Compiling data on employees is a matter of trust. That is easily breached when confidential information turns out not to be so confidential.
The result is a big hit on employers who want their people to be truly engaged, but workers feel undermined by the data-collection process.
Leila Zayed, vice president of Best Companies Group, has made measuring engagement one of her primary concerns, as she explained to Meghan M. Biro, a Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture chief executive officer.
“How many people in your company are truly engaged?” Biro said. “How do you know?
“We are obsessed with employee engagement — and with disengagement — but we still often treat it as an intangible, unmeasurable factor,” she said.
Zayed works with companies of all shapes, sizes and industries to survey their employees on engagement.
“Leila pointed out that you can’t tell if your employees are engaged if you don’t know what engagement is,” Biro said. “Then once you know what it is, you can’t find out if you’ve got engagement if you don’t know how to take measurements.”
That leads to the question of why human resources experts aren’t better at measuring engagement. Few people understand how to do that or know who to turn to for expertise. So, companies do it on their own — based on their gut — on the cheap.
“It’s pretty telling that the term ‘engagement’ wasn’t even on the radar until the ‘90s,” Biro said. “Before that, we didn’t call it anything. It’s a late bloomer of a concept for HR.
“We’re not great at measuring what we don’t entirely understand,” she said. “Start with defining engagement — they look forward to going to work, have a sense of meaning and purpose, are proud to work for your company. Then you have something to ask about.”
Confusion through simplification
Part of the problem is dumbing down the concept.
“It’s wrong to consider engagement an emotion,” Biro said. “That oversimplifies and prevents us from being clear on the questions we need to ask.
“I love what Leila says about two kinds of demographics,” Biro said. “Don’t just measure conditions of the workplace. Measure conditions of the individual as well.”
Uncertainty leads to caution.
“Sometimes, we’re afraid of what we’ll find,” Zayed said. “I hear from a lot of employers that they want not just an employee survey, but a clear path to improvement.”
Noting that you cannot measure something unless you understand and agree on what it is, she cited an article about how to define employee engagement.
Asking employees what they think about employee engagement is a start. They might not know what the term means, but the important thing is to listen to what they say and go from there.
“Don’t try to create an engagement survey on your own,” Biro said. “You’ll leave out key metrics you need to know. Plus, you want to ask a lot more questions than you might think.”
She suggested these questions among others:
- What areas can you improve?
- What are your manager’s goals and are they being attained?
- Do your employees look forward to coming to work?
“I was just talking with an employer who’s trying to undo trust issues born from a not-totally-confidential internal employee survey,” Zayed said.
“We should measure not just employee engagement, but also satisfaction,” she said. “When we understand what drives engagement — and strengthen that — we increase engagement.”
Zayed explains this more in her article, “How and Why You Should Measure Employee Engagement.”
Anonymous employee surveys should provide 360-degree feedback. Transparency is key to employee engagement. People need to see the results and actions that will be taken between surveys.
“Anonymity is mission critical to success,” Zayed said, pointing to her article, “5 Reasons to Keep Your Employee Survey Anonymous.”
Sometimes employees feel like their feedback just falls into a black hole. Results should be shared.
“The dreaded black hole,” Zayed said. “Our most successful customers not only take action against their results, but communicate effectively after data collection about the results.”
Lack of credibility
Many employees don’t trust the anonymity of surveys, which is one reason not to rely solely on surveys.
“This is the No. 1 employee respondent concern,” Zayed said. “That’s one of the most important reasons to work with a vendor that would fight to the death to protect employee respondents — no matter what.”
Treat engagement measurement as a regular, continuing activity. Employers will miss changing environments if they don’t keep an ear to the ground. They need strategies to help better measure engagement.
“This is really important: Benchmark it — engagement and satisfaction,” Biro said. “That’s critical. Compare it against others in your industry, or you’re in the dark.
“Make sure the surveys are anonymous and that anonymity is assured all the way through the process,” she said. “You’ll get far better answers.”
Ultimate success starts from the top.
“Is the CEO on board?” Biro said. “Can the CEO send out a reminder that there’s going to be a survey happening? That shows the survey matters — and people will put more time and energy into it.
“Take action on the results,” she said. “If you don’t, you’re broadcasting that the whole endeavor was just a pointless exercise, and you don’t really value engagement at all. Nope. That’s bad.”
Zayed added that to assure confidentiality, “establish a record for responding to feedback, and communicate, communicate, communicate.”
There is also a checklist — not a survey — to get juices flowing about engagement at organizations.
“Our benchmarking doesn’t show what average looks like, but shows the feedback from Best Places to Work in your industry, of a similar size,” Zayed said.
“We need employee engagement data, not HR employee engagement data,” she said. “One of the marks of an employer who will succeed: The change is being driven from the top.”