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7 Min Read

Why Should Leaders Measure Employee Engagement?

Joanne Chu

Employee engagement means different things to different people. Gallup defines employee engagement as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work.” Harvard Business Review defines employee engagement as people who “want to come to work, understand their jobs, and know how their work contributes to the success of the organization.” At 15Five, we define employee engagement as “those who find work and life consistently energizing, inspiring, and meaningful because they are leveraging their highest strengths, values, and passions.” 

Whichever definition you prefer, it’s evident that employee engagement is tied to business outcomes. Gallup reports that organizations in the top quartile of engagement have 10% higher customer ratings, 17% higher productivity, and 21% higher profitability than those in the bottom. A 2017 Jacob Morgan study showed that companies who invested in actual employee engagement had 4x the profit and 2x the revenue than companies who just focused on improving employee engagement numbers. 

When you regularly measure and analyze employee engagement, you’re actually working toward much bigger goals. By identifying issues before they have a chance to become full-blown issues, you set the stage for an authentic culture built around collaboration and trust.

This, in turn, makes people comfortable taking on initiatives that help move the business forward. Instead of shying away from big ideas and grand goals, the supported employee will embrace them. Rather than getting frustrated by challenging tasks, the engaged team member will find satisfaction in overcoming them.

All because of one simple reason: They know that when things get uncomfortable or especially challenging, they can provide feedback — and rest assured leadership will act on it.

The current concept of engagement is wrong

Leading researchers in organizational psychology have critiqued employee engagement surveys for a number of years, saying that it’s an old concept with an unclear definition, unproven results, and administered through outdated practices and technology. 

The term employee engagement was first used in the late 1990s. Since then, many definitions of engagement have appeared, and while each definition varies, many define employee engagement through related concepts, such as behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, or feelings, like job satisfaction. However, the concept of work engagement cannot be reduced to any of these.  Worse, there is little to no scientific evidence suggesting that measuring or improving the engagement-related concepts have a direct impact on improving performance.

A more accurate definition of engagement

We’re aiming to redefine engagement. We believe engaged employees are those who find their work consistently energizing, inspiring, and meaningful because they are leveraging their highest strengths, values, and passions.

According to the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, there are concrete ways to help people shift from feeling disengaged and neutral to feeling highly engaged, energized, and motivated. Yet there are very few technologies designed to promote thriving, and hardly any have made their way into the national workforce. 

15Five looks to positive psychology to inform much of what we do because of its focus on nurturing what’s best within ourselves, which we believe is key to thriving in all parts of life. For example, when employees are able to leverage their personal strengths in their roles, they’re more likely to feel motivated, engaged, and fulfilled. 

Inspired by the science of job crafting

Job crafting, originally called job architecting, changes the meaning and purpose of work for people. It’s the key to creating a positive-sum game between employees and organizations. 

In many organizations, it’s common to squeeze employees into a predefined mold, which is cemented with a job description. But this approach misses a critical step: self discovery. Self discovery is an important precursor to self development and helping people find their work meaningful. 

Meaningful work helps people shift from having jobs (work as a source of income) to careers (advancement in an occupation) to callings (fulfillment from the work itself). When people find their work meaningful, levels of motivation, engagement, and satisfaction go up, while stress and absenteeism go down. 

15Five digs into these elements so organizations can uncover where their people can be better supported, and understand what it will take to help them reach their full potential.

Understand behaviors that impact performance

One of the best ways to understand your employees’ engagement levels and where you can improve is to utilize employee engagement surveys. From there, you can then develop an employee engagement strategy that takes your workforce’s strengths and weaknesses into consideration.

Employee engagement surveys allow you to see what your employees truly think about your organization in a multitude of areas in a safe and comfortable manner. Because the engagement surveys are anonymous, employees can also freely give their honest feedback without fear of retribution. 

Typically, companies take an annual engagement survey approach, but this cadence is usually just to get a general view of the company and not dig any deeper. By measuring employee engagement on a quarterly basis, companies can actually start to identify trends within their organization and be proactive in addressing issues before they arise. Through regular back-to-back surveys, leaders can get to know their employees on a much closer level and make effective, faster changes throughout the fiscal year.

When measuring employee engagement leads to results

By measuring engagement at regular intervals, you see how employees’ current levels of motivation and commitment impact other business drivers like retention and customer service.

  • We’ve seen this play out numerous times at companies in a variety of industries. For example:
  • If you gather employee feedback at regular intervals, you might discover that a small, simple investment is all you need to empower employee creativity.
  • By measuring employee engagement during down times, you could uncover ways to make a difficult merger or acquisition go more smoothly.
  • When you make employee engagement a top priority, increased retention is a very likely result.

Even your customers want you to take employee engagement seriously, since it means better services and experiences: When you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your customers.

They’ll be much more inclined to stick around, too. We’ve seen companies decrease turnover as much as 20% within a year as a direct result of measuring employee engagement.

How to measure employee engagement for better business outcomes

When you’re starting out, an important thing to remember is that employee engagement should be measured on the same cadence as other business KPIs. In addition, you’ll need to connect your engagement metrics to other goals. Otherwise, you may end up with a lot of data — but little in the way of insight you can actually act on.

Thankfully, there’s an easy way to achieve this.

We recommend starting with a quarterly confidential survey to measure and analyze employee engagement across the entire organization.

When reviewing results, be sure to segment the data based on various factors such as department or location. This will help you identify any pressing issues, so you can work on finding solutions right away.

Put simply: Solicit feedback from employees, extract any problem areas, and decide immediately how you’ll resolve them. This straightforward process can have tremendous impacts on your most important business outcomes.

Putting Data Into Action

Engagement measurement is only productive if something is done with the results. It may be overwhelming at first to know what to do with all the data after an employee engagement survey. If you feel stuck, it may be beneficial to enlist the help of an engagement survey consultant to help unpack the survey results and roll out an action plan tailored to your organization.

Then, arm your managers with the knowledge and resources needed to further support their team. Many times, the success of an employee engagement strategy depends on these people leaders. If you are proactive in helping managers be proactive, you will be one step closer to a more productive and happier workforce.

Check out 15Five’s employee engagement feature Engage to learn how you can boost the type of engagement that drives performance.