How to measure employee engagement

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Employee engagement is sticking around as a key business priority, according to CIPD. But engagement really shouldn't just be viewed as just an HR challenge. It’s a far broader business challenge which affects everybody - from front-line employees to C-Suite executives. But can you actually measure employee engagement?

Disengaged employees don’t perform to their full potential, they don’t feel fulfilled in their work lives, they are unable (or unwilling) to deliver the great customer experience your company strives towards and, ultimately, they cost the business money.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the state of being motivated to complete tasks and drive strategy to a high standard, to summarise several papers on the subject. Employees are engaged when they're challenged and determined to make a success of whatever it is they're working on, with the belief that that's possible.

Although there are a few ways of measuring employee engagement, most examine employees' relationship with their colleagues, their manager and their organisation. Other factors that feature prominently in engagement surveys include how effectively employees feel they can communicate, how they feel about their development, and how they feel about their wellbeing.

We've worked with HR consultants to weave in each of these factors into Motivii's Engagement Score. Each question we ask factors differently into the score to give a balanced assessment of any employee's engagement. 

I don't know how engaged I am

Asking employees how engaged they feel confuses them. What does the question mean? Engaged with work, their team, or the business? Engagement is a corporate concept, vital for every organisation to measure, understand and improve but difficult for any individual employee to quantify when they’re asked the question ‘how engaged are you?’

The question is also not about how the employee feels about themselves, more how the employee feel about the organisation i.e. “how engaged are you with our mission?”... So what should you be asking employees to measure employee engagement correctly? 

Where to start measuring employee engagement?

What's the most simple thing you can measure on a consistent basis? Many businesses have opted for happiness as their key metric.

There's definitely some value in this. First of all, ask someone how happy they are and (unlike engagement), they can give you a pretty solid indication. The stats also support the fact that there is a positive correlation between happy employees and a productive workforce. 

But does happiness lead to high performance in all cases? As things wind down on a Friday and the first pint at the pub looms large in employees’ thinking, they’re likely to be fairly happy at the prospect of a great weekend on the horizon, but unlikely to be at their most productive - or their most engaged. 

What about measuring motivation instead of employee engagement?

When employees put in the extra hours to win a new client or complete a project on time I bet they were motivated by that feeling of satisfaction that they would get at the end of it all - but I’m equally certain they weren’t feeling at their best as they hit stumbling blocks along the way.

Motivation is what we all need to get things done at work. It’s also a key component of engagement, but its simple definition means it won't replace engagement.]

Only when asked alongside other key questions such as NPS, awareness of strategic objectives, satisfaction with job role etc can motivation give a true indication of employee engagement. However, 'How motivated are you? is a better question than 'How engaged are you?' because it's easier to answer. 

Engagement is made up of a lot of different factors

Realistically, measuring engagement is a lot more complicated than asking people how motivated / happy / dissatisfied they are at the end of the week.

Traditional engagement surveys get it right, in at least one sense: they ask a lot of different questions. Questions like... 'Would your team recommend your company to their friends and family as a place to work?' or 'Do you think your team feel they are kept informed about what is going on at work?'

But they get a lot wrong, too.

Everyone hates completing the survey, because it takes ages to do. For this reason, the survey only appears once a year. For that reason, the results aren't really what people have been thinking year-round - it's what they've been thinking in the past five weeks. 

The engagement trade-off

So, you've got a choice. Do a frequent, lightweight version of measuring something similar to employee engagement, like motivation. Or ask 30+ engagement questions a little less frequently. You can't measure employee engagement all that easily, unfortunately.

At Motivii we blend the two approaches as part of our weekly update. We keep a pulse of week-on-week motivation, and we ask a couple of engagement questions each week to build a complete engagement score for the end of the quarter.

By Alan Wanders, Growth Manager at Motivii

 
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