Can you survey employee engagement?

November 7, 2018

Can you survey employee engagement?

Mentioning the phrase ‘employee engagement’ seems to bring an army of over-enthusiastic HR consultants crawling out of the woodwork. They will eagerly tell you how to increase employee engagement, and they will happily charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege.

But you can only increase something if it is actually measurable. And so, I’ve been speaking to a few experts, to find out if you can actually survey employee engagement.

Engagement is not the same as happiness

Experts like Professor Rob Briner believe that engagement is not a particularly new concept – rather, it’s just a new word that people are using for a bunch of old concepts. However, Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of Mettl, says that employee engagement is very different from employee happiness.

“Employee engagement is concerned about how driven and motivated your employees feel in the pursuit to meet your organisational objectives” explains Kapoor. “For engagement to work, employees must be feeling a euphoric sense of accomplishment with the advancement of organisational goals, that only their professional work makes possible.”

According to Kapoor, measuring engagement with a single yardstick, or by circulating a plain, vanilla survey, will not tell you whether or not your employees are engaged.

To survey employee engagement you must define what you are measuring

Sarah Deane is the founder of EffectUX, and specialises in creating diagnostic tools and improvement systems.

“It is important to understand what you are measuring” says Deane, “and this starts with the definition. If the definition of engagement is that employees are invested in the success of the company and are motivated, then you need to learn what makes your people feel this way, before you can successfully measure it.”

We touched on this earlier this year, when we looked at what an employee engagement survey should look like. Essentially, to measure engagement, you must create a survey which measures the ingredients which lead to your definition of engagement – such as personal growth, job satisfaction and wellness.

Trying to survey employee engagement can have limited results

Adam Fridman is the creator of ProHabits, a psychology-based technology platform that inspires organisations to develop positive habits. And for Adam, it’s important to think outside the box and away from the traditional ‘survey’.

“The concept of employee engagement was coined in 1990 by academic researchers” he says. “Originally, an engaged employee was one who was absorbed and enthusiastic about their work. Since then, ‘employee engagement’ has become synonymous with the ‘engagement survey’. As made ubiquitous by Gallup, the Q12 engagement survey has 12 questions that have previously been associated with more objective measures of engagement as well as other business outcomes.”

However, Fridman adds that just because ‘employee engagement’ has a survey named after it, doesn’t mean that your survey results will indicate anything concreate about your team’s actual level of engagement.

“To measure actual engagement, leaders need to shift their mindset away from a top-down process achieved through surveys and HCM solutions” he says. “Engagement is about an individual and their motivation.”

But if it works for you – then measure the hell out of it

To survey employee engagement, you must first define it. And it seems that there is some disagreement on how engagement is defined. However, if the definition you choose to measure and improve is delivering business results, then worry less about what you call it, and more about what it is doing for you.

One of our customers, Circle IT, measured employee engagement as part of their annual survey, and managed to take action which led to cutting turnover from 54% to 15%, which saved them over £100,000.

Watch the video of Circle IT’s story now.

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