Insights & Articles
Posted on 21 February 2020

Unleashing the power of employee engagement data

6 minute read

We live and work in the age of big data. And business owners, HR directors and managers can sometimes feel like data encroaches on every decision made in the workplace. To the point where one could wonder whether they should take a look at some detailed analytics before deciding whether to have coffee or tea on their break!

Of course, regardless of how much data you collect, it’s about how that data is assimilated and applied in business operations. Still, the phenomenon of “data fatigue” is entirely understandable.

Indeed, managers and directors who have always relied on a degree of instinct and intuition can often feel as encumbered by data as they feel supported by it. As such, when it comes to the issue of employee engagement, some may shy away from a data-driven approach. But in a business landscape where over 80% of the workforce is either not engaged or actively disengaged, perhaps using data analytics to drive employee engagement is an avenue worth exploring.

Using data to measure employee engagement:

At first glance, data and employee engagement can seem fundamentally incompatible. After all, employee engagement can be nebulous, hard to identify and harder still to quantify. One of the biggest challenges for bosses and HR directors is ascertaining exactly what employee engagement looks like in the first place before they can focus their attention on improving it.

A data-led approach can help when you know what data to look for. Let’s start with the drivers by which engagement can be measured and levers that control it.

Know the drivers of engagement

Think of the drivers of engagement as your KPIs. These are the things that you should be mindful of and keep an eye out for as you gather data from employees and compile observational data of your own. The key drivers of engagement include:

  • Equity and ethics – Is their workplace fair with equal opportunity for all?
  • Growth – Do employees have the opportunity for promotion or lateral movement in your company? Do they have access to ongoing training and development? Moreover, do they feel like their successes are acknowledged, shared or celebrated?
  • Security – Do employees feel secure in their jobs or are they constantly worrying that company policy or management will make them redundant?
  • Relationships – Are employee relationships with peers and management harmonious?
  • Autonomy and flexibility – Are employees free to implement their own problem solving and decision-making skills and able to manage their own work/life balance?
  • Wellbeing – Are employees happy, healthy and enjoying their work?

The levers of employee engagement

Having identified the drivers of engagement (your KPIs), let’s look at the levers by which you can improve results. There are 3 types of levers:

  • Management – Goal setting, employee reviews and systems of accountability.
  • Implementation – These levers include all the tools employees rely on to get their work done including communications, tools, technology, training, policy and your organisational structure.
  • Alignment – This encompasses the values, goals and purpose of your organisation. Are employees aligned with your purpose? Do they know what your long and short term strategic goals are and their role in facilitating them?

If you’re really stuck on how to quantify workplace engagement, there are other metrics like the Gallup Workplace Audit or the Utrecht Work Engagement Scheme which can help point you in the right direction.

Engagement surveys: Just how reliable are they?

So, now we know what we’re looking for in our data, but how can we collect it? Engagement surveys are the most obvious example. But can companies really rely on them to quantify employee engagement?

Engagement surveys can either be extremely useful or not worth the paper they’re printed on. It all depends on their implementation. Here are some ways in which you can make sure you get your engagement surveys right, to ensure that they yield meaningful data:

Get the questions right

Keep your questions simple and make sure they have a definitive answer. The voice of the employee is what’s important here so be wary of structuring or phrasing questions in leading ways.

Make it easy

Employees must find it easy to access and fill in the survey. Making it mobile accessible is important, as is making sure that the survey itself is succinct. If it gets too long or complicated, employees may rush through it and the results you get back may be compromised.

Promise confidentiality

Employees may be hesitant to be honest and fall into the trap of telling you what they think you want to hear. Promise confidentiality (but not anonymity) so that they know they can be candid with you.

Get a second opinion

If possible, it’s worth getting a psychometrician to take a look at your survey. They can suggest changes you can make which might make it more reliable and useful for your intended purposes.

Finally, make sure that you collect data from employees on a “little and often” basis to ensure that you always have a steady stream of data from which you can draw meaningful conclusions.

Observational data: Can it help you to see the big picture?

While engagement surveys are useful, they are by no means your only available source of data. Your own observational data can help to flesh out what’s in your engagement surveys and help you to see the bigger picture.

Observing interactions through communications networks like Slack or any employee recognition platforms you may be using can be a great source for insights. Don’t forget the data that you already have like employees’ performance review data, pay scales, demographic data, leave patterns and so on. These can all add dimension to the data that you capture from other sources.

All the data, no idea: What can you do with the data you’ve collected?

One of the problems with any kind of business data is making sense of what you’ve collected. This alone can create logistical headaches that make even the most obliging HR director data-averse. So, what can you do with the data you’ve collected to quantify and drive employee engagement?

Your first priority should be to segment and categorise your data in order to spot patterns and trends, which you can connect back to individuals, departments or groups. This is a big part of the reason why engagement survey data should not be anonymous.

This might help you to identify, for example, periods after which employees feel they’re starting to stagnate or which tasks make them feel the most frustrated or disengaged.

When you’ve refined your data in this way, you can use it to inform engagement initiatives so that employees can see that they are a driving force behind your company policies. It’s up to you how much of this data you make transparent to employees. The important thing, however, is that your use of data draws a line between employee engagement and desired outcomes for your organisation.

As you can see, while many might be (understandably) wary of over-reliance on data, it can play a pivotal role in helping business owners, managers and HR departments to quantify and drive employee engagement.