Employee engagement is one of the single most important factors for any workplace. It’s what makes people committed to your organization, emotionally invested in its success, and prepared to work hard to achieve their goals. Yet given that so many different variables affect it—and people themselves are remarkably different—it’s notoriously difficult to quantify.
This largely stems from the fact that engagement is an emotion—it's subjectively felt and understood. As such, some people equate employee engagement with happiness, others with being motivated, others still with finding meaning and fulfilment in your work. So, how can companies approach employee engagement and measure its impact on productivity and efficiency?
Why should you measure employee engagement?
Employee engagement may be difficult to measure, but trying to understand it better and keep tabs on it will always be a valuable investment. Here are a few reasons why your company should make measuring employee engagement a top priority:
Prioritizing employee engagement is one of the most sensible long-term investments a company can make. An engaged team will easily outclass a disengaged team – any time, any place. Recent research by Gallup showed that it can also bolster financial resilience: surveyed companies who prioritized engagement gained a viable advantage that allowed them to continue to progress, even during tough times. They had higher earnings and bounced back from the recession much more quickly than those who downplayed the importance of employee engagement.
Improve employee retention
It should come as no surprise that engaged employees are far more likely to remain in their jobs when compared to disengaged employees. A workforce made up of keen, motivated people who genuinely care about their jobs is more robust – employees are more likely to show loyalty to their organization and actually invest in what they’re doing. And it’s something multiple studies confirm: one major study found that engaged employees were a staggering 87% less likely to leave.
In contrast, disengaged employees are more likely to see their job as a paycheck, happy to jump ship when it suits them. It’s not just costly for company culture; recruiting and hiring replacements can seriously eat into your budget.
Keep employees connected
What do all the best, most collabortative workplaces have in common? Yep, you guessed it… engaged employees. As human beings, it’s important for us to feel connected to something that’s bigger than ourselves. We want to feel in sync with others, and part of a group that values us. When employees feel connected to the company culture, communication is boosted and productivity is enhanced: they don’t view it as “us versus them”… it’s just “us”.
Engaged employees flourish partly because of the bonds and friendships that they’ve cultivated at work. They’re actually happy to spend time with their colleagues, and prepared to go the extra mile to get work done. When employees aren’t engaged, not only is work “just a job”, but productive work relationships suffer – team members are mere colleagues, rather than a supportive network helping them produce meaningful work.
If people are engaged and motivated at work, they simply work harder and do a better job. Not only are they more invested in the company and their own performance, but collaboration is easier and absences are reduced (more on that next!). And the effect this has on productivity can be immense: one study found that engaged workforces outperformed disengaged ones by 202%!
Lead happier, healthier employees
The link between employee engagement and happiness has long been suggested, and its correlation is undeniable: 86% of engaged workers say they frequently feel happy at work, whilst only 11% of disengaged workers feel the same. And this isn’t due to external factors, since a further 45% of those engaged workers stated it was work specifically that gave them happiness!
But did you know that engagement also has an effect on employee health? Sickness and absenteeism are significantly increased among unmotivated workforces: disengaged employees average 6.5 sicks days each year compared to the 2.7 days taken by engaged employees. But it goes further: in one report, more than half of disengaged workers said their work adversely affected their health, causing them to feel stressed or behave badly with friends and family.
But there’s even more – companies with disengaged employees see 62% more accidents. So ignoring employee engagement is really something you do at your peril!
Ways to measure employee engagement
The reason we’re all so keen to accurately measure engagement is because we know how important it is; having committed, hard working staff who are emotionally invested is a vital factor for any successful workplace. But being such a nuanced and subjective quality, there is no single way to calculate employee engagement. Instead, it requires a combination of approaches. The bet approaches include:
1. Direct feedback
We can measure engagement to a certain degree by having one-on-one meetings with employees. These work well as private, frequent chats, where you can find out how individual employees are getting on. It’s really important that employees feel safe and comfortable during these meetings—able to open up and be honest – so keep these feedback meetings informal.
These meetings are your chance to find out where people are struggling, what they’re enjoying, what they want to change and where they want to be professionally. Using this regular feedback, you can then help employees take effective action—making adjustments and creating opportunities which help them progress.
But don’t just leave direct feedback to one-on-ones. To be useful, it should be encouraged, openly available and regular. Staff focus groups, forums, diversity networks, away days, internal communication channels and cross-company workshops are all great ways to help people share what is and isn’t working.
2. Work performance
Employee engagement can also be gleaned from each employee’s performance. A few things to keep in mind are:
- Efficiency – whether tasks are taking longer than normal to complete. Inconsistent performance uncharacteristic errors, a restless work approach and withdrawal are all indicators of a lack of engagement.
- Workload – working well beyond their capacity, with few breaks. High-pressure environments, unamangable workloads and a lack of control over work breeds disengagement.
- Overtime – working far longer hours or staying serially late at work. Perhaps they’re trying to counterbalance a drop in their efficiency, perhaps they don’t want to deal with whatever’s waiting at home. Either way, overtime is a sign of struggle and inbalance in our work/life relationship.
These indicators can be easily followed with the use of apps like Timely, which automatically track employee hours and feed team performance data into one centralized dashboard. You can quickly pinpoint patterns of disengagement – as well as those headed for the other end of the scale. Bear in mind that being too engaged can also be problematic; leading to mental exhaustion, taking on too much work, feeling overwhelmed and eventually burnout.
3. Team interaction
This method requires some emotional intelligence but can work really well if you know employees on an individual level. During team meetings or staff events, keep an eye on how employees interact, to gauge their mental “presence” at work. Of course, all employees are different, and some people are just shy, but if previously outgoing employees suddenly withdraw, it can be a telltale sign they’re unhappy about something.
A few places to start: in meetings, are they sharing their ideas and sounding enthused—or are they uncharacteristically quiet or unsure? Are they participating in social threads on Slack? Do they join in with jokes or actively contribute ideas? Do they talk about their work with pride?
4. Tailored surveys and tools
Many companies now use tailored surveys and tools to measure engagement. Pulse surveys—which are short and frequent—are good at getting an idea of ongoing engagement levels in your office. Surveys vary but should always include the three questions the Employee Satisfaction Index (ESI) is based on: How satisfied are you with your current workplace? How well does your current work meet your expectations? How close is your current workplace to the ideal one?
You can also use purpose-built engagement tools. Popular ones include Reflektive, where managers conduct performance reviews and employees provide feedback, and Engagedly, which utilizes one-on-one feedback, social praise, and recognition to boost engagement. Others, like Hppy, are super simple, but help management understand what impacts employee moods and morale; managers can ask whatever question they want, but users can only reply with emojis—happy, sad, or OK.
5. Supporting employee mental health
Even if you use all these approaches, it’s still not easy to get a complete picture of someone’s true engagement. When people offer insights in a one-to-one, it might not reflect how they actually feel. A person might not want to share everything they’re feeling, particularly with their superiors, but good management is able to recognize those barriers and find other ways to help.
It’s vitally important to remember that mental health problems aren’t always obvious. People often conceal disorders like depression, and anxiety and stress aren’t necessarily immediately recognizable – especially when you don’t know an employee on a personal level. Learn how to better support employee mental health with this comprehensive guide.
When it comes to measuring employee engagement, the main thing to consider is that engagement will never be static. Just like a person’s mood, it ebbs and flows, and measuring it requires ongoing effort. A one-off index won’t help you monitor engagement in the long-term... and it won’t help you improve it, either. You will never arrive at a complete picture of any employee’s happiness – instead, you need to keep adding to it through ongoing, unpressured contact.