Whether you’re a Chief Executive, a senior leader or an HR Director, it’s certainly wise to have employee engagement high on your agenda because it brings substantial business benefits.
But you won’t be alone if you sometimes wonder if your efforts are really paying off. Achieving the rewards of employee engagement often means a long – and sometimes lonely – uphill battle.
So how can you tell if all your efforts are worth it? Since the 1970s, the annual employee engagement survey has been a popular measure, but its efficacy is increasingly being called into question.
While I personally believe that there is a place for the evidence that employee engagement surveys can bring, I’d recommend you look out for other measures that are taking place around you every day. For me, these are more likely to be accurate indicators of what’s really happening and are available as part of ‘business as usual’.
Here are six measures that you can use to work out how engaged your employees are likely to be.
1. Do managers hold regular one-to-ones and give feedback?
Research by Professor Helen Francis consistently highlights that regular, meaningful communication between managers and their direct reports significantly increases employee engagement. Day-to-day task-focussed conversations aren’t enough, however. Your managers need to set aside regular time – ideally on a monthly basis – to give their direct reports space and focussed attention to discuss what matters to them.
2. Is business strategy communicated in a way that has meaning for people?
- Are communications about business strategy tailored to the people on the receiving end of the information?
- Is there plenty of opportunity for people to ask questions so that they are certain they understand what it means for them?
- Can people get answers straight from the top rather than having the information filtered through many layers?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to all three questions, you are likely to find that you have a more highly-engaged workforce than those organisations that answer ‘no’.
The most disengaging mistake I see organisations make is creating a one-size-fits-all strategy briefing that is rolled out at large company events. Quite frankly, these leave people cold.
3. Do managers spend meaningful time on ‘the shop floor’?
Since the days of ‘walk the talk’ in the 1980s, managers have been exhorted to get out and talk to people ‘on the job’. If your managers have taken up this call to action and regularly spend time engaging meaningfully with people at their workplace, then chances are you have a better engaged workforce.
‘Meaningful time’ includes giving constructive feedback, asking questions to understand the world from the individual’s viewpoint, listening to them, and answering their questions honestly and without ‘spin’.
4. Is there a ‘stodgy’ organisational hierarchy?
Ask a senior manager if there is a ‘stodgy’ organisational hierarchy in their business and chances are they’ll say ‘no’. Ask the same question of someone further down the hierarchy and their answer will be the opposite.
To really know if you have a stodgy organisational hierarchy, you need to watch who talks to whom and about what. And who is forbidden (or discouraged) from talking to whom and about what.
If people work in silos, information flows predominantly downwards, managers talk only to others at the same level, and you have lots of people who manage just one other person in an endless chain of command from the top to the bottom – then you’ve got a stodgy hierarchy.
And chances are that you have a high level of disengagement as a result – and the further down the resulting organisational food chain you are, the higher your disengagement is likely to be.
5. Have you recently imposed ‘negative’ change?
The most engaged employees will quickly disengage when change that has a negative impact on them is imposed. This occurs even with changes that leaders may see as minor in the overall scheme of things, and happens at every level in business.
In one organisation I worked with recently, senior managers became disengaged because their reserved parking places near the front door of the office were removed. They had to park in the general staff car park.
At a more significant level, wide-spread disengagement occurred in another organisation where major changes to terms and conditions were imposed.
Of course leaders sometimes have to impose changes that people may not like. However, this should be done with the full awareness that employee disengagement is likely to result.
6. Is there a feeling of positivity and energy?
And finally, trust your own intuition. If you feel that there is high energy in your organisation, then chance are that you have a good level of engagement too. Remember, however, that you can’t do this ‘sense check’ unless you get out and about and engage with people.
And, of course, not only does this give you the opportunity to check levels of engagement – it will help to build engagement as well. When you engage, you will find that people are more willing to engage in return.
The efficacy of the employee engagement survey in giving an accurate picture is increasingly being questioned. While I still believe that this has a valuable place, there are other valid measures that are available in the normal day-to-day running of your business and give more timely information.
If you want to know if there is likely to be high employee engagement in your organisation, ask yourself:
- Do managers hold regular one-to-ones and give feedback?
- Is business strategy communicated in a way that has meaning for people?
- Do managers spend meaningful time on ‘the shop floor’?
- Is there a ‘stodgy’ organisational hierarchy?
- Have you recently imposed ‘negative’ change?
- Is there a feeling of positivity and energy?