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employee engagement

Measuring Employee Engagement

Are we asking the right questions?

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A version of this post initially appeared on LinkedIn.

With investments in employee engagement so often getting a poor return, Edelman ENGAGE recently conducted a study to find out why. The initial results beg the question: are we really trying to make a difference or simply ticking some boxes?

The study, in partnership with Melcrum, was conducted late last year with HR and Communications leaders internationally. We haven’t yet formally published the results, but a sneak preview tells us that while the majority (82 percent) of respondents agreed employee engagement is important to the performance of their organisation, only half (51 percent) said it was a strategic business issue.

At first glance, the study offers reasons to be optimistic. Fully 88 percent of the organisations we polled said their organisations measure engagement. Of those, almost 60 percent used an external research provider and half indicated their average engagement score was above 70 percent. And more happy news is that a third indicated their engagement “score” was higher than expected.

Where the story becomes a little less bright is when it comes to perceived importance, accountability and, ultimately, the “so what?” of employee engagement efforts. Only 54 percent of our respondents agreed that employee engagement was considered a strategic business issue in their organisation. And, with only 13 percent saying senior leaders were responsible for engagement activities, it’s not surprising that such activities often remain projects versus strategic imperatives.

Based on these other findings, it’s also not surprising that only 54 percent of respondents thought their employees trusted senior leaders would listen to their opinions, with that percentage dropping to a low of 51 in EMEA. Even worse, only 41 percent felt their employees trust some positive change will take place off the back of the research. Only 39 percent in EMEA.

The survey did give us some hints on how this picture might improve. Obviously making senior leaders accountable is a good starting point, and the majority of respondents named this and communication as their top priorities for improving their employee engagement in the next 12 months.

What and how we’re measuring it may be other clues. While standardized, “off the shelf” engagement measurement models tend to be more useful for benchmarking against other companies, our survey suggests an approach tailored specifically for the unique characteristics of each company can be more effective:

  • Understanding what engagement looks like: 82 percent with a bespoke model of engagement felt their organisation was effective here compared to only 66 percent with an off-the-shelf model of engagement;
  • Identifying what will improve engagement and setting targets: 64 percent with a bespoke model of engagement felt their organisation was effective here compared to 58 percent who had an off-the-shelf model of engagement;
  • Action planning and driving change: 56 percent with a bespoke model of engagement felt their organisation was effective here compared to 43 percent who had an off-the-shelf model of engagement;
  • And, finally, having an engagement strategy at all would seem to be a good idea, yet only 55% of respondents in our study said they had one.

Using our own annual Edelman Trust Barometer findings, which once again show “people like us” or regular employees are among the most trusted sources of company information, we can think of at least 10 questions that senior leadership teams can be asking themselves now to start building an employee engagement strategy:

  1. Do our reputation management, corporate social responsibility, brand and public affairs strategies put employees at the center and engage with them meaningfully to connect with external stakeholders?
  2. Are our plans and programs designed to succeed in a world where employees distrust corporate communications?
  3. How trusted is our industry in general and what implications does that have for our stakeholder engagement strategies, in particular for employees?
  4. Have we identified technical experts within our company’s ranks – engineers, designers and manufacturing supervisors – that could serve as credible spokespeople for us in times of distress?
  5. Does our company have an online/social media behavior policy and, if so, are our employees aware of how it applies to them?
  6. Could employees advocate for our company to their friends on Facebook, Twitter and other networks? (And would they be willing to do so?) Are our employees certified to engage with the outside world on behalf of our company using social media?
  7. How are we connecting our employees with each other using technology?
  8. What steps are we taking to involve employees in co-creating solutions to customer service issues?
  9. If employees become aware of an emerging customer service or product issue, do they have a way to tell the company about it?
  10. How are we strengthening the connection between our senior leadership and our employees?

By asking themselves the right questions first, and then linking the questions they ask their employees to themes that are uniquely important to their company, leadership teams may at last find their employee engagement gap steadily shrinking.

Nigel Miller is head of Human Resources, Europe, and global director, Talent Engagement for Edelman, based in London

Edelman ENGAGE is a partnership between Edelman and the UK-based specialist employee engagement and research firm, ENGAGE.

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