveys can reveal even deeper insights, expressed through an employee’s own words, than strictly sticking to the Likert scale or something similar. Assuming you’re using a capable analytics platform with integrated natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning, you can then convert that open-ended feedback into trackable, quantitative data.

Likewise, you can integrate employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) questions into your survey strategy to consistently gauge the many different factors and drivers needed for engagement. Just like using NPS with customers, eNPS-based questions will help you measure things like loyalty and satisfaction over a period to identify trends and areas for improvement.

One-on-Ones

Conducting frequent one-on-one meetings with managers is a more productive and effective form of the traditional annual review. It provides employees with a consistent forum to voice concerns, provide feedback, and, from the manager’s perspective, create a valuable touchstone with his or her team members.

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Further, as part of a continuous feedback collection strategy, these regular check-ins become crucial in maintaining a healthy, productive, and communicative relationship between a manager and his or her team members. Naturally, this type of relationship lends itself to greater employee engagement, job satisfaction, productivity, and a variety of other benefits.

Small-Group Discussions & Focus Groups

These discussions provide many of the same benefits as one-on-ones but only from a broader point of view. Managers can run a guided discussion on a specific topic or area of concern that might have stemmed from survey results. It’s a way to drill further down into issues through an open forum format.

This is another area where technology can help managers maximize results, using digital solutions to drive these discussions and feedback sessions. In doing so, these tools give organizations the ability to measure sentiment through the feedback conversations, also providing every group member an equally powerful voice.

Interviews Across the Employee Journey

Everyone has heard of exit interviews. They’re a mainstay with organizations that want honest feedback on the employee experience from people that are no longer as concerned about retribution or negative consequences on their career. However, collecting feedback from every stage of the employee journey is imperative in building a satisfying experience, from the recruitment stage to an employee’s last day and beyond.

For instance, onboarding surveys and feedback are instrumental in allowing an organization to better understand the employee experience as a new hire joins the team. It can then take that feedback and use it to continually improve the onboarding process. Likewise, a relatively new iteration of this concept is the stay interview. Used for the middle stages of the employee journey, stay interviews can help measure things like engagement and satisfaction in a more personal and interactive setting.

HR Consulting Providers

There are a handful of third-party companies that can come in and conduct surveys, measure engagement, and even make action plan recommendations based on their findings. These are viable solutions for organizations that don’t feel comfortable conducting an in-house engagement strategy, but they’re not without their limitations.

Aside from typically higher price points than implementing a software-driven solution, third parties also lack the consistent, in-depth perspective that is so vital to an engagement strategy. Outsiders simply don’t have the boots-on-the-ground insights that allow organizations to pivot quickly to new trends and dynamics within their people. Still, for companies that prefer a more hands-off, less time-consuming method, there are some reputable third-party survey providers in the marketplace.

Employee Recognition

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Recognition is a more indirect but still important barometer for overall engagement levels. Whether you use a designated employee recognition platform or a more organic strategy, the frequency of recognition, and who is both recognized or recognizing others can indicate where you fall in engagement levels. As a general rule, the more recognition taking place, the more your people are engaged. Although this is one of the more imprecise ways to measure engagement amongst the different methods we’ve discussed thus far, recognition can still provide a thumbnail sketch of your overall engagement levels.

Metrics

Organizations already track a set of metrics to monitor their operations, revenue, profitability, and other key measures. However, metrics go far beyond sales margins and break-even points. A few specific metrics can also provide employers with at least a loose idea of engagement levels within the enterprise. Granted, they don’t afford the in-depth, comprehensive insights that specialized tools do, but certain metrics can give leadership a general pulse on engagement levels, including those measuring:

  • Engagement ROI
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • eNPS
  • Absenteeism
  • Employee turnover
  • Satisfaction
  • Alignment indicators between employee goals and the company mission

For the most revealing and useful results, companies should pair these types of metrics with surveys, one-on-ones, and some of the other ways to measure engagement. Together, these form a comprehensive engagement strategy that lets HR measure and track engagement from multiple angles and perspectives.

Measuring Employee Engagement: Best Practices & Common Mistakes

To help you get the most from your engagement strategy, we have some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when measuring engagement levels within your organization.

Do:

  • Start your engagement strategy with a plan and goals, even before distributing your initial survey. Then let the survey results inform and guide your path going forward.
  • Follow-up your initial survey with consistent pulse surveys of three to five questions as well as one question polls. This approach will help you identify progress as you continue to measure your results, also avoiding the inaccuracies and latencies of annual surveys.
  • Use our engagement drivers to inform which topics to focus on and measure, refining the process as you go.
  • Use follow-up pulse surveys and polls to drill down into issues within specific employee segments and stages of the employee experience.

Don’t:

  • Bombard your employees with endless surveys. After your initial survey, keep it short and to the point. Survey fatigue is real and can quickly impede any efforts to measure and improve employee engagement.
  • Narrow your focus on specific employee segments with your longer-form surveys. Use your follow-ups for drilling down, not your more extensive and comprehensive surveys.
  • Forget to use open-ended questions. Granted, this might not be feasible for larger organizations that don’t use a capable engagement and analytics platform. However, the combination of Likert scale and open-ended questions will give you the most in-depth, representative picture of engagement levels across your company.
  • Rely exclusively on surveys. While they form the foundation to any effective engagement strategy, they’re best when accompanied by one-on-ones with managers, small discussion groups, employee recognition programs, and the other measurement tools we discussed.

After You’ve Measured Engagement

As we’ve written before, measuring employee engagement is an ongoing endeavor that builds on itself. One iteration of surveys, polls, and subsequent action plans leads into the next, meaning that, if you’re diligent, you’re continually identifying areas for improvement and boosting engagement levels.

Just remember, putting a sound strategy in place doesn’t do much good if you’re not following up with targeted action plans. Take your ongoing stream of feedback, measure the results, analyze and act on them, and then repeat the process. This is the best way to make employee engagement a fundamental part of your organization, just as relevant and impactful as financial reporting, R&D, or any of the other critical components of your operations. And as always, Hyphen will be here to provide our insights and industry-leading engagement tools as you go.