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Start using technology and don't be afraid to scrap traditional engagement surveys

Michael Dunmore
QUMRA 2016 - Day 5
Make sure you – and your employees – are actually clear on what's being measured (Source: Getty)

Employee engagement is a popular topic for businesses today because of the links between it and better performance.

But recent research shows that, while 90 per cent of global organisations go to the trouble of carrying out employee engagement surveys, only 7 per cent rate themselves as excellent at measuring and improving engagement and retention.

This disconcertingly low figure begs the question: are there easier ways to connect employee engagement survey results to improving your workforce?

First, we need to ask another question which so frequently gets ignored: what do we even mean by employee engagement? Put simply, it is the extent to which people feel passionate about their job and committed to their organisation.

This passion and commitment generates value: research across sectors has shown that it can be responsible for an increase in profitability of up to 22 per cent. So it’s a dimension of organisational performance that is worth measuring – if everyone understands what’s being measured.

Richard Branson Photocall Virgin Trains has scrapped traditional engagement surveys

The right method

Second, there are increasing numbers of ways to measure engagement – it’s important to use the right one. For many companies, the accepted way of doing so is via the annual employee engagement survey, and using a third party specialist survey supplier is common.

If this is your business, it’s important to consider carefully the additional bespoke questions you ask: are they going to merely flag dissatisfaction, or actually tell you what issues are important to employees?

An increasingly popular way to measure engagement is to look just at sentiment. This can be done in addition to comprehensive engagement surveys, or provide a lighter-touch way to gauge how employees are feeling towards their own roles and the business as a whole. Virgin Trains, for instance, recently abandoned its engagement survey method and instead adopted a series of sentiment surveys.

One way to assess employee sentiment – rather than just collect responses – is by using a technology that does some of the work for you. And there are now many sentiment measurement tools on the market. One example is the Emooter app and website, which encourages employees to regularly register their level of happiness. Meanwhile, Celpax is a device for employees to register their level of contentment at the entrance or exit of a building. Employers will also want to look at how current and past employees are voicing their opinions on social networks such as Glassdoor.

Another route taken by many firms is the pulse survey, which asks just five to 10 questions to sample groups of employees at different times of the year – rather than the entire workforce. This is easier to act upon than, say, a quarterly survey because they can be issued to coincide with big changes in a business.

The right attitude

Third, once results are in, they must be distributed and explained to employees, and then discussed, with two or three key items selected to be worked on over a fixed time period – usually six months or a year. You also need a follow-up plan in place, which takes into account how employees feel about the progress made towards goals.

In the not-so-distant future, traditional employee engagement surveys may well be replaced with more sophisticated ways of collecting and integrating data. KPMG is already retiring the traditional survey, studying staff performance via an evaluation tool which looks closely at the nature of the relationship between employer and employee.

However, until such a time, the importance of measuring – and acting on – employee engagement should not be disregarded.

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