Whenever I write an article about employee engagement, I always feel the need to open with a disclaimer of sorts. You see, there is no common understanding of what employee engagement actually is. And if you can’t agree on what something is, then you can’t measure it.
With that in mind, I can quite confidently say that I believe engaged employees perform better, and stick around longer. I can’t prove this for sure. But I do tend to find that most definitions of engagement, once measured, seem to point to this same conclusion.
Recent research by ADP Research Institute (ADPRI) has produced results that support this idea. The study is well worth a look, especially considering that the researchers surveyed nearly 20,000 people, making it probably one of the largest global engagement surveys to date.
Finding a common definition of engagement
While there is no shortage of experts touting the benefits of employee engagement, finding a common definition is fairly difficult. In 2009, MacLeod and Clarke concluded that there is no one agreed definition of employee engagement.
But if we are happy to accept a fairly broad definition, then according to Harvard Business Review, employee engagement can be defined as “something to do with how involved people are in their work and how enthusiastic they are about it”.
In my experience, most definitions of engagement seem to somewhat fit this definition. And it certainly seems to match the attitude of the ADP Research Institute, who recently conducted what was probably the biggest global engagement survey to date.
The biggest global engagement survey to date
This year, ADP Research Institute set out to survey 19,346 employees, from 19 different countries across the world, in order to paint a global picture of engagement. Harvard Business Review describes this study as “the most extensive and methodologically consistent global study of engagement yet undertaken”.
The study was led, in part, by Marcus Buckingham, who you may know of from his work with Gallup. Building on his previous employee engagement work with Gallup, Marcus and the rest of the team set out to measure the global picture of engagement, using eight self-assessment statements as indicators of engagement.
What made this study particularly reliable, was that respondents were not directly rating other people, or their companies. They were simply rating themselves.
“People are horribly unreliable raters of other people”, writes Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, in Harvard Business Review. “When we ask someone to rate another person, or a company, on an abstract quality such as empathy or vision or strategic thinking or inclusiveness, the response tells us more about the person doing the rating than about the person or company being rated.”
They continue to say that in order to get good data, it is important to ask people only about their own experiences.
Eight statements that indicate engagement
Nearly 20,000 employees across 19 different countries, rated themselves using the following eight indicators of engagement:
- I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company
- At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me
- In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values
- I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work
- My teammates have my back
- I know I will be recognized for excellent work
- I have great confidence in my company’s future
- In my work, I am always challenged to grow
Ratings were adjusted to account for country-specific differences in self rating. For example, Brazilians tend to skew towards the positive, whereas Japanese tend to rate themselves more towards the negative.
From this data, ADPRI split respondents into two categories – employees who were “fully engaged”, and employees who were “coming to work”.
Engaged employees perform better and last longer
Of the respondents who fell into the “fully engaged” group, researchers made two interesting observations:
- Engaged employees perform better. Those who self-rated themselves highly, according to the above qualities, were far more likely to be seen by their managers as highly productive.
- Engaged employees stick around longer. Researchers also noticed that engaged employees were also far less likely to quit the organisation in the following six months.
The researchers felt it was important to point out that those people who were only “coming to work”, were not necessarily destructive or harmful to their organisations. However, they were also not passionately committed. They were simply exchanging their time, for a salary.
What to do if you want employees to perform better and stick around longer
I remain confident in the statement “engaged employees perform better”. But if you want to put this into practice within your organisation, then I’m not convinced that the right way to go about it, is to chase this loose idea of “engagement”.
The definition of engagement is far too broad. And actually, what the study above shows us, is not so much that engaged employees perform better – but rather, employees who rate themselves highly in these eight key areas, perform better.
So if you want your employees to perform better and stick around longer, then start by asking yourself these eight questions:
- Does your company have an exciting mission statement?
- Do your line managers make it clear what they expect from their employees?
- Do you promote common values throughout your teams?
- Do you employ people for positions where they can use their strengths?
- Do you encourage employees to stick up for each other?
- Do you hand out recognition for excellent work?
- Do you share your company’s roadmap for success with all employees?
- Do you challenge employees to grow and improve?
If you don’t feel like you do so well with some of these questions, then perhaps that’s where you need to start focusing. Especially if you want a workforce full of engaged employees who perform better and stick around longer.