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Defining, Measuring, and Impacting Employee Engagement

Posted on Sep 18th 2018

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Defining, Measuring, and Impacting Employee Engagement

Employee engagement and, more importantly, how to improve it, remains a top concern for both small and large businesses.

According to a study done by UNC Kenanflager Business School,

"Organizations with highly engaged employees had an average 3-year revenue growth 2.3x greater than companies whose employees were only engaged at an average level."

This statistic offers one huge insight and prompts two big questions.

The insight:

Employee engagement has a direct impact on the bottom line. Simply put, no company can afford to ignore it.

The questions:

  • What does "engagement" really mean?
  • How can organizations get average engagement levels up to high engagement levels?

What "Engagement" Really Means

There are about a million definitions out there. Among them (and a few contributors to why employee engagement is difficult to understand and measure effectively for many companies):

  • "The harnessing of organization members' selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances." -Boston University Professor William Kahn
  • "An employee's job satisfaction, loyalty, and inclination to expend discretionary effort toward organizational goals."-Deloitte
  • "Employees who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace." -Gallup

Regardless of the definition that resonates most with your company, just about every definition out there suggests that there are a variety of emotions organizations must measure in order to get an accurate pulse on an employee's engagement.

According to Officevibe, engagement is defined by 10 metrics:

  • Feedback
  • Recognition
  • Happiness
  • Relationship with peers
  • Relationship with managers
  • Personal growth
  • Alignment
  • Satisfaction
  • Wellness
  • Ambassadorship

If engagement is the sum of the factors above, there are two big challenges for employers who want to measure it and learn how to improve it:

  • Asking the right questions
  • Understanding what to do with the answers

How to Ask the Right Questions

Engagement, like loyalty, is an emotion that's most accurately measured by indirect questions. Here's a good test of what we're talking about.

Send a survey to a handful of people in your office asking how loyal they are to your organization on a scale of 1-10.

Then, send a second survey to the same group of people asking how likely they are to refer a friend to work at your organization on a scale of 1-10.

It's much more difficult to answer a direct question relating to loyalty and engagement. Questions that suggest these emotions are much easier for employees to digest and answer honestly.

How to Utilize the Data

Part of the reason companies find engagement difficult to impact at scale is that while it may have a single definition to the organization as an entity, it often means different things to different employees.

For example, John, a self-starter passionate about his work, may receive plenty of recognition but perceives little or no path for advancement.

Lindsay, on the other hand, is a team-oriented driver who has great relationships with her peers and manager, but finds herself sacrificing too much personal time for work.

Both John and Lindsay are less engaged than they could be, but the methods an employer would use to get them more engaged is unique to each person.

So how can employers impact engagement at scale?

Start with the common denominators. If employee surveys, one-on-ones, and exit interviews consistently indicate that people perceive little path forward, you've got a great starting point for engagement improvement.

If you notice a lack of feedback, praise, or thanks company wide, initiatives that promote communication and gratitude should move to the top of your list.

Work individually on the outliers. Every employee in your organization is different, and different aspects of their work and workplace are going to impact their engagement level.

Keep in mind: most people don't expect their employers to be perfect at creating solutions suited specifically to them and only them.

It's simply caring enough to ask, caring enough to try, and caring enough to be honest about what can and can't be done that can make all the difference.