What’s the key to Employee Engagement?

Undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges facing Human Resources today is high levels of staff turnover.

This places a great burden upon HR departments, and reduces the time devoted to carrying out their primary function: supporting the business in distributing its staff into the areas in which they are most needed. I will put forward an aspect which I think most contributes to this turnover.


So, what is engagement?  Employee engagement is quite simply the level to which the workforce feels that they can contribute to the success of an organisation. Through increased participation and a greater sense of value, an employee will find themselves more motivated, more satisfied, and less likely to ‘up sticks’ and move on to ‘pastures new’. This is the reason why many consultancy firms have directed their focus at attempting to find a way to gauge this intangible asset.


How is it measured? This throws up the most challenging of questions: How exactly can we measure the level of engagement an employee feels? There are some more easily measurable factors which may provide us with a guide. Clearly absenteeism, productivity and customer ratings will give an insight into whether an employee feels that his or her place in the team is valued and respected, although these themselves are multi-faceted and could be put down to a number of other reasons. This is why consultancies have focused on retrieving answers from the employees themselves, by developing questions which gauge their own perception.


Possibly the most well-known of these surveys is the Q12 developed by Gallup. Through asking employees twelve simple yet thought provoking questions, they can extract comparable data on whether the employee is in agreement or not. Whilst these surveys are increasingly popular, as a mathematics graduate with a statistical background I can’t help but be alarmed by the reliance on allowing a susceptible person to answer questions accurately.


One immediate issue with any survey is the way participants are chosen. In one such as this, it can only be expected that either the highly engaged individuals or those with a grudge to bear will be the most likely to turn in their results. This cuts out a huge chunk of the middle-ground which would help to normalise the overall variance of the study. Nonetheless, these scores no doubt have a part to play in the way a company moves forward.


What can you use an engagement score for? An engagement score found through the aforementioned surveys has two crucial ways in which it can assist a business. The first of these is obvious – how can an area in which the company scored badly be improved? Clearly thinking about ways to better the most negative areas of the organisation will provide the greatest difference to the overall score.

The second of these is often overlooked – how can an area in which the company scored well be maintained? Looking at the most positive areas firstly helps to ensure that complacency doesn’t set in, but it also could provide an insight into ways to improve the less successful areas.


To demonstrate that there isn’t single-mindedness on my part, there are counter examples to my viewpoint. McDonalds is number six on Forbes’ list of the world’s most valuable brands. It regularly scores highly in engagement surveys, and yet also has a high turnover of employees. This leads us to consider some other factors which contribute to turnover.


What other factors contribute to turnover? I’m sure many people will attest to the fact that progression is central to their careers. As humans we have a burning desire for self-improvement, and moving another rung up the ladder is a measurable indication of this improvement. If there are limited opportunities to do so, then a step sideways could be best for long-term gain. The reason could also be as straightforward as a falling out with close workmates, particularly line managers.

It is always important to remember that an employee does not exist solely for work. They have a mortgage, and bills, and a weekend to fill with their own hobbies and interests. Sometimes the reason for leaving one job for another is simply monetary!

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