Employee Engagement
7 min read

What is employee engagement?

Alexis Croswell

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

Reading Time: 7 minutes

We know that engaged employees lead to higher performing, more resilient organizations. This ideal state is what many organizations aspire to, but what exactly is employee engagement?

Employee engagement defined:

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.

Importantly, employee engagement is an outcome that depends on the actions of an organization, particularly the actions driven by leadership, managers, and people teams.

Many organizations seek out higher levels of engagement to improve things like performance, retention and innovation. Using an employee engagement survey is a great way to understand what impacts the engagement of your employees and help drive action over time.

Why engagement matters for people at work

People who are highly engaged at work not only provide greater value to the organization but they experience a better quality of life at work. Culture Amp People Scientist Fresia Jackson explains what an engaged employee looks like. People who are engaged feel energized by their work and actually maintain positive mental health. They do more good deeds at work, like helping a new hire get acclimated (without being asked). People also work in a state of flow when they feel engaged; time passes, and they’re absorbed in their work. As Jackson says, “These behaviors bring to life employee engagement survey results because they’re what we see day-to-day.” High levels of engagement also lead to increased employee retention.

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Why engagement matters at the organizational level

When organizations use surveys to understand the drivers of employee engagement at their organization, they’re able to take more effective action on what’s important. Jeff Ehrenberg, VP of People at HotelTonight, says that with employee feedback data, their people team is able to answer strategic questions for the business in a way that informs leadership with data. With typically lean people teams, it’s important to use employee feedback platforms to focus on things that have the biggest impact.

How to measure employee engagement

The simplest and most accurate way to understand and measure employee engagement is by using an employee engagement survey. Because employee engagement is an outcome, you can use a survey to ask questions about different factors that affect it to see what’s most impactful.

That’s what an engagement survey can show you – what’s driving employee engagement in your unique organization.

Here are five things you should know before measuring: 

  1. It takes more than one question to understand employee engagement
  2. Using the best employee engagement survey questions gets you an accurate view of engagement in your company
  3. Employee engagement driver analysis gives you better insight on where to take action
  4. Knowing the common drivers of employee engagement is helpful for understanding overall trends of engagement
  5. Benchmark data gives you useful context for your survey results

We’ll dive into each of these bullet points below.

1. It takes more than one question to understand employee engagement

Because of its complexity, engagement is best understood through a series of questions in a survey rather than a single question. Culture Amp’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Jason McPherson says, “In general, statisticians agree that well-constructed, multiple-item indicators are more reliable and tend to provide better external validity than single-question metrics.” In other words, asking a handful of questions on a specific topic will give you a more reliable and clear picture of what’s going on rather than just asking, “How satisfied are you at work?”

The Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) was long regarded as the go-to metric for measuring employee engagement. The eNPS typically consists of a single question about whether someone would recommend their company as a great place to work.

While this is valuable information, recommendation on its own doesn’t capture everything about engagement. It’s important to get a holistic view of what different factors influence engagement so action planning is based on the whole picture and relevant data.

2. The best employee engagement survey questions

Since engagement encompasses connection, motivation and commitment, an engagement survey should ask questions that provide data on these factors. For this reason, Culture Amp’s surveys use five questions to understand engagement that encompass pride, recommendation (Net Promoter Style), present and future commitment, and motivation.

Here are the five engagement questions that encompass the outcomes of employee engagement:

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

Check out our article on 20 simple employee engagement survey questions you should ask for more detail on our recommended questions for engagement surveys.

3. Employee engagement driver analysis

Companies that use surveys like Culture Amp’s can see what’s influencing engagement through a technique called driver analysis.

Driver analysis shows you which factors are most related to employee engagement.

Dr. Jason McPherson explains how this works in our platform: “If the top driver of engagement is a learning and development question, this means that people who respond most positively to that question are also likely to be the most engaged. If you act to improve responses to that question then you have an improved chance of making your employees more engaged overall.”

4. Common drivers of employee engagement

The drivers of engagement can change from company to company, and even within the same company over time. However, there are some trends that we’ve seen across our customer data over the years.

On an annual basis at Culture Amp we use aggregate customer data to see what’s driving employee engagement across the companies that we work with. It’s a diverse group – we work with 1200+ companies across more than 120 industries.

In 2018, the top drivers were:

  1. Learning and development
  2. Leadership
  3. Service and quality focus

In this graphic, you can also see the specific employee engagement questions used in our customer’s surveys.

5. Use employee engagement benchmark data for comparison

When measuring employee engagement, it’s important to have internal year over year comparisons in your survey data as well as external benchmarks.

“Benchmarks are great at giving you context,” say Dr. Jason McPherson, “For example, when you get a poor score on a particular survey question you can look at a relevant benchmark and see that your score is actually normal for most companies. The benchmark makes sure you don’t panic about the wrong things.”

As Jason explains, hitting the benchmark shouldn’t be your goal.

“A common mistake people make is fixating on trying to hit the benchmark. It’s not necessarily important to get to 72% if you’re currently on 70%, particularly if that question or factor is something that your people don’t value that much. It’s more important to look at the data and the relationships in the data so that you can focus on the things that matter to your people.”

Use benchmarks to provide context to your survey results, and make sure you’re using a diverse benchmark with reference to your talent pool.

Defining and understanding employee engagement

Employee engagement is an outcome, one that is affected by the actions of an organization, particularly the actions driven by leadership, managers, and people teams. Using an employee engagement survey is the best way to measure employee engagement and find areas to take action for improvement.

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