So here is a question for you, how can you measure something that doesn’t exist, is more of a principle than a fact and is incredibly difficult to define? That’s the deal with measuring employee engagement.

Measuring engagement has become the holy grail for HR folks like me, and a great money spinner for survey organisations around the globe. We all want to know how much our teams want to work for us, and whether they’re prepared to put the extra effort in, but as Demming notes, whilst this would be great to know, its virtually impossible to find out.
[blockquote author=”W.E.Demming” link=”” link_title=”” target=””] The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable [/blockquote]

Is it important to know if your team is engaged?

Hell yeah, whilst this post is about trying to put measuring engagement into context, lets not lose site of the fact that employee engagement is a huge contributing factor to an organisations success. Without it we get work to rule, management by policy, no creativity, highly dependant employees, adequate performance and a problem focused culture and excessive quality control. So it would be really cool to know if the team are on board or not.


The problems with measuring engagement

The main reasons why measuring engagement is nearly impossible include:

  • There is no common definition of engagement so we all describe it in different ways
  • Employees show engagement in different ways, just because someone arrives & leaves on time doesn’t mean they aren’t engaged
  • Engagement is an intangible feeling, employees can be engaged and not actually know it
  • When surveyed employees may not always state how they really feel about their job or boss for fear of comeback
  • Employees may perceive they are more engaged than they actually are
  • Whether or not an employee is engaged is dictated by numerous factors some of which can be linked to work, others are personal, so a disengaged employee may be dictated by personal factors rather than the quality of their boss

The problems with questionnaires

The most common method of measuring engagement is the tried and trusted employee survey, but this brings its own issues:

  • Lies, damn lies and statistics – enough said – we can make data say anything
  • Questions can be biased to gain specific favourable answers, for example an organisation with low turnover may focus on this as an indicator of engagement rather than leadership behaviours
  • Employees don’t like portraying themselves in a negative light so are more inclined to give a safe or positive response
  • Some employees have the belief they are engaged because in their own mind they are flexible etc, but others have a different perception of them
  • Cost is prohibitive for many SME organisations
  • Results are conflicting, employees who state they are not looking for another job, could report they don’t trust their boss – does this mean they are engaged or not………aaaaaarrrrrgggghhhh

What can we do to measure engagement?

Rule number 1, accept you can’t do it. Good, now you have got that on board lets look at what we can do without spending the national income of the Seychelles on a survey that frustrates everyone.

  • Monitor your sickness absence rates – look at teams and departments to see if you have higher rates in one team over another – this could suggest dissatisfaction with work
  • Monitor you turnover rates – number of leavers within a given period of time as a percentage of all workers, this measures leavers against all long and short serving employees
  • Monitor your churn rate – if you employ large numbers you can examine the number of new starters who leave in a month vs the number of starters in the same period
  • Monitor employee performance vs appraisal goals – % that meet or exceed them, % that don’t do them, % that have been promoted
  • Observe and record behaviours – where employees go above and beyond make a note of it and periodically review to see who tends to do more good things than others
  • Ask for and monitor customer feedback – happy staff tend to give better service than unhappy staff
  • Monitor productivity rates – if the job is measurable look at how much work is getting done, as above happy people tend to work harder than unhappy people

And if you must do a survey………….Keep it short, keep it frequent – do a pulse survey, 3 questions (always the same) asked 3 times a year such as:

  1. I enjoy coming to work (agree/disagree)
  2. I trust my colleagues (agree/disagree)
  3. I trust my manager (agree/disagree)
  4. I’d want my friends to get a job here (agree/disagree)
  5. My manager respects me (agree/disagree)
  6. I am fairly rewarded for the job I do (agree/disagree)
  7. My manager listens to me (agree/disagree)
  8. I try to change things for the better (agree/disagree)
  9. I give 100% everyday (agree/disagree)

So where does this get us, principally if you want to measure engagement look at what you are already measuring and then take the budget you would have used to run the survey and give it away as either gifts in recognition of hard work for the team, take them out for a meal when things have gone well or donate it to a charity nominated by the employees – this’ll do more to build trust and respect than any survey.