In order to improve employee engagement, first you need to establish how to measure it.
In this article, we’ll go over what employee engagement actually is and when the discussion around employee engagement first started.
As always with our ‘how to’ series, we’ll also debunk some common myths and provide you with a clear step-by-step plan to help you measure engagement…the right way.
To finish things off, we’ll take a quick look how one company is going the extra mile to boost employee engagement (spoiler alert: it’s Google).
This article is part of a series developed from season two of our podcast – The Ins and Outs of Work. You can watch the video format below, or listen to the episode on your favorite podcast app.
Table of Contents:
What is employee engagement?
There seems to be an endless list of definitions for “employee engagement”. This fundamental concept describes the relationship between an organization and its employees. Therefore, how one company defines it may be very personal, and varies from one company to the next.
Here are two definitions we particularly identify with:
According to HR Zone, employee engagement is the emotional attachment employees feel towards their place of work, job role, position within the company, colleagues, and culture and the effect this attachment has on their wellbeing and productivity.
Put simply, best-selling author Kevin Kruse says it’s the emotional commitment employees have to the organization and its goals.
Why is it important?
Imagine spending 40 hours a week going somewhere you don’t particularly like, hanging out with people you don’t connect with, and doing something you don’t particularly enjoy doing. This isn’t good for anyone—but it’s especially bad for business.
Employee engagement is important because it’s closely linked to successful organizations.
Keeping your employees engaged is a strategic move. [It means] 20% more sales, better customer scores, 65% less turnover, and 41% less absenteeism on average.
A brief history of employee engagement
Have you heard the story of President John F. Kennedy and the janitor?
The story goes like this.
President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA.
I’m helping put a man on the moon!
– said the janitor.
This story is often cited as an example of employee engagement (though apparently, it’s untrue). Regardless, this story brings to life an image of how seeing a bigger purpose for one’s work than just the tasks at hand can make employees more engaged and satisfied in their work.
The janitor got it. He understood NASA’s vision, the role he played, and that gave him purpose.
Before this, circa 1990, the discourse was really about employee satisfaction—’how much do I like things here?’
Then, William A. Kahn wrote an article in a 1990 Academy of Management Journal describing employee engagement and disengagement. In it, suggested that engaged employees come to work as their ‘preferred selves’, which means they bring their full talents and efforts to their jobs. Disengaged employees, meanwhile, defend their ‘preferred selves’ from their work.
His innovative research was finally able to give a name to the mysterious reason behind why people ‘engage’ with their work.
Two common employee engagement myths debunked
Let’s debunk two of the most popular myths surrounding employee engagement:
1. Most of your workforce is disengaged
In researching their book ‘The Employee Experience’, authors Tracey Maylett and Matthew Wride found that 32% of employees globally are fully engaged (the “enthusiastic champions”) and 48% are key contributors (the “strong and steady”).
This means that only 20% of employees are either disengaged (4%) or are situationally engaged (the 16% that may or may not be engaged, depending on the situation or moment).
2. You can perk your way to engagement
Psychological research says that when someone jumps to a higher level of income or a new standard of living, they quickly adapt and become dissatisfied again.
If you try to buy employee satisfaction by upgrading perks and hygiene factors, the price always goes up. Give employees a bonus, and that becomes part of next year’s expectation.
How to measure engagement: best practices
In this part, we will take a tactical approach to measure engagement and share 5 best practices on how to measure it right.
1. Measure the right thing
The term engagement is used for many different things. They all relate to some state of wellbeing, but an engaged worker is not necessarily a happy worker. And a happy worker is not necessarily an empowered worker.
Different companies measure different things and even when two companies have the same engagement score, workers may feel very, very differently.
2. Use proven methods
Two of the best-known questionnaires are the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (of which there also is an ultra-short 3 item version) and the GALLUP scale.
Other scales are less tested. This risks your engagement survey being (virtually) worthless.
3. Confidential, not anonymous
Measuring employee engagement should have a business reason.
A common mistake is guaranteeing the anonymity of data. This means that you can never use this data for further analysis and, by extension, for the business.
Therefore, guarantee confidentiality, not anonymity.
4. Use your data for value added-analysis
It’s nice to know you’ve achieved a 7% increase in engagement since last year but what does that really mean? You can use the data to measure how engaged workers impact business outcomes.
To give an example, at Best Buy a 1% increase in engagement led to a $100,000 growth in revenue per store.
5. What’s in it for the employee?
Filling in surveys is usually not people’s favorite way to pass time. So, what can you give your people to motivate them to fill in a survey?
Giving them insights into their own results is fundamental to helping them understand the importance of the survey. Or maybe you can promise a customized report with tips on their current situation.
Storytime: Google’s passion projects
Google and many other Silicon Valley giants are famous for their employee perks, everything from employee shuttles, to free lunches, and even in-house massages.
But while perks are nice, they don’t always impact employee engagement. Freedom and trust are better—especially when it comes to how to use your time.
Google goes one step further, allowing employees to spend 20 percent of their time on personal projects, or what they call, “Passion Projects”.
Google Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin created ’20 percent time’ back in 2004. It gives employees one full day per week (20 percent of their time) to work on a Google-related passion project of their own choosing or creation.
Not only does this 20 percent program give employees an incredible amount of autonomy, but it’s also hatched some of Google’s most valuable services, including AdSense, Gmail, and Google Maps.
In short, we love how Google is handling employee engagement because it:
- Allows employees to be autonomous with their time
- Shows the company’s flexibility
- Empowers employees
In sum, it’s a great example of exactly Steve Jobs once said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do”.
The manager’s role in employee engagement
You now have the key to measuring employee engagement. Time to take action! But when better benefits, free snacks, and ping pong tables don’t do the trick, what’s left to move that engagement needle?
The answer: managers.
The role of the manager is evolving as workplace relationships and environment are becoming key to employee connection and engagement.