How should you measure employee engagement?

The recently published Dataquest – CMR Best Employer Survey 2012 in India results (October 31, 2012 edition) gives us some interesting insights on what IT organizations do to stem attrition.

However, what strikes me as odd is the survey’s methodology to divide organisations based on employee size - one with firms having less than 2000 employees and the rest above that mark. The rationale provided is that employers can improve their practices based on organisations in their respective category.

While it is clear that one size doesn’t fit all there are some fundamental issues with how organisations approach the subject and in this article I will share perspectives that can reframe the engagement dialogue.

Size doesn’t matter: Research studies indicate that lower employee strength does not necessarily mean improved employee perceptions. The 2012 Great Place to Work study indicates that organisations with less than 250 employees aren’t as engaged as large organisations, particularly in terms of employee perceptions about the benefits, training and other important factors that impact engagement.

Our lens of judging best employers need to be revisited: While this survey and others have a robust methodology when key players and the biggest employers are missing from a list it doesn’t seem very inclusive.

Gender inclusivity isn’t about the ratio in the workforce: Staff observes their employers closely and unless consistent actions follow words trust and credibility can take a hit.  Gender inclusivity needs to be about empowerment and goes beyond male vs. female ratios. Organisations need to be open about the diversity of employees and their freedom of sexual orientation and expression.

Value and impact of communication needs to be integral to surveys: While the broad parameters included in the questionnaire – company culture, job content/growth, training, salary and compensation, appraisal systems, managing the slowdown etc. may seem extensive it misses the key element of "internal communications". How communication is used to convey messages and build an inclusive environment is crucial to the engagement with any organisation worth its name.

Beyond a point salaries don’t impact engagement: Research reports have proven that your employees are cared for, compensation isn’t a motivational tool beyond a point. In fact, it can become a crutch for the organisation. If salary is their only motivation then the organisation is saddled with disengaged staffers. What employees seek are clarity in their work, autonomy and opportunities to get better at what they do.

Short term goals instead of long term interests: By looking at indicators such as attrition the focus goes to negative qualifiers and in the short term they may seem to work. However, in the long run the implications come to haunt firms. According to the Best Places to Work Study, firms that invest in their employees and are considered best employers often outperformer the indices and also have half the voluntary turnover rates of their competitors.

Engagement isn’t HR’s ownership: Very often we see HR leaders sharing how and why their initiatives have made a difference to employees in their organisations. However, engagement is a two-way street. Employees join organisations because they want to contribute to a shared future and employers hired these staff to build a team which can work towards that future. Therefore, every person in the organisation is in a way responsible for their contribution. More importantly, managers are the conduit to improved engagement considering how much time and effort that goes in connecting with their team members.

Missing the key essentials: Aon Hewitt’s analysis of 2012 trends in employee engagement uncovers that the top three drivers are career opportunities, recognition, and organisation reputation. According to the Best Companies Ltd ‘s Art of Engagement model the eight factors include My Manager, Leadership, My Company, Personal growth, My team, Fair deal, Giving something back and Well-being. Strangely, very little effort is put to gauge the impact of these drivers in surveys.

Every engagement concern doesn’t need an initiative: From the reports that emerge from engagement surveys and best employer studies I often notice that organisations have a "fix" for every single engagement concern. If training is an indicator there are a slew of programs aimed at getting employees adept. If there is dissatisfaction with salary then benchmark is overhauled or revalidated. These are knee-jerk reactions and don’t usually solve the bigger and deeper issues that are in play.

Engagement is at its highest when employees are well informed, listened to, trusted and involved. If we direct our energies at these areas engagement can become less of a task and more enjoyable.

Views expressed in this article are the author's and do not reflect the views of the organisation he works for.

Aniisu K Verghese is the India Internal Communications Lead at Sapient. He is the author of Internal Communications - Insights, Practices and Models (Sage Publications, 2012) and blogs at