How to really measure employee engagement

by Mike Sharkey

Measuring employee engagement: top tools and tips

How can you tell if people are genuinely committed to your organization or just putting in the hours? Knowing if employees are engaged should be more than just guesswork. Here’s how to measure employee engagement in your business in the immediate post-COVID landscape and into the future.

Many things are easily quantifiable – like how many cups of coffee you drink in a day, or how long you spend commuting over a year. But employee engagement? Not so much.

That’s partly because it’s more about attitudes and emotions, so a range of factors can influence it. It’s also because employee engagement isn’t an easy concept to pin down - you’ll be looking at employee motivation, team engagement, engagement with work itself, and a whole host of other things.

But it’s a challenge that organizations need to overcome. Why? Because highly-engaged employees are generally more productive, proactive and creative, and they put in the extra effort to make a massive difference to the bottom line for your organization.

Work engagement post-COVID

As the world transitions to different ways of working after the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever to know if people are still feeling connected to the organization.

Many of them have experienced change - moving to remote work after the familiarity of the workplace 9-5. Now they’ll be dealing with uncertainty. No one knows what the world of work will look like in the near future. And while this is exciting - people have the chance to shape what work will be - it can also be scary. You need to know whether employees are engaging with the process of change, or whether uncertainty is causing them to mentally check out.

It’s vital to gauge how people are feeling as work transitions to the new normal. Managers will have been doing regular check-ins with people while they work remotely. Organizations may now want to survey attitudes on returning to the workplace, identify issues and find ways to deal with them. Once people are back in the workplace, you’ll need to keep checking in with both one-to-ones and pulse surveys every month to pick up on any new problems.

How to measure employee engagement

Employee engagement is multi-faceted, and you can’t measure it with a single tool or process. How do employees feel about the organization, their work and company culture? How does their level of engagement shift over time and with other changes like remote working? And how do varying degrees of engagement show in the way people behave? To find the answers to these questions, you can use a range of tools and measurement methods.

Creating a culture where you ask people about engagement can be positive in itself: people who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work. But just getting feedback isn’t enough. Before you start trying to measure engagement, think about these critical questions:

  • Who will be responsible for following up on the results of your surveys, interviews or research?
  • Do you have the right tools to analyze your findings?
  • What action will you take in light of the findings?
  • How will you put this action into practice?

Get these things nailed down, and you can start to turn your engagement findings into positive improvements.

Measuring employee engagement: surveys

Pulse surveys

What are they? Frequent short questionnaires with a maximum of around 15 questions. Pulse surveys are a great way to gauge the mood of your organization in real-time - to take the ‘pulse.’ The rationale behind them is that twice a year performance review check-ins or annual engagement surveys simply aren’t enough. You need regular snapshots of how employees feel so you can deal with issues as they arise.

How do they work? Typical pulse surveys ask people to express how they feel about work issues on a numerical sliding scale of 1 to 10, or a range of responses like Strongly disagree | Disagree | Neither agree nor disagree | Agree | Strongly agree.

How to carry out a pulse survey. First, know what you’re trying to achieve with your survey. What aspects of engagement are you measuring? Send out pulse surveys regularly, say once a month, or at intervals tailored to what you want to measure. For instance, you might want to send one pre and post-return to the workplace. Consider automating this. The Workplace integration Mood Bot sends a series of customizable questions to people via Workplace Chat. Once people have responded to your survey, publish - and act - the results.

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS)

What is it? Organizations use Net Promoter Score as a measure of customer satisfaction. You calculate it by asking customers how likely they’d be to recommend a company’s product or service to family and friends. The Employee Net Promoter Score works in a similar way, except it quantifies how likely - on a scale of 1-10 - your employees would recommend your organization as a place to work. It’s a quick and easy way to get a snapshot of how people feel about your company.

How does it work? Based on their responses, eNPS then divides people into three group

  • Promoters - those who choose 9 or 10 on the scale are the most loyal and engaged
  • Passives - people who pick 7-8 on the scale. They’re not actively disengaged, but they’re not engaged either
  • Detractors - people who choose 0-6 on the scale are the least likely to recommend the company as a place to work and may feel actively negative about the organization

The eNPS for your company is:

Number of promoters - (number of detractors / total number of respondents) x 100

If your organization scores anything over +10, you’re doing well, but a score of +75 to 100 is world-class.

How to carry out an eNPS survey: You should carry out eNPS surveys regularly so you can see any progress or change. To get as full a picture as possible, involve as many employees as you can.

eNPS surveys are attractive because they’re simple, but employees’ answers to a single question won’t tell you anything about why they feel the way they do. Make sure you include a question on why employees have chosen their rating and act on the feedback you get.

Employee engagement surveys

What are they? These large-scale questionnaires focus on drivers of engagement: wellbeing, company culture, openness, autonomy, and communication. You might ask people how they feel about their managers, company leadership and goals, and their relationships with their team. Consider carrying these surveys once or twice a year.

How do they work? Like pulse surveys, employee engagement surveys usually feature sliding scales for responses - 1-10 or degrees of agreement and disagreement. Use open-ended questions to get more detailed feedback.

How to carry out an employee engagement survey: Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve, make the results known to people who take part - and take action on any issues that emerge.

Measuring employee engagement: interviews

One-to-one interviews

What are they? One-to-one meetings are a more informal way to measure engagement. But they’re still useful in gathering feedback on which areas staff feel connected with and those where your organization can improve. Simply doing them can be valuable - nearly 85% of Gen Y say they would feel more confident if they could have more frequent conversations with their managers.

How do they work? Managers can schedule one-to-ones regularly, say once a month or once a quarter. If teams are working remotely, you should consider doing them more frequently - around once every two weeks.

How to carry out a one-to-one: One-to-ones might feel casual, but they should be focused. Know what you want to cover in the session. Ask your questions, and give the interviewee space to reply, listening to them carefully. Also, have an open-ended question giving the person the chance to bring up any other issues. Act on concerns if possible and follow up in the next one-to-one.

Exit interviews

What are they? You should carry out exit interviews when someone leaves the organization. It might seem strange to gather information on engagement from someone who isn’t staying with the company, but they can help you learn a lot about employees’ experiences of your organization, uncover problems, and address issues.

How do they work? They should be done at the end of the person’s notice period, preferably by someone who’s not their line manager. It’s best if exit interviews are carried out face-to-face or, with remote employees, by video call, rather than in writing. This will allow you to ask follow-up questions.

How to carry out an exit interview: Have a framework for exit interviews. You should ask why they are leaving, their feelings about the company, what they think works well, and where they believe there are areas for improvement.

Measuring engagement: research

Focus groups

What are they? Focus groups are often used in market research to gauge people’s attitudes toward products. But these guided discussions can be used to look at employee issues too. Although they involve fewer people than a survey, they’re a way of digging deeper into employee attitudes and uncovering barriers to engagement.

How do they work? You can set up groups to discuss a specific topic or the results of an employee engagement survey.

How to run a focus group: First off, the purpose of the discussion needs to be made clear. What exactly will the group ‘focus’ on? What does it aim to achieve? Decide your questions and participants - between 6 and 12 people is ideal. A moderator will lead the session. This should be someone neutral and not the manager of anyone in the group, as participants will need to feel they can speak freely.

Employee retention

Why look at employee retention? Staff retention and employee engagement are closely linked. Building an engaged workforce will make it easier to retain valuable employees, while disengaged staff are more likely to leave. Staff turnover can be a good indicator of employee engagement. If it’s high, you know you have a problem that you need to address.

What to look at: As well as overall staff turnover, it’s also worth breaking it down into different areas, such as age groups and gender. For instance, is there a higher percentage of women leaving your organization than men? If so, what’s the reason for it? Do you need to do more to promote gender equality? What actions can you take?

People analytics

Why look at people analytics? Your organization probably has a lot of big data at its disposal. Analyzing it is a way to track engagement across the organization, looking at multiple indicators.

Measuring employee engagement

Measuring employee engagement using Workplace Insights

What to look at: Some data, like the results of surveys, will be directly connected to engagement. Some, like hours worked and absences might indicate levels of engagement. For example, seeing how many staff members are doing extra work in their own time might give you an early warning of burnout. Frequent absence can be a sign of disengagement and an indication that your organization need to improve employee wellbeing.

Productivity metrics

Why look at productivity? Like staff retention, productivity has a strong link with engagement - with engaged employees up to 44% more productive than those who are just satisfied. Plus, companies with better engagement report 21% higher profitability. On the flip side, if productivity drops generally, or you can see a team member’s output decreasing, you might have an engagement issue.

What to look at: Productivity metrics will vary depending on what type of business you’re in. To simplify, you can divide your revenue by the number of employees. You might also want to compare across departments and teams, looking for rises and falls over time. Looking at output concerning specific tasks can help you gauge individual productivity levels.

What to do with your employee engagement results

Gathering feedback won’t create a culture of engagement on its own - there has to be a follow-up. But often, this doesn’t happen. While 60% of US employees say they have ways of giving feedback about their experience, only 30% say it’s acted on by their employer. This can lead to disconnect and distrust - if you frequently ask people about their experiences, but never share results or take action, they may become less likely to engage.

Communication is key:

  • Tell people what you want to achieve in getting feedback
  • Publish the results of surveys - negative as well as positive
  • Say how you’ll act on the results
  • If it’s not possible to take action, explain why
  • Give updates on your actions and stick to agreed timeframes

Above all, keep asking, keep listening, and keep looking at your organization. Doing this will help you to create a culture of employee engagement that will help your company to thrive and grow.

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