A Research-Based Approach to Measuring Employee Engagement

measuring employee engagement

Measuring employee engagement frequently and using it as a tool to better understand your team's needs can help you develop more effective strategies for maximizing performance.

Measuring employee engagement has been a key focus of HR teams for the last several years because it can help organizations understand how effective their leadership is and how to maximize employee performance. It's just as important now, maybe even more so.

Here, Amy Leschke-Kahle, Vice President of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP Company, shares more effective, research-based ways of measuring engagement and provides strategies that organizations can use to change the way they look at engagement.

Embracing a mindset shift around engagement

Organizations that measure employee engagement typically conduct annual surveys and look to see percentage point increases year-over-year. Leschke-Kahle suggests that this approach is too infrequent and is the wrong way to look at measuring engagement.

"Measuring engagement often assumes a linear relationship, which results in a lot of companies asking people to do things like provide ratings on a 1-5 scale. What we know about people, however, is that's not how engagement works," Leschke-Kahle says.

Taking the temperature of employee engagement annually provides a static take on your culture and employee engagement. Leschke-Kahle says that people's connection to their work is more exponential, meaning that it's not only growing in potentially dramatic leaps but that it's changing all the time.

"People are not broken — they are not problems to be solved. They're not problems to be fixed. People are opportunities."

- Amy Leschke-Kahle, Vice President of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company

Employee engagement happens in real time — and the measurements you use to track it should be real-time, too. They should also gauge employee sentiment using research-based questions that help establish a realistic baseline. From there, organizations can take meaningful actions to move the needle toward improvement.

Leschke-Kahle recommends developing a systematic process to measure engagement regularly — think weekly, monthly or quarterly. Regular check-ins can help you better understand what's really happening and allow you to respond in real time to challenges. This will help keep employees engaged, happy and at maximum performance. Leschke-Kahle advises against getting caught up in the process of annual measurement. This could result in you being excited to see an increase and then forgetting the initiative for another year.

Instead, view the process for regularly measuring employee engagement as a way to gain insights that can help you manage in the moment.

"It's more of a crystal ball to see what's happening," says Leschke-Kahle. "It's less of a target, more of a tool, and particularly more of a tool for team leaders to better understand how their team is experiencing work right now."

Measuring engagement means focusing on the right things

The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP company, has developed a framework with eight core statements that help them measure employee engagement over time. Specifically, these statements were developed to assess the level of engagement created by team leaders, which the company describes as "the glue that helps employees remain productive and engaged in their work. One of the best gauges of a leader's effectiveness, then, is their ability to create the optimal conditions for employee engagement."

The team uses these eight statements to help uncover the specific factors that contribute to employee engagement and performance. They help uncover the clarity of connection that an employee feels to a mission and how well a manager is enforcing these key components. When they align, says Leschke-Kahle, they can drive performance acceleration. One way to understand the statements, she adds, is that "they're the emotional precursors to extraordinary work and fully engaged employees."

Moreover, how employees respond to these statements becomes a working definition for engagement — and once a clear definition is in place, organizations can focus more intently on the goal they're trying to achieve.

Strategies for facilitating deeper engagement

Prioritizing paying attention to your team is the single most critical thing managers can do to foster exponential engagement. Leschke-Kahle says frequent, short bursts can suffice, and they can be very light-touch.

Operationalizing the structure of check-ins can have a significant impact on employee engagement. Leschke-Kahle notes that when the data shows people have received ongoing attention for approximately 12 weeks, their employee engagement data improves 1.5 to 3 times.

Have a performance acceleration approach

Taking the right tone in measuring employee engagement and tying it to specific objectives can have a major impact on its effectiveness. One way to do this, Leschke-Kahle says, is to view coaching and engagement as an opportunity.

"People are not broken — they are not problems to be solved. They're not problems to be fixed. People are opportunities. They're opportunities to be accelerated," says Leschke-Kahle.

Organizations that take a dynamic view on measuring employee engagement can see significant improvements. If frequent employee engagement check-ins are used as a tool to better understand what's going on, it provides the data needed to improve support. By leaning into providing simple, strategic and frequent check-ins between managers and their teams as the basis for improvement, it can be easy to see the needle move on employee engagement in real time.

Learn about engagement and performance solutions that help teams thrive in the new normal, and beyond — learn about StandOut® powered by ADP®.

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