The HR industry is abuzz with the golden phrase: employee engagement. But only 17 percent of global employees are engaged at work (11 percent in the UK). We all want high engagement from our employees. How could you not? Companies with engaged employees are 21 percent more profitable.
The problem is, HR definitions of employee engagement continue to vary (or remain mostly undefined) from one data point to another. So, many claims out there have little actionable insight for your employees’ particular experiences. It’s okay to accept and be open to different definitions. However, you should be clear about your own goals and determine what attaining them looks like in terms unique to your teams.
Every workplace culture and business goal is different — so why would you define engagement on someone else’s terms?
Define Employee Engagement in Unique Terms
Here’s a good place to start. Author Simon Sinek provides a baseline definition of employee engagement:
“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”
So before you purchase products or apps promising instant results, it’s crucial to define what that emotional investment looks like within your company. And, when it comes down to it, engagement is just the output of something bigger — the overall employee experience at your company.
Here are a few questions to get the definition that provides a holistic assessment of engagement and employee experience overall:
- How open is the communication in your company? Do your employees feel heard? Metrics to measure: relationship with management, feedback quality.
- Do your employees feel recognised and appreciated? Metrics to measure: employee recognition, personal growth.
- How likely are your employees to recommend your company as a great place to work? Metrics to measure: eNPS (advocacy), pride, loyalty.
Answering these questions allows HR leaders to define and work toward a framework for a workplace culture where employees have a consistently good experience, feel emotionally invested and provide a continuous return to your company.
And how can you get a definition that’s packed with not only empathy but actionable business insights? This is where strong management comes into play — one that is dedicated to spending time with your teams, listens to their feedback and has a good eye for what engagement looks like in terms unique to your people and company.
Don’t Fear the ‘Bad’ Metrics
Overwhelmingly negative survey responses seem like a nightmare for HR and leadership — and they happen to more companies than you think. In fact, only 22 percent of companies receive mostly positive responses from employee engagement surveys. In short, most companies struggle with consistently receiving positive metrics — so you’re not alone.
If that’s the case in your current survey process, we’re here to share the glass half full:
Getting a high response rate to surveys and finding most of the feedback is negative is actually far more insightful than getting a low response rate to surveys and all the feedback being positive. You have created an environment where people feel comfortable to be completely honest, so you can really get to the crux of issues and understand low sentiment scores.
Of course, that doesn’t mean negative responses aren’t still tough to hear. So how do you handle them?
Here are some pointers on dealing with negative survey responses (or, at least, that’s how positive culture role models like Hubspot do it):
- The best response to negative results is a constructive plan that leans on employees, a term called action planning.
- Encourage 1-1s for open discussions (without pointing fingers) that can add more insight into larger group sessions.
- Address all responses during the action-planning session, even the negative ones, to make your employees feel truly heard.
Notice, most of these ideas are rooted in open communication and, to put it bluntly, knowing how to listen. That’s all you need to know to get started.
Avoiding questions that may garner negative responses is not a good idea. Ask the hard questions to uncover challenges and fix them. It’s not about positive data but about continual improvement — so use the negative metrics to your advantage.
Be Ready to Reject What (You Think) You Know
Some leaders think they know about the problems causing negative employee experiences at their organisation, with “think” being the operative word.
By making assumptions at leadership level, no one’s listening to what employees actually have to say. Even the questions being asked to understand sentiment are often skewed by this bias.
And it’s an echo chamber with serious consequences. The risk — you spend money and other resources fixing issues that may not even be relevant to your employees. Plus, by assuming you’re measuring the right things and understanding the data perfectly, you’re continuing to break down the morale of your employees by simply not listening, which only causes the problems to get worse.
An initial hypothesis of the problem is a great place to start (you remember secondary school science class). However, unless you’re committed to continually adjusting your hypothesis with what your employees really have to say, it won’t get your company’s engagement metrics very far.
And that’s where we come back to the concept of action planning to resolve this problem. According to Gallup,
“Action planning boosts employee engagement partly because the process itself demonstrates that the opinions of each person on the team count.”
And as you continue to listen to your employees, you may soon realise that what you had initially thought was the problem is only the beginning. That’s how you build a foundation for continual improvement.
A positive employee experience is about building a good relationship, founded on mutual trust and emotional engagement, with your employees. After all, there’s no good relationship without open communication and continual adjustment.
Ultimately, as long as you approach measuring employee engagement with flexibility and the utmost empathy, you’re going to see vast improvements in your efforts. Engagement and empathy are linked, as employees are unlikely to feel truly emotionally invested in a company that does not show empathy. That’s how you turn employees into brand ambassadors that are highly engaged — whatever that may look like in your company.
More by Jen on Measuring Employee Engagement
Looking for more insights on measuring employee engagement at your organisation? Discover a new set of workplace metrics – such as Quality of Leadership and Co-worker Relationships – in our new quick-read HR eBook: ‘Measuring Employee Engagement: Metrics You May Be Missing’
Former HR and L&D practitioner, Jen Southern, is a Lead People Scientist at Hive. When she’s not travelling the UK to deliver workshops with senior leaders and run coaching sessions with managers, she’s usually at her desk designing survey strategies and eating avo on toast! Connect with Jen on LinkedIn.