Do You Measure Employee Engagement? Here’s Why (and How) You Should

Written by
Kathleen O'Donnell
Kathleen O'Donnell

Employee surveys are often seen as a yearly to-do item hastily checked off or even totally ignored. Unfortunately, they’re not always seen as the essential tools they are to understanding company culture and employee engagement

So let’s give the employee engagement surveys the love they deserve! In this article, we’ll talk about why they’re critical and how you can get the maximum impact and insight out of them.

Highly engaged organizations are more likely than other organizations to measure engagement, and they are more likely to measure it more than once a year.
–Bonusly State of Employee Engagement in 2019

What are employee engagement surveys?

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Employee engagement surveys have questions that measure the emotional commitment an employee has to their work, their team's goals, and their company's mission. But while the concept is obvious, employee surveys are actually a lot more complicated than they appear.

Most large companies do some sort of employee survey, with varying amounts of effort! For some, it’s a big yearly employee opinion survey where HR asks employees a lot of questions about their experience at the company.

Some companies also use Gallup’s Q12 questions, which measures employee engagement around 12 key elements in the employee experience.

For others, it’s a series of quicker pulse surveys throughout the year. And a few companies are starting to move towards the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) system, where they simply ask employees how likely they are to recommend working at the company to their friends and family. Some overachieving corporations use more than one approach!

There are a wide range of available methods—and that’s great. But what they all share is the desire to learn how engaged employees are at their jobs, and what factors drive those engagement levels.

Why you should measure employee engagement

Employee surveys are sometimes seen as outdated, but they’re actually the most effective way of gauging engagement at your company as a whole. Some tech companies have tried to replace surveys with machine learning and algorithms, but Facebook found that simply asking employees about how long they intend to stay at the company is twice as accurate at predicting turnover compared to those high-tech options.

You need to measure employee engagement because it’s a strong indicator of productivity and performance. Employees who feel a strong connection to their role and to your company are less likely to leave, more likely to work with passion, and, thus, more likely to be your top performers.

It’s also an excellent starting point to drive real, impactful change within a culture.

Gallup found that companies in the top quartile for employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 17% in productivity, 20% in sales, and 21% in profitability. The highly-engaged groups also had less turnover and a better safety record than their disengaged peers.

And employee engagement has a solid link to organizational performance, according to 90% of HR professionals in Bonusly’s 2019 State of Employee Engagement report!

So you need employees who are actively and happily engaged in their jobs if you want your company to succeed! And if you don’t have a good grasp of what your company could stand to improve, you can’t fix any issues that might be getting in the way of their engagement.

What insights can you learn from employee surveys?

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When you perform an employee engagement survey, you’re looking for data about how engaged your employees are at your company. Simple, right? But there’s really so much more you can learn from your employee surveys than just engagement rate. It’s a treasure trove of data and ideas.

Analyze trust in the chain of command

How can you measure the level of trust your employees have in their managers and leaders? It’s simple—just ask them! And that trust is one of the biggest indicators of employee engagement.

In our State of Employee Engagement in 2019 study, we found that over 80% of HR pros understand the link between employee engagement levels and trust in company leaders. And over 90% of HR professionals say that trust in leaders has a solid link to organizational performance. So finding out how much your employees trust their managers and leaders is a can’t-miss element of any employee survey.

Know what you need to fix

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You also might glean some new ideas for improving engagement from your employee surveys. Maybe you already know your employee engagement levels are a little too low for your liking, but you’re unsure of what would bring those levels up.

Word of advice: while an unexpected treat is always nice, don’t count on raising employee engagement levels with pizza parties or ice cream socials. 🙈

Without a consistent employee survey method, you’re just guessing and hoping—and spending a lot on catering.

Implement a way to survey employees and you’ll get a much clearer picture of what’s driving those engagement levels. It could be a simpler fix than you imagined, such as an old process that’s slowing teams down, but can be changed. Or it could be more difficult, such as a total lack of regular feedback from managers to employees that you didn’t see.

What do your employees want more of? Transparent communication from leadership? A performance review process? More thoughtfully planned company offsites? You could even find out that your employees think the current office layout is hindering their productivity! These are all insights you stand to gain when you regularly survey your employees.

You can’t fix a problem you didn’t know existed. And while lunch is always appreciated, you can’t buy enough pizza to make up for leadership, cultural, or process issues. 🍕

Learn what’s working well

Employee surveys aren’t just about learning what’s dragging down your engagement scores, though. They can also be a powerful tool to surface what you’re doing right!

If you notice in your surveys that one group has much higher engagement scores than the rest of their peers, it’s time for some sleuthing. Did they mention anything in the comments, or answer one cluster of questions in a different way than their less-engaged peers? There could be hints to successful engagement practices you can extend to the rest of the organization there.

Best practices for successful engagement survey implementation

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Let’s be clear on one thing—though the power of an employee engagement survey can’t be denied, it can be squandered by a poorly-designed survey. You need to get very strategic when designing your employee survey or you’ll get little to no useful information.

So what do you need to do to design an effective employee survey?

Set specific goals

First, you need clear goals for your employee engagement survey. This means thinking about what you specifically want to learn and how the survey’s insights can inform your company’s overall strategy.

Start your planning by looking at your organization’s goals for the year. Your engagement survey should fit into the priorities set by those high-level goals.

Don’t just ask questions because they seem interesting—ask them because they’ll impact your organizational strategy.

Ask the important questions

Next, pick a targeted set of questions that are meaningful and relevant to your company. Keep the survey completion time to under 10 minutes. After all, your employees are (hopefully!) too busy to spend an hour completing a survey.

Every organization is different, and your surveys should reflect that. While using a framework like Gallup’s Q12 questions is great for benchmarking, also consider other questions that may be important to your organization.

If your organization values caring for customers and providing a top-notch digital experience, ask employees about that—not about parking availability.

And speaking of things like parking, don’t ask questions about things you can’t change. If your company is based in a city with notoriously bad traffic, you don’t need a series of questions asking about commute satisfaction.

Your company (unfortunately) can’t change traffic patterns. But if you’re thinking of offering more remote-work options or work-from-home days, you can address that in a targeted way.

Share feedback anonymously

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What’s one necessary element required for open and honest feedback? A strong commitment to confidentiality.

If employees think that what they say in engagement surveys will come back to bite them—whether that’s because of their managers, leaders, or HR teams—they’re not going to give you useful information.

Accepting negative feedback is an important leadership skill, and one that’s especially critical when you’re running employee engagement surveys. But even when it’s hard, it’s necessary.

Good survey design helps here too—this is why many companies utilize engagement tools, experts, or consultants. You should be weaving in anonymity at all stages of the survey process—even your questions shouldn’t ask for revealing information!

On top of that, we highly recommend having a trusted HR employee to field responses and provide detailed summaries that remove any identifying information, as another layer of confidentiality.

Lead from the top

Your leaders must be committed to sharing and addressing feedback. While many people would balk at publicly sharing weaknesses, the act of communicating the actionable steps you’re going to take to address those weaknesses makes a huge difference. People will feel listened to, valued, and energized by the prospect of change.

If you treat surveys like annual chores without taking action on any feedback, employees will stop answering. They take those surveys because they want their feedback heard.

Of course, not taking action on feedback from employee surveys will hurt your engagement rates. Bonusly’s 2019 Employee Engagement and Modern Workplace Report found that taking and giving feedback seriously is a major factor for employee engagement.

94% of Highly Engaged employees believe their company takes their feedback seriously, compared to just 30% of Actively Disengaged employees.
–Bonusly’s 2019 Employee Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

How employee surveys help build strong company cultures

Employee surveys are a powerful tool that can have a strong impact on your company culture.

If your workplace asks for your feedback regularly, takes it seriously, and follows up with real action, you feel you have a voice in your organization.

Employees who feel they have a say at work are more engaged—because their thoughts are valued! They feel confident that their issues will be addressed. They build trust in the company for doing what it says it will do to improve their lives at work. It’s powerful stuff! Don’t risk missing out on the benefits that employee engagement surveys can offer your organization.

For more ways to foster an engaging company culture, check out this resource:

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Originally published on April 30, 2020 → Last updated July 22, 2020

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Kathleen O'Donnell

Kathleen is a freelance writer and employee communications specialist, with 6+ years of experience in corporate internal communications. She’s also a full-time traveler who loves spending her time writing in little Greek cafes about life as a digital nomad.

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