Why Measuring Employee Engagement Is so Hard

It’s bewildering how many different methodologies exist to measure Employee Engagement. Every new reporting platform or leader seems to bring a different approachand there is a lot of overlap, which causes confusion on which is ‘the right way.’  

Instead of comparing the merits of these models, let’s break down what we are trying to measure and help set some guidelines on what’s important when it comes to Employee Engagement. To do this, it’s helpful to think about Employee Engagement in a simple deconstruction of its elements:

  • Drivers: What motivates employees to perform (the things we can do or control to provide a better experience i.e., weekly meetings with managers)
  • Experiences: What employees perceive and How they behave when they are performing at a high level (the actual feeling of ‘engagement’ in the organization and the work, i.e. my manager cares about me outside of work)
  • Outcomes: The business objectives an organization wants to achieve and are produced by employees (what is the quality of business outcomes from the work performed i.e. how many TPS Reports had covers)

At the most basic level, we first need to determine what of these three elements we want to measure when it comes to Employee Engagement. The drivers of engagement are probably where 99% of the confusion come from, everyone has a claim on what factors create engagement. ‘Experience’ is another word for feeling, and as you can imagine, accurately measuring how people ‘feel’ is complex. The last element here is outcomes, and this is easiest to address – while having an outcome focus is immensely important, modern measurement hasn’t really solved for attributing engagement to business metrics like organizational profitability to the individual level etc.

Important questions that jump out when viewing engagement this way. 

  1. The drivers, or motivators for performing can change drastically from job to job. At the most basic level, Engagement scores need to be able to flex between jobs that are primarily comprised of physical or routine tasks (highly motivated by compensation), and those that require higher cognitive tasks (highly motivated by purpose, master, and autonomy).
  2. We have proof about what feelings are important to employee performance, but every team needs will be slightly different. For example, some jobs may require higher degrees of psychological safety (i.e., creative tasks, developing innovation and new thinking), while others may need a stronger sense of purpose (i.e. manufacturing, finance).
  3. Resources are not allocated evenly across an organization, which can cause huge differences in experiences for employees. The Operating Model needs to support all employees with a similar experience, and current measurement don’t account for this. For example, a manager’s experience with IT could include a tedious process of having to raise a ticket, while leadership may have a dedicated tech resource that comes to them – two different experiences, same measurement.

So what can leaders do to make measuring Employee Engagement better?

  • First, be clear about what you are measuring and why. Do you want to know if Employees are feeling Engaged (experience)? Or are you trying to diagnose how you could support a more engaging work experience (gap analysis of drivers).
  • Secondly, just because you can measure something, doesn’t mean you should. Understand what is important to your organization and the jobs at hand. Make sure you are precise with the questions being asked of your employees, and consider what factors are going to be most important for the types of tasks employees complete.

If you’re interested in building a strategic plan to turn your Employee Experience into an organizational advantage, we’d love to connect to share the trends we see shaping this important initiative and learn more about your goals.

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