As the saying goes, “you don’t get a pig fat by weighing it.” The same applies to employee engagement; running an engagement survey won’t, on its own, do anything to increase engagement levels. It’s what you do (or don’t do) with the results that will affect employee engagement.

Unfortunately, this fact is still being lost on some organisations who continue to run employee surveys and then do little or nothing with the results. For such surveys to become a catalyst for business improvement, a change of approach and mind-set is needed.

Just how big a problem is low engagement?

 It’s really big. Engage for Success suggests that just one third of UK employees consider themselves to be ‘engaged’ at work. That means there’s an awful lot of people who aren’t engaged, and productivity, innovation and performance are almost certainly suffering as a result. We think there are four ways in which this can be addressed.

Mind-set change

First and foremost, there needs to be change of mind-set from many businesses. They should stop treating employee engagement as something that the company ‘does’ to employees. This points to a fundamental misunderstanding of what real engagement actually is. Authenticity is of great importance to employees – you need to be genuine and transparent in your approach and aims in order to truly engage and get the best out of people.

There can also be a tendency to overcomplicate employee engagement. At its simplest, surely engagement is just about better understanding your employees, creating a happy and healthy working environment, enabling them to do their jobs well and aiding their professional development. In the process of doing these things, you’re also assured of delivering improved business performance.

Re-thinking how you measure engagement

It’s important not to get too bogged down in the numbers and metrics when measuring engagement. These stats, and the insights you can take from surveys, can be invaluable, revelatory even. But still, you mustn’t lose sight of the people behind the metrics.

This can easily happen when engagement survey providers focus just on what employees think or say about their employer, overlooking the resulting behaviour or impact this has (on what they do or how they perform).

This misses a fundamentally important part of engagement – namely, what the employee feels. Our ‘Think, Feel, Do’ model accounts for this. By analysing how employees feel (about their role and the organisation as a whole) you can join together the ‘think’ and ‘do’ parts. The result is you get a more complete and more accurate measure of employee engagement.

Really understanding what drives your employees

Naturally, in order to increase employee engagement, you must first understand fully the ‘key drivers’ of engagement for your people. And, just as importantly, you need to identify possible barriers to engaging them.

Running an employee survey is an obvious place to start. But, frankly, it is just that – a start. It’s of course essential that the survey be well designed, aligned with your business priorities and that it measures the things of greatest importance to both the company and employees. The key, though, is what you do with the results.

It’s frustrating to hear about companies being fixated on driving up response rates or achieving a particular overall engagement score as, while both are important, to focus overly on them is to miss the true value of engagement.

If those businesses spent as much time focusing on what they’ll do with the results, agreeing an action planning approach and involving stakeholders, it’s far more likely that it’d lead to effective action being taken, and to sustained, positive change.

Linking engagement with performance

There’s no question about it, employee engagement is good for business. Higher engagement can be linked to a number of key business success measures, many of which will have a profound impact upon performance.

Engage for Success has previously estimated that increased levels of engagement could be worth as much as, a quite staggering, £25.8 billion in increased GDP.

But, while figures from the CIPD and Engage for Success will create headlines, what will be more impactful is for organisations to demonstrate the link between engagement levels and performance in their own business.

We’ve carried out research with a number of companies to do just this. And, in doing so, we found strong links between higher engagement and areas such as, increased customer satisfaction scores, lower employee turnover and higher performance ratings.

Our hope is that, given the substantial and demonstrable influence engagement has on performance, better engaging employees will in future be seen as a business imperative rather than some ad-hoc HR initiative. Then the engagement survey will become the catalyst for change that it should be.

Author details:

 Ben Egan is Senior Communications Manager at ETS plc, a leading HR consultancy specialising in employee engagement.