Before you read any further, take a moment to picture your ideal employee. What do you see?
Chances are, you’re picturing a passionate, competent, excited individual diving head-first into their assigned duties with no hesitation.
In short: you’re picturing an engaged employee.
EMPTrust defines an engaged employee as “one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.”
SnackNation furthers this definition, stating that engaged employees:
- Are self-guided
- Have well-defined roles
- Understand their contribution to their organization
- Are dedicated to personal and professional growth
These sentiments alone are likely enough to convince you that an increase in employee engagement can benefit your organization.
But there are many more tangible and quantitative benefits of employee engagement, as well. According to data collected by DecisionWise, a team of engaged employees has proven to contribute to:
- Operating income growth of nearly 20% in a 12-month period
- 300% faster rate of profit growth
- A 100% increase in customer loyalty
Those are some massive numbers. Clearly, companies that focus heavily on employee engagement stand a much better chance of experiencing continued success than those that…well…don’t.
But a lack of employee engagement doesn’t just cause organizations to miss out on potential gains. It turns out, these companies are continuously losing money due to a lack of employee engagement – to the tune of up to $550 billion annually across the world.
Now, here’s the kicker:
Employee disengagement isn’t exactly a rare occurrence. According to the Gallup poll we linked to above, over 85% of employees across the world are considered to be disengaged with their work on a daily basis. In the US, more than half of the entire workforce is actively disengaged with their job.
The thing is, though: disengagement comes in many forms. In other words, while pointing out an engaged employee is rather intuitive (i.e., “I know engagement when I see it”), disengaged employees, by nature, often fly under the radar. Because of this, business owners and managers need to constantly be on the lookout for signs of such disengagement.
In this article, we’ll discuss the factors that play into employee engagement, and explain how you can go about collecting information relating to these factors.
By collecting and analyzing this information, you’ll get a better idea of what you can do to increase engagement among your employees – and solidify your definition of what an ideal employee looks like.
Before we dive in, though, it’s important that we clarify the difference between a satisfied employee and an engaged employee.
Employee Engagement vs. Employee Satisfaction
As we said earlier, disengaged employees aren’t always easy to spot.
One of the main reasons for this is that when trying to pinpoint disengaged employees, we often look for those who are actively disengaged – the ones who, one way or another, make it abundantly clear that they don’t really care about their job.
But employee disengagement can be much more subtle than that. It can come in the form of the employee who never opens their mouth one way or another; the one who does their job well enough, and is always out the door by five o’clock; the one who rarely misses a day of work, but whose absence is never really noticed by others.
To these individuals, “work is work.” They don’t hate their job – but they don’t love it, either. If asked, they’d probably say they’re “content” rather than “happy.” They’re satisfied, but nothing more.
The problem here is that contentedness can easily become complacency. If they don’t really care one way or the other about their job, there’s little incentive to put more effort into it.
On the other hand, employees who are truly happy with their work-related duties are the ones who will come into their place of employment every day striving to do the best they possibly can. They’re not motivated by their paycheck (or the possibility of losing it), or by the fact that “things could be worse.” They’re motivated, as we mentioned before, by the potential to grow personally and professionally every day of their lives.
To break it down clearly:
A satisfied employee will never do more than is what is expected of them; An engaged employee will always strive to see what more they’re capable of.
(A quick side note: This is not to say that satisfaction and engagement aren’t related at all; they are. We’ll get into that in the next section.)
Measuring Employee Engagement
It’s clear by now that there’s no one thing that determines whether an employee is (or will become) engaged. Rather, there are a number of factors that contribute to an employee’s propensity to become engaged.
From a bird’s-eye view, these factors are:
- Overall satisfaction
- Future Outlook
In the following section, we’ll dive into the nuances of these factors that you’ll ultimately want to pay attention to in order to gauge your employees’ level of engagement.
Let’s start with satisfaction.
Overall Job Satisfaction
So far, we’ve admittedly romanticized the concept of engagement by painting a picture of an intrinsically-motivated employee who’s driven solely by a willingness to do great things.
But, if you’re at all familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you know that for an individual to get to this point, their basic needs must first be met.
Pertaining to their job, this means employees must be satisfied with:
- Their pay grade/salary
- The benefits they receive through the company
- Their schedule and time off/vacation policy
- Their feeling of being secure in their current position
- Other duty-related logistics, such as reimbursement for travel and other expenses
As we said earlier, ensuring employee satisfaction is an essential part of creating engagement among your team. If your employees aren’t having their basic needs met, they won’t possibly be able to work to their highest potential.
The next tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy focuses on psychological needs – which directly relates to employee alignment.
More specifically, it focuses on two main aspects of a person’s life (or, for our purposes, their career):
- Sense of Belonging
- Sense of Purpose
Let’s break down each of these as they pertain to your employees.
A Sense of Belonging
To feel as if they truly belong within an organization, employees fit within the company’s culture – and be able to trust their colleagues and supervisors in a variety of ways.
Simply put, if an employee feels like an outsider, there’s no way they’ll become engaged with their work.
On the one hand, they’ll face an internal emotional block whenever they’re required to work within a group. Even if the effect of such seems to be relatively minor, it can still distract the affected employee in a way that causes them to do less than their best work. Or, in a worst-case scenario, this effect might cause an employee to shut down completely.
On the other hand, their colleagues might also pick on the notion that an individual just doesn’t fit into the team’s framework. This, unfortunately, could potentially lead the team to become disjointed or, at the very least, cause one individual to become alienated from the group. Regardless of whether this is done intentionally or not, the effect will be the same: a drastic dip in productivity.
All this being said, it makes sense that a person who feels like they truly belong within their current company will inherently look forward to coming into work every single day. After all, it’s where they belong; why wouldn’t they enjoy it?
A Sense of Purpose
Here’s where intrinsic motivation really comes in.
Perhaps one of the biggest engagement detractors for a given employee is whether or not they feel like their work really matters – to their organization, and to themselves.
People often talk about their “calling” – which is exactly what we mean when we talk about doing work that matters. People that follow their calling want to do the best they possibly can because they know their efforts benefit the world in one way or another.
While a sense of purpose does, ultimately, come from within, it can be brought out by external influences – such as recognition from others. For example, there exists a famous story in which John F. Kennedy, during a visit to NASA, asks a custodial worker what he’s doing.
The employee replies: “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” Clearly, it was instilled in this man – both internally and externally – that his duties, no matter how un-glamorous, are essential to the success of the organization’s overall mission.
There’s another aspect to this sense of purpose, as well, that relates to an employee’s sense of autonomy within their organization. Employees need to be given the freedom to do what they know will help their organization – and the world around them – without fear of reprisal for not going “by the book.”
Often, if an employee’s way of doing things clashes with their supervisor’s way, one of two things will happen: either the employee will become disenfranchised and disengaged with their work, or will simply find a new place of employment.
Either way, a lack of alignment between employer and employee ultimately means everyone suffers.
Employee engagement can also be spurred by certain forward-looking aspects of their job, as well.
The overarching factor here is the possibility of growth – both within the company and as a professional. In a way, this circles back to the discussion about ensuring your employees are doing work that matters: if they aren’t being challenged, and there’s no potential to move up the ladder, what incentive do they have to do better in their current position?
Something else to think about here is the variety your employees are offered in their positions. Employees required to do the same thing, day-in, day-out, will almost assuredly reach a point of complacency and stagnation (thus, stunted growth).
During times in which upward growth isn’t logistically possible (such as during a wage freeze or cutbacks), opportunities for lateral growth can also spur engagement by allowing them to expand their skill base into other areas.
By focusing on the future, you increase your employees’ propensity to become engaged not only today, but tomorrow as well.
So, now that we’ve talked about what you need to measure in order to gauge your employees’ engagement levels, we can explain how to assess these levels.
Collecting Employee Engagement Data Through Surveys
As we alluded to earlier, employee engagement (or lack thereof) isn’t always obvious.
And your perspective as an employer or manager isn’t always accurate. Naturally, the only person who truly knows how engaged an employee is with their work is that individual employee.
The most efficient way to gather information regarding an employee’s level of engagement, then, is to simply ask them to give it to you.
Here, we’ll discuss both formal and informal ways in which you can solicit input from your employees in order to gauge their engagement levels, and to determine how you can improve them.
We’ll also provide a number of example questions you can ask in order to elicit accurate and valuable responses from your employees.
Let’s start with informal methods.
A quick note before we dive in: When we say “informal” and “formal,” we’re focused on how the interaction being discussed appears to the employee. To the surveyor [employer/manager], both are strategically and formally planned.
Informal Surveys and Interviews
As we said, these surveys and interviews come across to the employee as rather informal in that they aren’t scheduled, nor are they time-consuming.
Often referred to as “pulse” surveys or interviews, they consist only of three questions, and are laser-focused on a specific aspect of engagement. Pulse surveys or interviews are usually conducted every few weeks, but can be conducted more frequently as needed.
Pulse surveys are usually conducted electronically, and can be delivered via email (and submitted through the accompanying survey software). As they are rather informal, they can be completed at the employee’s leisure (within a specific time frame).
Pulse interviews are conducted in person, and are rather indistinguishable from most other employer-employee interactions. These short, informal interactions allow employers to engage with their workers in a more candid manner, in the hopes of gaining more accurate information from them.
Pulse Survey and Interview Questions
Regarding Job Satisfaction:
- How would you rate your happiness over the past month at work?
- How many hours did you work this week? (Compare to their average)
- How efficient do you feel you were this past week?
- How important do you believe the work you’ve done this week is to the company?
- How challenging was the work you did this past week?
- How often did you face roadblocks that prevented you from getting your work done?
Regarding the Future:
- How would you rate your growth in the past month?
- (After a training session) How did the training affect your ability to perform your duties?
As pulse interviews and surveys are conducted rather frequently, you can analyze each employee’s responses on a continuum in order to pinpoint trends and anomalies. You can also cross-check their responses with other metrics regarding their performance in order to pinpoint possible correlations between the two.
In turn, you can determine the “little things” that motivate your employees to put their all into their work on a daily basis – and ensure that they remain engaged in the weeks to come.
Formal Surveys and Interviews
You’ll also want to conduct more lengthy, formal surveys and interviews over time, as well.
These initiatives can be implemented at designated moments in time (such as quarterly or yearly), or after major events and milestones within the organization.
Whereas pulse surveys and interviews quickly dive into a specific aspect of engagement, these more formal methods will focus on the larger overarching areas of your employees’ experiences within your company.
Since these methods are more structured and require more time and effort to complete, they should be conducted during a scheduled time period in which the focus is squarely on the survey or interview. By scheduling them ahead of time, you give your employees time to look back on their experiences within the company and accurately assess their own satisfaction and engagement.
Formal Survey and Interview Questions
Regarding Job Satisfaction:
- How would you rate your happiness at (Company)?
- How would you rate your work/life balance?
- How likely are you to recommend that a friend apply to work at (Company)?
- How would you rate your worth to (Company)?
- How well do your values match those of (Company)?
- How would you say (Company) lives up to its mission statement?
Regarding the Future:
- How would you rate your understanding of your potential career path?
- How would you rate your ability to reach your true potential while working at (Company)?
- How confident are you that (Company) will provide future opportunities for growth in your career?
Compared to the data gleaned from pulse surveys and interviews (which can be used to make “tweaks” to a specific employee’s situation to improve engagement), data gleaned from these formal sessions can be used during an employee’s annual review in order to determine major shifts in their responsibilities and their role within the company. In doing so, managers can fit the right team members in the right roles – and increase employee engagement in the process.
There’s no doubt that an employee who is actively engaged in their duties is an asset to their organization, while an employee who spends their on-duty time staring at the clock is nothing more than a liability.
By reaching out to your employees and determining what causes them to become engaged (or disengaged, as the case may be), you can make important changes to your organization that ensure everyone is on-task at all times.