How to evaluate employee engagement
Employee engagement is vital for any business that wants to maintain a happy and productive workforce that is aligned to the company’s vision and long-term goals. If an employee is not engaged in what they’re doing, the quality of their work will decline and they may end up leaving for pastures new. With the huge costs associated nowadays with the hiring and training of new staff, this is a problem that businesses will try to avoid as much as they can.
It’s important, therefore, for companies to be able to evaluate the engagement of their employees to ensure that they’re meeting their expectations and to identify areas that need refinement or change if necessary. Employee engagement ultimately needs to be measured so it can be managed – companies need to find out what motivates their employees so they can more successfully retain them.
It is generally accepted that employees have five fundamental needs if they’re going to be happy and engaged in their work:
1. A sense of purpose
2. To feel valued
3. Clarity of role and expectations
4. An understanding of accountability
5. Open communication
These five elements are at the core of employee engagement. However one of the most important aspects that often gets overlooked is to do with enablement. This concept is about the employee being in the right job and the right environment in which to be able to succeed in their job. Without also investigating the factors that directly affect enablement, businesses are ignoring an essential part of what impacts employees’ engagement at work. An employee may be fully engaged in their work, but if they do not feel enabled to do it well due to lack of resources or support from leadership, this may ultimately lead to them either leaving their post in favour of one where they are enabled, or simply disengaging from their work completely. By evaluating both engagement and enablement factors (those day to day aspects that directly affect employees), organisations will have a much better understanding of the issues their employees are facing and will then have more power to implement effective and constructive changes.
The next issue is looking at how employee engagement can be evaluated effectively. Can companies be sure that they’re always getting honest answers from employees regarding their level of engagement? Is it as simple as handing out a questionnaire and letting them get on with it?
The first thing that organisations have to ensure is anonymity – unless an employee is sufficiently disgruntled that they go to a manager and make a comment or complaint about something that’s affecting them in the workplace, they will usually suffer in silence. In many cases, this will be because they don’t want to be marked as a troublemaker, receive disciplinary action or generally rock the boat.
Companies should first think, therefore, about the way in which they evaluate employee engagement – if it requires direct involvement on the employee’s part, they should be able to remain anonymous so they can speak honestly about anything they’re not happy with.
Make use of exit interviews
In certain cases, there’s nothing a company can do to prevent an employee from leaving – for example, if they get their dream job, they’re likely going to leave regardless of any incentives offered to get them to stay. However, those employees who have simply decided that they have had enough can offer valuable insight into what the company needs to do to make it a more appealing place to be.
When employees leave, exit interviews should be conducted to find out their reasons for going. The tone should be non-judgemental, and often the employee will be more candid about their experiences because they know they’re leaving the company and it doesn’t matter as much (though they may still need a reference) about what they say. Such valuable information can be used to refine the company’s culture and ensure that the same mistakes are not made. It’s all too easy sometimes to dismiss the views of leavers as irrelevant.
The most effective way of gauging employee engagement is probably the tried-and-tested questionnaire method. This is where companies can really get to the heart of what employees think about them (assuming it’s anonymous, of course). Questions to ask might include:
• Do you feel you receive enough praise and recognition for your work?
• Do you feel you are given opportunities to learn and grow within your role?
• Do you feel that your work is a key contributor towards the meeting of the company’s goals?
• Do you feel you have the necessary resources to do your job well?
The questionnaire could even be more overt and explicitly ask employees if there is anything they are unhappy about or anything they feel could be improved. It eliminates any beating about the bush that other employee engagement evaluation methods might be affected by, and due to the anonymity of the questionnaire there will be no possibility of retaliation for negative comments, allowing employees to be more open about their views.
Lyndon Wingrove is Director of Capabilities and Consulting at Thales L&D. Lyndon currently oversees the Thales L&D team of learning and development experts, who have a huge breadth of skills between them.
Lyndon is a regular contributor to Enhance – The Magazine for Learning and Development.