How can you really measure employee engagement? (Or are people just happy to have a job at the moment?)

by 25 Jun 2009

Have employee engagement levels falsely risen due to the economic downturn? Sarah O’Carroll asks this issue’s panel about to measure true engagement

David Croston, Principal, Inside Research and author of Employee Engagement: The ‘People-first’ Approach to Building A Business

The ability of an engagement survey to ac curately capture and calibrate the level of en gagement inside a business is not depend ent upon the external environment. An external event – especially one as large as the GFC – can affect the result, but it should not change the validity of the instrument.

The real challenge is determining the best response to the survey findings, rather than questioning the survey.

For example, in the current climate you might see a substantial improvement in the percentage of positive responses to a typical “intention to stay” question.

Should your response be to declare, “mission accomplished” and ease back on the retention strategies you’ve worked so hard to put in place? Or should you look be yond the data, to determine what is driving the result?

There are a number of tools and tech niques you can use to triangulate your re search. This approach will give you a more accurate picture of what is happening and why.

Working with a survey provider that can provide external benchmarks is especial ly helpful during times of turbulence. This comparative context can allow you to de termine if the shift in numbers is above or below the average.

Similarly, a qualitative study to support your quantitative work can add flesh to the bones of your survey results. The ideal sce nario is a blend of data and dialogue that de livers a richer picture of what is happening inside your workplace.

In summary, yes many people are happy to have a job just now. However, this should not deflect you from your long-term objec tive of driving up engagement levels to achieve improved business performance

Graeme Bartram, director of human resources, BOC South Pacific

In tough times, the easy thing to do is to lose focus on employee engagement by assuming staff are happy to have a job. This inevitably leads to low levels of engagement. All staff want to feel valued - even good staff who have high mobility regardless of the economic environment. <[etk]>

Employee engagement has been a priority for BOC for many years. We use a range of traditional and non-traditional, formal and informal measures to assess employee engagement.

<[stk -1]>We employ traditional methods to measure employee engagement such as staff turnover and by assessing employee comments regarding internal work processes. To get a better understanding of the levels of engagement, we have conducted regular Hewitt surveys since the year 2000 to understand what our employees are thinking. There is no point in undertaking a survey of this nature if you aren't going to act upon the results. <[etk]>

<[stk -3]>At a recent series of workshops with senior managers, we emphasised the need to maintain an enhanced engagement with our staff. We want to ensure our managers are equipped with the most effective employee engagement tools possible - such as ensuring all staff have up-to-date personal development and training programs. This one-on-one commitment yields great informal feedback to monitor employee attitudes and morale. <[etk]>

<[stk 2]>To further engage with staff the CEO of our parent company, The Linde Group, recently visited from Germany and conducted a "Town Hall" meeting regarding the impacts of global conditions. Feedback indicates that our staff gained context and confidence in the direction of the business following the CEO's visit which embodied <[etk]><[stk 1]>the The Linde Spirit of: safety, sustainability, integrity and respect

Roger Collins, Profession Emeritus, University of New South Wales

Job satisfaction has been used extensively both as an indicator of employee wellbeing and as a predictor of performance and retention. But - as with many ideas - as a predictor, satisfaction promised more than it delivered. This was in part because we began to understand that job satisfaction both influenced and is influenced by performance and other factors.

Current best practice relies on the concept of engagement. This term is used and operationalised by a number of consulting firms. They have linked engagement as a causal factor in the short and longer-term financial performance of organisations. Engagement has both intuitive and practical appeal and this is often embedded in wider employee surveys that enable it to be understood and developed for the benefit of both employer and employee.

Coming over our horizon is an extensive body of research-based knowledge from the rapidly emerging field of "Positive Psychology" about employee performance and wellbeing. The impact of flow experiences, appreciative inquiry, gratitude and the application of signature strengths have been well documented.

<[stk 3]>We need to recognise that, as our research, experience and knowledge advance over time, we need to accept that new measures, associated ideas and interventions offer powerful insights which we need to understand and assess in terms of their applicability to our situation. <[etk]>

Such readiness is particularly important in our current economic predicament. In turn, some of us need to be looking ahead beyond both engagement and wellbeing for insights that bring reciprocal benefits for members, their organisations and the communities that we serve.