The declaration of the percentage of ‘engaged employees’ an organisation has, has always seemed like a fairly abstract concept. What does it mean? How are behaviours and emotions measured as a percentage? I can’t say I’ve ever defined how I feel as a percentage and if I attempted to, it wouldn’t be a constant state without fluctuations. So if you make a statement that says 80% of employees are engaged, does that mean out of 100 people 80 are always engaged on a daily basis or that 80% of the time all employees are engaged?

The Danger of Generalisations

I appreciate that there has been years of research that supposedly explains the value to businesses, but given that the concept is ambiguous, how valid is that research? David MacLeod describes employee engagement as “how we create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential”. If I’m to believe the numerous blogs out there that tell me there are 5 things that engage employees, or maybe that’s 7 or 10 (depending on the blog) then it sounds like it’s a simple fix – or perhaps it’s just click bait to get more blog views?

Does One Size Fit All?

Clearly, there are some aspects within an organisation that are going to make employees feel more satisfied at work, but the number of variables is significant. Add to that the fact that all employees are individuals who are motivated in different ways: then engagement becomes a very complex concept.

The conditions we create for one person to help them “offer more of their capability and potential” would need to be varied for each individual and dependent on how they feel on the day.

Varying factors such as company culture, leadership, communications etc. to that level just isn’t feasible, so then finding the right company fit at recruitment becomes ever more critical. However, it potentially impacts having a diverse workforce.

How Useful Are Annual or Pulse Surveys?

The main approach to gaining insight on employee engagement has traditionally been the annual survey. More and more companies are moving away from this to get real-time data through using pulse surveys. However, these still have their own challenges depending on how they are used. Asking employees their opinion more frequently, whether it’s daily, monthly or quarterly, allows more data to be analysed but it may create more cognitive biases in the responses received as it becomes habitual and more like a process for participants.

Engagement Linked to the Employee Experience

Rather than targeting engagement assessment in cyclical processes, it would be more effective if we actually map the employee journey to identify the relevant touch-points to analyse engagement at those stages. It may be that those points are in the early stages of joining a company, at different phases within a project or during any significant interactions an employee has with an organisation – team-based, cross-functional projects, company-wide and with external stakeholders.

Correlation to Customer Satisfaction?

Some companies have reported the fact that they have found strong positive correlations between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Whilst this doesn’t provide the evidence to show a causal relationship, HR are still quick to jump to the conclusion that employee engagement equals customer satisfaction. Whilst it seems to make sense that this would be true, it may well be that customer satisfaction causes employee engagement which would also seem to make sense. It’s time HR understand our people; both employees and customers and drill down into those experiences to understand patterns in behaviours through credible analysis rather than weak assumptions.

This article is just my musings on the subject and I’m not proposing any magic solution other than questioning something that has become familiar practice to many HR departments.

Through effective digital transformation, technology can allow us to get more in-depth behavioural analysis on our people without having to ask the same standard questions in a survey.

This may mean we can understand better the behaviours that make up ‘employee engagement’, what impacts them and what the benefits of it actually are. Perhaps HR can also be more innovative to understand engagement levels through other practices than just surveys, such as observational feedback, forums and gamified interactions at pivotal touch-points.

Disclaimer: The opinions and views published here are my own and are not representative of my employer.

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