How to Measure Employee Engagement the Right Way

How to Measure Employee EngagementTo improve employee engagement you need to know what your organization is doing well and where you can improve. Knowing how to measure employee engagement is the jumping off point for evolving your engagement strategy.

Some things are easy to measure because they are concrete, individual concepts: like the time it takes you to drive to work or how many red lights you can hit without being late. But employee engagement is a bit more difficult. It isn’t concrete, and it’s influenced by many factors.


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All organizations are unique. So, it’s no surprise that how you engage employees will look different too. Measuring employee engagement helps you understand how to engage employees in a way that works best for your organization.

Here’s what you need to know to better understand and improve your engagement initiatives.


Why measure employee engagement?

Before we talk about measuring engagement, let’s review how we define it:

Employee engagement is the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward their places of work.

Research shows that organizations with highly engaged employees have 17% higher productivity and 21% higher profitability. Bottom line: engaged employees work harder and stay longer.

But you can’t engage employees if you don’t understand what is engaging (or disengaging) them in the first place. Measuring employee engagement helps you gain insight into what your employees think your organization does well and areas to improve.

Here are some key benefits of measuring employee engagement:

  • To identify strengths, problem areas, and “hidden truths.” Regularly measuring engagement helps you tackle obstacles before they become problems. You can also use engagement data to showcase what’s going well and connect weaker teams or departments to stronger ones.

  • To build trust. Asking for feedback from employees shows that you care about their opinions and how they feel at work. Prove that you’re there to listen and you want to create the best experience possible.

  • To help everyone understand what’s going on. Once you have the data—share it with everyone—leaders, managers, and front-line employees. This gives everyone the opportunity to help contribute to a better culture.

  • To understand trends. Understand what’s happening in your organization by location, team, over time, or compared to industry benchmarks. Keep a pulse on how and where the organization is (or isn’t) progressing.


How to develop an employee engagement measurement strategy

A lot of organizations can write survey questions, launch a survey, and get great survey participation. But what happens after the survey has closed? Organizations often feel stuck or don’t know what to do next.

If this sounds familiar, your survey was probably designed without a clear measurement strategy. When you design an employee engagement survey, start at the end. Decide on the impact you want the survey to have, and then work backward from there.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who will be accountable for following up on these survey results?
  • Who will be taking action because of these survey results?
  • What does that action look like?

When designing your employee engagement survey, you should measure answers to these questions and always include managers.


How to measure employee engagement

An engagement survey is not a place for random questions or curiosities. It is a designed measurement mechanism with several important components. Consider these elements when measuring engagement in your organization.

1. Determine engagement outcomes.

An engagement outcome is a survey question that represents the behaviors or feelings of an engaged employee. These employee engagement survey questions typically measure perceptions of organizational pride, intent to stay, and advocacy.

Outcomes help reveal the current state of employee engagement within the organization.

For example: "I recommend this organization as a good place to work".

These items don’t identify specific actions. Instead, they identify targets that organizations should maintain or improve.


2. Identify what's important to your employees.

Employee engagement drivers are actionable survey questions that determine levels of employee engagement. Engagement surveys commonly ask employees to rate their opinions of:

  • Teamwork
  • Trust in leadership and coworkers
  • Career development
  • Communication and change management
  • Confidence in the future
  • Individual needs like pay
  • Value and recognition

All drivers impact engagement, but some make a bigger footprint than others. Ensure your survey covers a variety of topics that can impact one’s engagement.

For example: "If I contribute to the organization’s success, I know I will be recognized".

Responses to this question show to what degree an organization values its employees and recognizes them. Drivers help organizations understand what impacts engagement so they can put the right programs in place to improve.


3. Perform a drivers analysis.

A drivers analysis identifies which drivers have the biggest impact on your organization. Through a drivers analysis, you might discover that employees who rate a certain driver more favorably are likely to be more engaged.

Your best strategy is to understand what is driving engagement in your organization, identify weak areas within your top drivers, and implement programs targeted at improving those drivers.


4. Develop a continuous listening strategy.

A regular survey cadence is key to valid and actionable survey results. But how often should you survey your employees?

Research has shown that the annual employee engagement survey is better than less frequent measuring. But behaviors and preferences change over time.

As a result, organizations may need to survey more often and in different ways to capture all employee voices. You really need a comprehensive employee listening strategy. Use pulse surveys to dive deeper into engagement results or to gather real-time feedback on any important topic that arises. Add lifecycle surveys to measure perceptions at key moments in the employee journey.

Your findings will help you make smarter decisions and better strategies that impact employees.


How not to measure engagement

Not every method that claims to measure employee engagement actually does. In fact, there are a lot of wrong ways to measure employee engagement. Here are the most common mistakes we see.


1. Don't exclusively use pulse surveys.

There’s no denying that shorter, more frequent surveys play an important role in an organization’s employee engagement strategy. However, pulse surveys shouldn’t be the foundation to measuring engagement.

Your annual engagement survey helps you see what’s happening big picture across your entire organization—and helps you track important people trends over time. This data is key to building an overarching strategy that meets organizational needs.

Use pulse surveys to collect lightweight feedback on any topic. Results from pulse surveys give you a real-time view of your employees’ engagement levels and the ability to respond and adapt quickly.


2. Don't survey a sample population.

Sometimes organizations will survey only part of their employee population to prevent survey fatigue. Though done with the best of intentions, avoid using an annual employee engagement survey for anything less than all your employees.

Leaving out large swaths of employees will skew your engagement results. And including a sample population defeats one of the main reasons why you’re surveying: to communicate that your organization and managers care about employees.

If you have a strategic and thoughtful survey strategy, you shouldn’t have to worry about survey fatigue.


3. Don't focus only on the quantitative results.

Engagement results are valuable. They can help an organization understand the success of their efforts to improve. But many organizations derail engagement when they put all their focus on a singular data point.

An engagement survey is about obtaining employee feedback and opinions. It’s not about finding a final number or score. In the most extreme cases, it’s not uncommon for organizations to purposefully design a survey that they’ll do well on. Don’t do this!

Evaluate your quantitative results (data points) alongside your qualitative feedback (open-ended comments). Using them together will help you determine next steps for the best path forward.


4. Don't roll out a "satisfaction" survey.

Sometimes a “culture survey” or a “satisfaction survey” really is measuring engagement, but an organization just prefers one of these other names. Many times, however, a culture or satisfaction survey contains none of the essential measurement items we discussed earlier. If that’s the case, beware. A survey without engagement items is just measuring employee opinions on things of little consequence to overall engagement.


5. Don't rely on surveys only to improve engagement.

Proper measurement is an essential part of an employee engagement strategy, but it’s the first of many steps. Surveys themselves can’t improve engagement alone—you need other tools in your toolkit.

After the survey and analysis, managers and direct reports need to take action. The most successful survey follow-up leverages employee engagement tech to create and support those habits that drive engagement.


6 ways to measure employee engagement


1. Measure engagement across the organization.

Measuring engagement across the organization helps you establish a baseline. This is the type of measurement you're probably most familiar with. You'll benefit from a high-level overview of strengths and opportunities. You'll also have a benchmark to measure against for different groups and teams, as well as future engagement surveys.

The right tool for the job: annual engagement survey


2. Measure engagement across groups and teams.

Once you have company-wide engagement data, you should slice and dice it in ways that are meaningful to your organization. Consider how your organization functions, breaking employees down into more targeted groups like division, department, job level, or location. Identify areas where you need to dig deeper with more targeted questions. Empower your managers to understand their team's results and boost team engagement.

The right tools for the job: annual engagement survey, pulse and lifecycle surveys, feedback cycles


3. Measure engagement among individuals.

If you want to impact a specific group or team, you'll need to engage the individuals within it. This is where managers become critical to the mission of engagement. You simply can't rely on surveys to collect and analyze individual perceptions. You need your managers to keep a constant pulse on what's happening at an individual level.

The right tools for the job: feedback, one-on-one meetings, talent review metrics, goal tracking, recognition


4. Measure the institutional relationship.

This is the relationship between employees and your organization. It includes general sentiment and perceptions on procedures and policies, goals, company vision, management, technology and equipment, fairness, and more. It helps you understand high-level concerns that need to be addressed.


5. Measure the vertical relationship.

The vertical relationship is the relationship between manager and employee—going both ways. Employees rely on their managers for clear communication, coaching, and feedback.

Managers rely on employees to get their work done, perform well, and help build a positive reputation for their team. Measuring this relationship will help you identify strong and struggling teams.


6. Measure the horizontal relationship.

The horizontal relationship is the relationship among coworkers. Employees rely on their coworkers to:

  • Be team players
  • Be respectful
  • Be accepting
  • Be inclusive
  • Help when needed
  • Share knowledge and resources
  • Help take ideas and projects to the finish line

Understanding what’s going on between employees and their peers will help you identify opportunities to align and motivate teams and individuals.



Measuring employee engagement is complex, but not impossible. To better understand your employee engagement survey results get our ebook, A New Era of Employee Engagement.

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Published January 21, 2020 | Written By Aaron Brown