How to measure employee engagement

Employee engagement might seem like an intangible ideal, but there are ways to quantify this crucial indicator of company health

When catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, you probably want to ask how they’re doing.  “Are you happy?” isn’t a good first question—there’s too much to unpack, and a yes or no answer won’t be useful. “How’s your family?” might help paint a clearer picture—so will “How’s work?” or “How’s that project you’ve been working on?”

The same goes for measuring employee engagement. Asking if employees are happy will elicit a yes or a no, and the question doesn’t cover all of the complex variables involved in how people feel at work. It also doesn’t give leadership and HR a path forward for improving employee engagement. Especially at an enterprise-level company, where the work and the employee experience can vary dramatically from team to team, it’s increasingly important to find accurate ways to measure how engaged employees are. 

Why employee engagement matters

Highly engaged employees improve profitability. A 2013 meta analysis of 263 research studies across 192 organizations by US management consultancy Gallup found teams that scored in the top quartile for employee engagement were 22 percent more profitable and 21 percent more productive than bottom-quartile units. And, as of 2018, 34 percent of U.S.-based workers were engaged. It may seem like a low number, but it’s one of the highest engagement rates in Gallup’s polling history. 

Jump on the trend and make sure your employees are having the best possible experience at work—but have an accurate way to measure engagement. Here are some strategies to help you get a clearer picture of your results.

Measuring employee engagement should start with a survey—and the right questions

Surveys—either designed and sent in-house or from a third party—are the most common way of gauging employees’ feelings about work. Timing and content are crucial. Start by defining how your company thinks about employee engagement, and ask questions that support your definition. 

Questions to ask on an employee-engagement survey

The key is to ask questions with measurable responses so that it’s easier to compile and quantify the results. Topics should generally include:

  • How much employees are working outside of regular business hours
  • Time spent with people across the company
  • How much time people spend in ad-hoc meetings rather than regularly scheduled ones
  • Time spent collaborating with colleagues or customers outside the normal scope of work
WeWork The Bower in London.
WeWork The Bower in London.

In most cases, the more time spent in these scenarios, the higher an employee’s engagement. (Keep in mind, however, that not all of these behaviors might be seen as a positive, especially in the extreme.) Include any behavior that your company deems to be demonstrative of an engaged employee, and consider including questions about the company’s mission statement and core values.

In-house vs. third-party employee engagement tools

Hiring a company to measure employee engagement (Workify, Gallup, and Reflektive all offer these services) provides some benefits: Software and project management are all handled for you.

In exchange, you stand to lose a certain amount of flexibility and control over the data. Questions might not be customizable, but even more important, you might not have access to the raw data acquired. And if you’re planning to build long-term documentation of employee engagement or a robust picture of the employee experience for HR, you’ll want access to that data. 

Schedule regular pulse checks throughout the year

Checking in regularly with employees is key to getting the real picture. Smaller pulse surveys can be sent more frequently, then checked against a yearly large-scale survey that covers everything from the level of satisfaction with managers to alignment with the leadership’s goals and visions. Google is famous for their annual Googlegeist survey, which charts changes in satisfaction among the behemoth’s full-time employees.

Meet one-on-one with employees regularly

The quantitative data from large-scale surveys will always be useful, especially for bigger companies. But for companies of any size, regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees is a simple way to get a sense of how invested, excited, and motivated an employee is. Building a rapport that allows for honest conversation can result in excellent feedback. 

  • If you could, what’s one thing you would change about your role?
  • What makes you want to stay with this organization?
  • What makes for a great day of work?
  • What’s your relationship with your manager like?
  • What do you dislike most about your job?

Conduct exit interviews and stay interviews to identify wins and missteps

Getting the scoop from an outgoing employee is key for finding out what might have gone wrong. However, it’s just as important to connect with an employee at any stage, whether they just got a promotion or seem to be hitting their stride; stay interviews can be a great counterpoint to exit interviews because they’re a good way to find out what the company is doing right to support employee engagement.  

In both scenarios, as with surveys and one-on-ones, asking the right questions is vital. A few examples of good stay (or exit) interview questions include:

Use ENPS scores as a tool for measuring engagement 

The Employee Net Promoter Score (ENPS) is the “would you recommend us?” score—an effective way to measure employee engagement. It was developed in 2003 by Bain & Co. partner Fred Reichheld. The survey relies on the idea that if an employee is likely to recommend a friend for a job or the services a company provides, they’re more likely to be highly engaged. 

How to set up the ENPS survey 

The survey is framed around a central question, usually a variation of “How likely are you to recommend [the company] as a place to work?” Respondents mark 1-10, with 10 being the highest. Work with an employee-engagement tool that allows you to parse data by teams, so you can pinpoint and follow up on particular issues. 

How to calculate the ENPS score 

People who will actively promote the company choose 9-10; passive folks choose 7-8; and detractors choose 0-6. Ignore all the neutral votes and calculate the percentage of employees who are detractors and promoters. If you have 10,000 employees and 4,000 are promoters and 1,000 are detractors, that means 40 percent will recommend the company and 10 percent will not, in an active way. Take the percentage of promoters and subtract the detractors—in this case, the resulting ENPS score is 30. Not bad! 

Companies set their own goals, but an ENPS score can range from -100 to 100. Everything above zero is considered decent, 10-30 is good, and anything above 30 is an A+. 

Need another positive push? Using the right employee-engagement tools to build a strong data set makes a huge difference in a company’s bottom line. According to the Harvard Business Review, firms that used analytics to guide workforce decisions improved profits up to 65 percent. But that’s not the only bonus: Taking the pulse of the people and then acting on those results in an honest, public way builds trust, which leads to higher employee engagement. 

For more tips on developing engaged and productive teams, check out all of our articles on Ideas by We.

Rachel Miller is a writer based in New York. She specializes in both editorial and UX copy, and her work has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, The Guardian, The Awl, and more.

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