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Measuring Employee Engagement: a Quick Guide

We've already written about the general ways you can create a culture that fosters high employee engagement.

Now we'll look at ways to measure how your efforts are being rewarded, and we'll also include a look at a new approach that might tell you why things aren't working out as you intended.

Added on 28.04.2015

Four ways to measure employee engagement

1) Discretionary effort

How much work is done voluntarily outside normal work hours? Include time spent on optional learning, research, and other activities that broaden an employee's skill set and experience.

2) Employee networks

Are employees in contact (that they initiated, inside or outside work) with other employees outside their immediate team?

3) Ad hoc meetings

Aside from official (i.e. management mandated) meetings, do staff-led initiatives, groups and meetings happen?

4) Non-compulsory client / colleague collaboration

Outside the normal work responsibilities, what contact do employees have with others? An employee who spends extra (on the face of it, unnecessary) time helping clients and/or colleagues is likely highly engaged.

Three things that have been shown to increase engagement

1) Real interaction with management and senior staff

In general, correlation has been observed between higher engagement and:

  • more time spent one-to-one with the employee's manager;
  • the size and quality of their manager's own network;
  • the time the manager spends with the employee's whole team (too little or too much are both bad);
  • more time spent with senior staff or management;
  • colleagues (team members or collaborators) who themselves have a high level of engagement.

2) Quality workplace relationships

The more strong, intimate relationships people have, the more 'invested' in their workplace they feel. However, an imposed network that is too broad or too volatile can be unsettling and lead to lower engagement.

3) A steady work schedule and a cap on meetings

The more time spent at large meetings where an employee is little more than 'room meat', the lower the engagement. The less time employees have between meetings and other workplace 'events' the lower the engagement; a minimum of two hours is usually required.

Engagement is highly personal

As you'll see below, there is no 'one size fits all' policy when it comes to the specifics that drive engagement. Your management style, corporate culture, existing workplace culture, and each employee's social and family situation will all inform their engagement. It's a highly complex area, because people are very different, and you can't assume that what works for one group of people will work for another group of people.

There are a growing number of template surveys for engagement out there (here's five that should provide a good starting point for any business) - and here are some survey questions that have been shown to be particularly pertinent:

  • I understand what I'm expected to do
  • My views are respected
  • I have the resources I need to do my job properly
  • I feel that what I do matters to the company
  • My job gives me the opportunity to do what I do best
  • Others in my team care about the quality of their work
  • My work has been recognised in the last seven days
  • I have a real friend
  • At least one person really cares about me
  • I've talked to someone about my progress in the last six months
  • There is someone here helping me to learn and grow
  • I've had opportunities this last year to develop my skills

Employee engagement is not just about what happens at work

A new approach, and one that can yield real insight into workplace issues, is to look beyond the workplace and gather data on three additional areas:

1) Relationships

Who is an influence on the employee, both in and out of work?

2) Internal self

What are the employee's personal values?

3) External self

What interests do employees have outside work?

It may sound rather obvious to some to state that a person's values, relationships and behaviour patterns outside work will have a strong impact on how they act when at work, but it's the particulars as they apply to your employees and your company that can lead to 'eureka' moments.

Using this approach explained the following (until then) puzzling situations:

A company that had devised a detailed strategy to increase employee collaboration at work found all their initiatives failing

Analysis of the 'external self' showed that 90% of employees' favourite pastimes were not social ones, so the actual workplace culture was at odds with the employee's own desires.

A marketing company that was investing heavily in employee benefits and rewards, yet was rife with squabbling

Analysis of the 'relationships' revealed a workforce comprised almost completely of women who socialised mainly with other women. The emotional issues encountered in relationships outside work were also present in the workplace, which was not welcome.

Without the close bonds that would mitigate certain aspects of each other's behaviour, these women were ending up in serious conflict situations by trying to resolve these issues in the workplace in the same way that they would in their personal lives with their friends.

This was complemented (perhaps even facilitated) by a 'laid back' atmosphere including the absence of a formal dress code.

It turned out that, whilst these employees relished freedom in their spare time, at work they wanted a more regimented and strict approach.