There have been many ways to describe engagement.
Forbes describes employee engagement as the “emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals.” Gallup, on the other hand, describes the engaged individual as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” William Kahn, the inventor of the term “employee engagement” describes personal disengagement as “the uncoupling of selves from work roles; in disengagement, people withdraw and defend themselves physically, cognitively, or emotionally during role performance."
Ultimately, the term “employee engagement” seeks to explain the relationship between employee and organisation. When the relationship is good, employees have been seen to be more enthusiastic and put in more effort in their work. When it is bad, employees are more likely to skive, barely meet their quotas, and eventually leave the organisation.
How should we measure employee engagement?
Unfortunately, there is no single number that will be able to give you the whole idea of an employee’s engagement. Numbers need to be backed up with discussions with employees to fully understand their concerns about the company and the state of their employment.
But there are some basic ways you can fall back upon. For instance, you could look out for the signs of a typical disengaged employee. This usually shows up in absenteeism, a lack of creative input at work, a reluctance to participate in meetings, or KPIs regularly not being met. If there are signs of disengagement, you could talk to your team, or run surveys to learn more about the situation on the ground.
Here are some popular ways you could use to measure employee engagement.
The most straightforward way to see if your employees have a positive or negative response? Ask them. Using an adapted version of the Net Promoter Score (NPS), the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) effectively measures employees experience working in the company.
Simply ask the question: “How likely are you to recommend your friends to work at this company?” and get employees to rate their experience on a scale of 0 to 10.
Then you can group respondents as such:
- Highly Engaged Employees (score 9-10) who find enjoyment and meaning in their job, and will very likely encourage other people to join the company as well.
- Passively engaged employees (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic employees who find some enjoyment and meaning in their work, but are unlikely to go the extra mile for the company.
- Disengaged Employees (score 0-6) who are unhappy with the company but doing enough just to keep a job and get by, are likely to leave if another opportunity comes up.
Another way of measuring engagement is by measuring discretionary effort: the gap between the level of effort the person is capable of meeting and the effort the person is putting in just to get by.
Effort is a vague concept that in the role doesn’t have a single way to gauge. The measure of one’s full potential is guessed at by managers and only truly known by an employee with full self awareness. The easiest thing to do is to explore how close both employees and their manager perceive their proximity to each limit - in other words, having a conversation about what the expectations being placed on employees are. A study by Gallup revealed that nearly half of all U.S. employees don't even know what's expected of them at work.
The Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES) attempts to measure discretionary effort in three different components: 1) Vigor, or energy and mental resilience, 2) Dedication, being strongly involved in one’s work and experiencing a sense of significance, and 3) Absorption, how full concentrated one is in one’s work.
These are measured through a series of questions:
1. At my work, I feel bursting with energy
2. At my job, I feel strong and vigorous
3. I can continue working for very long periods at a time
1. I find the work that I do full of meaning and purpose
2. I am enthusiastic about my job
3. I am proud on the work that I do
1. Time flies when I'm working
2. When I am working, I forget everything else around me
3. I am immersed in my work
When coming up with the concept of employee engagement, Kahn came up with three main factors that show the employee’s state of mind: meaningful, safe, and available. Rather than measure effort, it helps to keep track of the employee's state of mind.
Do employees find meaning in the work that they do?
When employees find meaning in the work that they do, they are getting some form of value out of the time and effort put into it. Managers should take the time to understand their employees motivations and when they start finding work less meaningful, create avenues for them to craft a more meaningful career within your organisation.
- Is the work you do meaningful to you?
- How meaningful is it for you to put yourself in your work?
Action: Have regular one-on-ones with employees to understand them and their reasons for being in this company. Are the reasons they chose to work in this organisation still valid? Is the meaning they derive from work changing? Or are they feeling lost and directionless?
How safe do employees feel working in this organisation?
Safety in the workplace refers more to psychological safety - the belief that you can make mistakes at work without fear of punishment. When employees feel safe, they are able to speak their minds, take moderate risks, and be creative. The company’s culture plays a huge role in fostering psychological safety.
- Do you feel safe to immerse yourself in your work?
- Is work a safe place for you to experiment and try new ideas?
- If I make a mistake at work, it is held against me. Agree or Disagree?
- It is difficult to ask for help in my team. Agree or Disagree>
Do employees feel emotionally, physically, or mentally available to harness their full self at work?
There are times where an employee's engagement at work is affected by external factors. Whether it's a health issue, problems at home, or work politics, there are often reasons why an employee is simple unable to be fully present at work.
To measure availability, simply observe:
- Are participation rates at events or meetings falling?
- Is the team staying innovative in their work?
- Is there any initiative within the team to try new things, or is the team content with status quo?
If you observe that an employee has been unavailable at work, sit down with them and talk about your observations. Accept that work is just one part of each individual's rich life, and offer support. Using a collaborative approach to improve the individual's engagement to work and find actionable steps can help them feel supported and open an avenue of communication.
Individual and Team KPIs
A measure of one’s effort also needs to be backed up by an understanding of the person’s KPIs and how they are hitting those KPIs. This gives you a more concrete idea of the amount of effort the employee is supposed to hit and the effort they are actually meeting. That’s why managers and employees coming up with KPIs together is so important: within the process, managers can not only communicate their expectations of employees, they can also align those expectations with what employees think their potential” is and the action steps to reach those goals.
Being able to communicate what you expect of your employees can help Good managers communicate this and align their expectations of their employees to them regularly, to motivate them to increase this level of discretionary effort.
Managers should firstly set high (but reasonable) expectations of their employees, communicate those expectations in a concrete and measurable way, and set actionable steps together. As a whole, output is easier to measure than effort, so think about setting clear KPIs together and communicating regularly about how to meet those KPIs.
The struggle to measure employee engagement
Employee engagement is a tricky subject to measure. Though it is such an important factor in morale and employee turnover in an organisation, the fact that employee engagement is relational is the exact reason why measuring it is so difficult. At the end of the day, engagement is emotional. And as with any emotion, it can be hard to convey, and shifts day-to-day.
At the same time, detecting disengagement at work can be difficult because the shift from engaged to disengaged happens internally. Despite this withdrawal, people can still meet the required effort to remain employed.
That's why it is important to open avenues to communication to talk about these issues. While learning how to measure employee engagement is important, it needs to be backed with qualitative data. Using any of the methods shared above could prompt a discussion around the questions asked. Get your employees input, and you will get a holistic understanding of your team's engagement to their work.