Employee and work engagement affects the bottom line. You can measure it quantitatively, and you can get a qualitative story about your employees. We checked in with two friends who are experts in talent acquisition. They share the resources they use to stay on top of trends, and offer real advice for reshaping how you see and measure engagement.
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Engagement drives innovation, growth, revenue, and other key markers of organizational success. When your talent disengages, that is when productivity plunges and customer satisfaction plunges. Both Truitt and Levit keep their eyes on a few resources and reports that keep them informed of how and why engagement matters. Among them:
- State of the American Workforce Report by Gallup. This is a comprehensive guide that evaluates the raw data around engagement, but also shines a light on how it is impacting the bottom line. Gallup measures this several times a year.
- Deloitte Human Capital Trends
- Silk Road’s resources on engaging and retaining employees
- CEB: reports and surveys around employee engagement and what C-suite leaders are looking at from year to year.
- Bob Kelleher’s book, “iEngage” explains the ebbs and flows of engagement
Truitt also draws from her own workshops. She listens to what attendees have to say, especially during team building exercises, “about reasons why they may be engaged or disengaged, and you can’t get any more raw than that.”
Given all these resources, it’s easy to spot trends. Levit and Truitt agree that disengagement at work is a concern. Levit says she sees some reports that measure 75 percent of employees who are currently not engaged at work. She has seen over and over that organizations manage to hire top talent, and yet that talent often disengages from their jobs, company culture, or mission and values. Then their productivity and customer satisfaction plunge as a result.
“Engagement” is satisfaction, not necessarily smiling faces.
“Engagement is really how satisfied and invested your people are in your company and their jobs.”
That is Truitt’s definition. She adds, “It doesn’t hurt if they are smiling and socializing too, but those aren’t good enough indicators.” You can have a disengaged employee who is plenty social. The difference is when that employee spreads their disdain for the company, environment or their position. “Ultimately, behaviors become really important in ascertaining whether a person is engaged or not. An example is a person consistently aloof during team conversations and meetings.”
This is not a happiness measure. You should be more concerned with employees being satisfied and their investment in the company and their work. For instance, says Truitt, “there are some people who are just typically not happy-go-lucky, and that’s just how they are. As a manager, you can be making a grave mistake by thinking you should have a conversation with them based on what their disposition is.”
Related: 10 ways managers can engage millennials
One thing that’s important to keep in mind, says Levit, is that “sometimes disengagement is actually out of the organization’s control.” Engagement can and can ebb and flow, depending on your employees’ personal lives. If someone is going through a hard time outside of work, they can still be activated to get the job done.
This notion of talent activation refers to someone who is really motivated to do their job and do the best they can, leveraging the resources they need to be successful. “But they might not be what we traditionally look at as engaged,” says Levit. Sometimes people just don’t have an engaging personality, and that’s not what matters.
Measuring engagement tells an employee story. Yearly surveys don’t cut it.
A true measurement tells a whole story of an employee. Truitt advises employers whose employees are disengaging, to “look at turnover numbers and not just the overall turnover, but turnover at the department-level, upticks in litigation or employee relations complaints, productivity levels and absenteeism. These can all tell a story about your workforce’s engagement.”
Employers should measure engagement regularly, not just by sending out a survey every two years. According to Truitt, “everything from pulse surveys down to weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one’s and team meetings, are all opportunities to assess levels of engagement and actively work at it.” Levit agrees that measuring engagement should happen all the time. Ideally, she says, “every few weeks by the manager, and definitely at major employee transitions. Yearly surveys don’t really cut it.”
A survey is an obvious way to gather information, but we focus too much on surveys. Truitt says, “there are so many points of engagement between the employee and the people that they report to you” that measuring engagement can happen in meetings—a manager can just take a pulse on sentiments. If issues are cropping up, you can take stock of who is speaking up, and who is saying certain things.
All of these touch points start to tell a story about real-time employee engagement. On top of that, you can add the results of your survey. Exit surveys should definitely count, but of course they are too late to engage that particular employee.
So much of these touch points are siloed, says Truitt, and she tries to move companies towards looking at it holistically. Especially in the era of Big Data, employers can really get a whole sense of an employee’s ongoing engagement story.
Employees journey along a continuum of experiences. “Employee experience is a buzz phrase within the HR and talent management community” says Levit, but in order to really understand engagement, she says you have to look at it as a series of experiences that take place throughout the entire employee life cycle. That is, “from being a candidate who’s recruited, to someone who’s being onboarded, to learning and development, to having your performance measured and monitored.”
Each touch point along the way is an opportunity to connect employees to organizational goals.
When you ask about engagement, you’re asking employees how they feel. This isn’t just about what they did, but how they feel in a particular moment. Take the opportunity to relate each person to the big picture. Do they feel like they are a part of the organization? Relate their individual goals to organizational goals. Truitt says that when you look at those things over the entire trajectory of an employee’s tenure with an organization, “you’ll find you don’t need to have these annual or semiannual surveys.” Engagement will improve naturally “as you as you move to more agile performance management.”