Surveys can be a useful starting point for wider engagement strategy. But it’s vital that these are set up properly
If employee engagement makes good business sense, it follows that it should also make sense to measure it. But can you trust the results, and do you really know what you are measuring?
Ignore these questions and you could find that a seemingly strong engagement score is just masking troubles, according to new research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Employee Engagement Consortium at Kingston University Business School.
“While we definitely encourage organisations to measure engagement, it is not enough for them to focus on increasing their scores without considering what type of engagement is being measured,” says Angela Baron, research adviser at the CIPD. “Engagement is multifaceted; it is made up of job satisfaction; willingness and performance; communications; attitude; and culture and behaviour.”
The CIPD and Kingston research found that employees who are engaged only with the task or job role at hand, which it calls transactional engagement, may respond positively to engagement surveys and outwardly behave as though they are engaged, but are less likely to perform well and may leave quickly if a better job offer comes along. Other respondents may make criticisms of the organisation, and so lower the score but do this because they care.
Kerstin Alfes, a researcher at the Kingston Employee Engagement Consortium, says the ultimate aim must be to create a culture rather than rewarding the most engaged team. “We have found that high commitment and involvement from senior management beforehand, such as pre-communication that the survey is coming, works well,” she says.
“Then the survey should be sent individually to employees, with words from the line managers to explain its purpose and encourage people to participate in it. Finally, it ’s about communicating the results to as many people as possible and acting upon it.”
Lisa Sibley, employment engagement manager at Essex County Council, agrees that an engagement survey is not the end in itself. Sibley has run an annual survey, branded internally as “Your Voice” for the past six years among the council’s 8,500 employees, who answer it anonymously. “We are measuring our line managers on how engaged their teams are and have developed a two-hour, bite-size, online course on being an effective, engaging line manager,” she says.
Building society Nationwide has been doing regular surveys, known as Viewpoint, for 25 years. It conducts a full survey of 11 categories of 60 questions between December and January, which it supplements with a shorter survey very July.