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Bernard Marr

Bernard Marr is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the fields of business and technology, with a passion for using technology for the good of humanity. He is a best-selling author of 20 books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations. He has over 2 million social media followers, 1 million newsletter subscribers and was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK.

Bernard’s latest book is ‘Business Trends in Practice: The 25+ Trends That Are Redefining Organisations’

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How Do You Measure Employee Engagement? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

2 July 2021

Few employers would deny that employee engagement is a critical part of business performance. Yet, in my experience, few employers are really measuring employee engagement in an effective, meaningful way.

Here I look at what’s great (and not so great) about measuring employee engagement, and identify some of the most useful indicators for understanding your employees.

The good

Engaged employees are more motivated and productive, they care about the organisation’s success, they lift the spirits of those around them, and they deliver great service. There’s no doubt that cultivating an engaged, motivated workforce is absolutely vital.

Measuring employee engagement tells you how motivated your people are and how invested they are in the business and its goals. Done well, it will highlight what motivates your people, and areas where you could do better. Using these insights, you can take action to improve employee engagement – which will have a direct impact on productivity, staff retention, employer brand and more.

The bad

Given how important employee engagement is, it’s disappointing to see how many employers don’t measure it in a meaningful way. Too many companies take a one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement, favouring proxy or standard tools like the annual employee survey – perhaps because it’s what everyone else does.

But I would argue that these standard tools are unlikely to give you the data you really need. That’s because this standard approach always starts with data; you deploy a lengthy staff survey and then interrogate the data to see what insights you can pull out. This, to me, is completely the wrong way around. Instead of starting with the data itself, you need to start with your goals and information needs. Only then can you work out exactly what you need to measure.

So, start by defining your employee engagement goals. What does “engaged” mean for your organisation? Then, figure out the questions you need to answer as you work towards that ideal. For example, if the business has recently undergone a change in strategy, you might be asking yourself “Do our employees understand the company’s new vision and strategic goals?” and “How has this change in vision affected staff motivation?”

Once you’ve identified what it is you need to know, only then can you develop the metrics and indicators that will help you answer those questions. In this way, one-size-fits-all tools are meaningless. You need to measure engagement in whatever way is right for your business.

And the ugly

Another huge problem with standard tools like the annual survey is that they’re far too infrequent. How can you spot trends in employee engagement and take appropriate, swift action if you’re only measuring it once a year? You can’t.

A big survey may be useful for establishing a baseline when you’re just starting to measure employee engagement. But after that, you really need to engage with your employees on a much more regular basis. Short pulse surveys (which I discuss below) are a great way to do this. Alternatively, if you really want to use longer surveys, instead of surveying everyone at the same time once a year, survey 10% of your workforce each month. That way, you can still pick up key trends as they emerge.

So what works?

Taking the good, the bad and the ugly into account, let’s look at a few of the most useful ways to measure employee engagement. Again, I must stress that the methods you choose should be clearly linked to your goals and priorities, so focus your efforts on the tools and metrics that are most meaningful for your organisation.

Regular pulse surveys

Many employee engagement platforms now incorporate a pulse survey offering, and it’s easy to see why. Pulse surveys are much shorter than a typical employee engagement survey, so they’re easy to use and encourage a higher response rate from employees. Instead of asking 50 or even 100 questions, a pulse survey can be as short as one question (at a push, up to 10 questions). Who doesn’t have time to answer one quick question?

Because pulse surveys are so short, they can be issued much more frequently – weekly is good for monitoring trends over time, but you could even do daily if you’ve got a large workforce and can sample different groups each day. This gives you much faster insights into employee engagement trends.

Pulse surveys also allow you to really drill down into your information needs. Do staff clearly understand the new compensation programme? Do they feel appreciated by their managers? Do they like the new menu in the canteen? The questions can be quickly and easily tailored to your priorities.

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS)

I’ve written in a separate post about why eNPS is a great way of measuring staff engagement, and how to use it. But, in a nutshell, this incredibly useful and simple tool involves asking employees “How likely would you be to recommend us as an employer?” Based on the responses, you then calculate a score that helps you understand how engaged and loyal your employees are. Importantly, that score can be easily benchmarked and tracked over time.

While I’m a big fan of eNPS, I do think it should be considered a starting point only. To really get the most out of eNPS, you need to ask a couple of follow-up questions: one asking what employees particularly like about the company, and the other asking them what you could do better. Only then can you understand why employees give the scores they give, and identify ways to improve employee engagement in the future.

Employee interviews

One-on-one interviews with employees are a great way to understand how people feel about the business. Exit interviews are pretty much standard across all industries, and these can give some valuable insights – albeit too late to improve that particular employees’ engagement.

But why stop at those who are leaving the company? Why not interview people a year after they join the company to find out what makes them engaged? Why not interview those who have been with the company for five years to find out what it is that makes them stay?

New ways to measure employee engagement

Artificial intelligence (AI) is bringing about new and exciting ways to measure employee engagement by analysing the data that employees generate in their day-to-day working lives. For example, image analytics means it’s now possible to analyse people’s facial expressions to understand how they really feel at work (not just how they say they feel).

Smart badges can monitor the tone of employee conversations to gauge their mood. Sentiment analysis can be used to analyse emails and other content. Feedback apps like Glint and tools like HappyOrNot terminals can give near-real-time insights into employees’ moods. It’s even possible to predict who might be about to leave the company based on their communications.

As exciting as these new tools are, it’s important to get the balance right between generating valuable insights that will benefit everyone across the company, and coming off as “Big Brother”. Nobody likes to feel like their employer is spying on them or gathering data for data’s sake. And obviously anything you do must be within the data privacy laws of your country – in the EU this is covered by the General Data Protection Regulation.

So, whatever you choose to measure, be sure to strike a careful balance by communicating openly and honestly with employees about what you’re measuring, why, and how it benefits everyone.

Where to go from here

If you would like to know more about measuring HR effectiveness, check out my articles on:

Or browse the KPI Library to find the metrics that matter most to you.

Data Strategy Book | Bernard Marr

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