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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
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Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Writer, Culture Amp

In many ways, employee engagement is like the wind. You feel it. You hear it. You see its impact on the world around you. But you can’t quite wrap your arms around it.

Despite employee engagement’s growing popularity as an HR buzzword, it remains a nebulous concept. The lack of understanding about what it really means has led to an oversimplification – an engaged employee is a good employee. That’s not quite accurate.

So what actually is employee engagement? And perhaps most importantly, how can you measure it?

What exactly is employee engagement?

Here’s the employee engagement definition we use here at Culture Amp:

Employee engagement represents the levels of enthusiasm and connection employees have with their organization. It’s a measure of how motivated people are to put in extra effort for their organization and a sign of how committed they are to staying there.

Engaged employees are enthusiastic, committed, and motivated. So, it goes without saying that engagement is important – which is why many leaders are on a mission to improve it.

However, engagement isn’t actually something you can act on. It’s an outcome of an organization’s actions and overall employee experience.

Why measure employee engagement?

At this point, most people leaders are familiar with the benefits of employee engagement, including greater productivity, higher satisfaction, increased retention, and improved company performance.

But what are the benefits of measuring employee engagement? Why go through the work of understanding how your organization currently stacks up? Measuring your employee engagement allows you to:

  • Identify strategic changes that will improve your staff, company culture, and the entire organization.
  • Foster a culture of trust as you demonstrate to employees that you value their experiences and insights
  • Build a strong business case for any employee initiatives you want to implement, as you can readily show whether or not they improve engagement

As the old saying goes, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” So if you’ve set your sights on improving employee engagement within your organization, you first need to know where you’re starting – and how you’ll monitor your progress.

How to measure employee engagement: 4 steps to build your understanding

All of the benefits of measuring employee engagement don’t change this fact: It’s notoriously tough for organizations to quantify.

This is because engagement encompasses so much. Every single part of an employee’s experience with your organization – their leadership, recognition, development opportunities, relationships with colleagues, and more – has a distinct impact on their level of engagement.

That means measuring employee engagement feels a lot like measuring every aspect of your organization. It can seem overwhelming, which means many companies default to gut feelings and simplistic assumptions (“Well, it seems like everybody’s happy.”).

Let’s look at how to go beyond hunches and get a real, research-backed grasp on how engaged your employees are.

1. Understand the various ways to measure employee engagement

In terms of the actual measurement methods, there are numerous ways that you can take the temperature of your staff’s engagement. These include:

Employee engagement surveys – both baseline surveys and pulse surveys – are the most popular and reliable method for measuring engagement. However, complementing them with other measurement methods will give you a more holistic picture of what’s really happening within your organization.

2. Craft the right survey questions

Considering that engagement surveys will likely be a big piece of the puzzle as you figure out how to measure employee engagement, let’s talk a little more about that specific method.

To establish a baseline, start with a comprehensive employee engagement survey. Keep the survey to about 50-60 questions so that it will only take people about 10 minutes to complete.

However, simply rolling out this engagement survey isn’t enough – to dig deep into the outcomes and the drivers of employee engagement, you need to ask the right questions.

At Culture Amp, we use five survey questions to measure the outcomes of employee engagement. We call this our “engagement index.” Employees are asked to rate their agreement with the following outcomes and statements:

  1. Pride: “I am proud to work for [Company].”
  2. Recommendation: “I would recommend [Company] as a great place to work.”
  3. Present commitment: “I rarely think about looking for a job at another company.”
  4. Future commitment: “I see myself still working at [Company] in two years’ time.”
  5. Motivation: “[Company] motivates me to go beyond what I would in a similar role elsewhere.”

These five questions are a solid starting point, but a thorough engagement survey goes beyond them to ask targeted questions relating to the four main factors that drive employee engagement: Leadership, Enablement, Alignment, and Development (LEAD).

These questions ask employees to rate their agreement with statements like:

  • “The leaders at [Company] keep people informed about what is happening.”
  • “I have access to the things I need to do my job well.”
  • “I receive appropriate recognition when I do good work.”
  • “I believe there are good career opportunities for me at this company.”

…and plenty more. Asking about the above outcomes and drivers (we have an engagement survey template to get you started) helps you craft a survey that inquires about all of the aspects of engagement – rather than getting hung up on one focus area and missing something important as a result.

3. Dig deeper into feedback

When you have your engagement survey results in-hand, it’s time to review and make sense of that feedback. Our people scientists can help you interpret your data and develop relevant action plans.

However, if you feel surprised or confused about something that was illuminated in the survey results, you can pull on that thread using some of the other methods we mentioned above — like chatting directly with employees or hosting conversations with managers about what they’re seeing on their teams.

Data is undeniably helpful. But getting out there and supplementing it with face-to-face conversations and experiences adds helpful color, context, and details.

4. Commit to the measurement process

Your initial engagement survey will spotlight some focus areas that you’ll want to take immediate action on – whether it’s providing more development opportunities, offering more training to leadership, improving work-life balance, or anything else.

It’s time to take action, but you must also ensure you’re set up to monitor your progress moving forward. Pulse surveys are short surveys (typically 5-15 questions) that track progress on a specific focus area of your choice.

Wondering when and how often to use different surveys to measure and monitor engagement? Here at Culture Amp, we recommend the following survey cadence using a one-year structure with one survey per quarter:

  • Quarter one: Baseline survey that provides the broad baseline for your culture or engagement levels
  • Quarter two: Pulse survey that tracks progress on a specific activity resulting from your baseline survey, as well as core engagement questions
  • Quarter three: Deep dive survey that helps you identify and diagnose a specific topic that’s too difficult or complex to dig into in a baseline survey
  • Quarter four: Pulse survey that tracks progress on a specific activity, as well as core engagement questions and follow-up questions based on results from your deep dive survey

You don’t have to follow that structure exactly, but it’s a solid framework for soliciting feedback without making employees feel like you’re asking the same things repeatedly.

In short, employee engagement isn’t something you can measure once. Much like your organization itself, your engagement levels are ever-changing. Monitoring them regularly and reliably helps you stay on top of those inevitable ebbs and flows.

Measure, modify, and master employee engagement

Employee engagement feels hard to define – and even harder to measure. But rest assured; there are real and reliable ways to gain an understanding of your employees’ enthusiasm, commitment, and motivation so that you can make meaningful improvements.

And while some organizations are quick to point to “survey fatigue” as an argument against closely monitoring engagement levels, it’s worth remembering: People don’t get tired of offering their opinions – they get tired of their employers failing to act on them.

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