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Understanding the employee net promoter score (eNPS)
Jason McPherson, founding scientist at Culture Amp

Jason McPherson

Founding Scientist, Culture Amp

Since it was first widely publicized in 2003, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) has been a sensation in consumer research. As a customer metric based on a single question, some claimed it to be an ultimate indicator, although doubts have been raised about its singular status. In 2016, more than two-thirds of the USA’s fortune 1000 companies used it.

The Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) is an employee-focused variant of customer NPS. In customer success research, customers are asked the question: “How likely are you to recommend (product name) to a friend or colleague?” Based on the widespread use in marketing and market research departments, HR departments have adapted the question to be suitable for employees and renamed it eNPS. 

Confusingly, this form of eNPS is thought to evaluate employee engagement by some companies, even though other companies think of it as something different altogether. Culture Amp's own research suggests it is clearly an indicator of employee engagement, and a useful addition where multiple items are used for valid and reliable measurement. 

In the rest of this article, we’ll explore the connection between employee net promoter scores and employee engagement. 

Why ask an Employee Net Promoter Score question?

Simplicity is great – and a single question like the eNPS only takes a few seconds. But as mentioned above, eNPS only measures one part of employee engagement, making it a less reliable measure than asking a few extra questions. 

Think about it like this: People can recommend your company as a great place to work, but lack motivation and commitment. On the other hand, maybe employees don’t have people in their network who specialize in your field of work, so they don’t recommend it, but they are proud to work there and highly motivated. 

This is why eNPS is a great question to include in an Engagement Index. In Culture Amp’s Engagement Index, we simply call it a “recommend” item. 

So yes, we support the use of well-crafted Employee Net Promoter Score questions like these. We just don’t recommend it as the only question to ask.

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Is eNPS the ultimate measure?

Studies have shown that other single-item measures might be just as good as the Net Promoter Score method. In some cases, similar tools may actually produce better results.

In general, research shows that well-constructed multiple-item indicators (where you average or sum multiple questions) are more statistically reliable and tend to predict other things more reliably than single-question metrics. There are many employee engagement indexes that do just that.

Testing eNPS and engagement

We’re always keen to test things out using our own data, and over the years we have tested an eNPS-type score against our multi-item indicators on a number of occasions.

In one example, we conducted research with a customer who had around 500 people use a 0-10 eNPS question as well as our 5-point eNPS (recommend) question. The results were close to the same, with a correlation of .91. Both the 0-10 and 5-point eNPS scores both indicated a 37 NPS (decimals apart at 36.6 and 36.7 in this case). Here’s what the data looks like.

Scatterplot showing correlation between 0-10 eNPS point scale and Culture Amp's 5-point agreement scale

This image is a smoothed density scatterplot of eNPS scores using 5-point and 0-10 (11-point) scales. The regression line shows a near-perfect correlation (r=.91). N.B. Darker zones represent larger numbers of respondents in the same spot on the chart.

If your organization is one of those that strictly adheres to the correlation, that’s great. How would you know whether your company adheres? Put simply, the only way to know is to ask more employee engagement questions.

What about companies who use the single-question eNPS metric? 

Many of the organizations that rely on the eNPS seem to be tracking fine. They work with their employees to maintain their scores. I think this stands testament to the fundamental importance of measuring simply and regularly and checking in with employees. If you’re a Culture Amp customer interested in calculating your eNPS score, you have the ability to turn on that feature within the platform – just speak with our team at support@cultureamp.com.

The fact that eNPS can work does not mean that it is the ultimate question. It just shows that measuring, tracking, and acting make a powerful combination. Of course, simply doing something is a great start. Doing it better is the way to amplify your positive outcomes.

So, what engagement questions should you ask? 

The simplicity of a single-question metric certainly has its appeal. If you are limited to asking just one question, an eNPS score might be a great question to ask. However, for some purposes, there are other questions that might be better. In most situations, asking more than one question will increase accuracy.

Simplicity is great, but so is accurate and reliable information. While one question only takes a second, a couple of extra questions only takes a few more seconds.

What’s next

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