Are you looking for ways to evaluate the impact of your engagement initiatives?

In this post we provide an overview of the key methods you can use to evaluate your engagement strategy and measure how effective your employee experience activities are.

As with many organisations you have probably run one or more employee surveys, whether they be exit surveys, onboarding surveys, pulse surveys or engagement surveys. However, how do you know that your surveys are having a real impact on the business? After all, the real return on investment from running an employee experience survey should be to use the data to improve the employee experience and business performance.

There is no single model of employee engagement

When it comes to evaluating your employee engagement activities, it is important to recognise that there is no single model of engagement. Many companies have their own model of engagement, but in our experience most models measure pretty much the same thing and most employee surveys contain very similar questions.

This is our model for employee engagement.

measure the impact of your engagement efforts

Our model of engagement recognises that the organisation culture and the day to day employee experience both need to be in alignment for people to feel engaged.

People can be engaged in their work without feeling committed to the culture. They can also be committed to the organisation culture without really being engaged in their work.

Of course, people can be both, or neither!

measure the impact of your engagement efforts

All in all, this means that there is no established practice for measuring employee engagement and no established practice for evaluating the impact of engagement initiatives.

The four key steps to help you measure the impact of your engagement initiatives

Many organisations fail to evaluate the impact of their employee experience initiatives as they lack one of more of the following key steps to measure the impact of their engagement initiatives:

  1. Define a clear strategy or business case for your employee surveys with clear outcomes.
  2. Ensure your survey data analysis is effective.
  3. Link employee engagement measures to business performance.
  4. Implement a mechanism for continuous change and evaluation.

Addressing each of these steps will ensure you are better placed to measure the impact of your engagement activities.

Define a clear business case and strategy for your employee surveys

If you are already running employee surveys it may seem a little too late to talk about defining a clear business case. However, if you do not have a clearly defined business case it is worth revisiting as it will either help you refine your overall engagement strategy or at least ensure you are able to communicate the purpose behind running your surveys.

Things to consider when defining your employee survey business case include:

What are the key challenges facing your business?

One of the most powerful things you can do in your business case is demonstrate an understanding of the key challenges your business is facing. It will also instantly make you look like a really strong business partner!

One of the main reasons there is no single model of employee engagement is because every business is different. Even businesses in the same industry sector will face different challenges. This is because different companies position themselves differently in the market place, they have different histories, cultures, goals etc.

Whilst benchmarking can be useful, simply copying what other companies do is unlikely to deliver for your business.

You can use some of the typical business strategy tools like the CIPD’s SWOT analysis or PESTLE analysis, but the most practical way is simply to ask your key business partners what challenges they are facing. Your more senior stakeholders will give you an external perspective and other stakeholders will give you a more operational perspective. After a few conversations you will have a very clear picture of the key challenges leaders at all levels in your organisation are wrestling with.

What are the people implications of the business challenges?

Once you have a handle on the key business challenges, the next question you should ask your stakeholders is about the key people challenges they are facing. Many of these challenges are likely to be directly related to the business challenges and we pretty much guarantee that your stakeholders will raise culture, performance and engagement!

An example employee engagement business case

We work with a number of NHS Trusts and they are all facing one key challenge – the NHS is facing a retention crisis.

The organisational need is to continue to provide the best patient care possible, whilst facing increasing pressures around budgets, the number of beds available, increasing waiting times, an ageing workforce, an obesity crisis and a cost of living crisis which will eventually lead to deteriorating health in the poorest parts of society.

The people challenge is that the operational pressures the organisation is facing, combined with the cost of living crisis is leading people to leave their occupations and the NHS. New employees are leaving within the first few months, older employees are retiring early and those in low paid jobs are leaving to work in unrelated industries for more pay and less hassle. This is leading to increases in staffing costs (due to the need for temporary staff and the associated recruitment costs), a worsening operational problem, decreasing patient care. There are also cultural issues as the NHS tends to have a hierarchical leadership structure and people feel unable to suggest new ideas, or they are blamed when things go wrong.

All in all employee attrition is high and staff engagement is low.

Therefore, being able to measure levels of engagement and identify specific actions that will improve engagement will ensure the NHS is better able to meet the operational challenges it is facing.

Define clear outcomes for your employee surveys

Having a clear business case will help you communicate why engagement matters in your organisation, but you also need to communicate the impact that improving engagement will have in terms of outcomes. Simply running a series of engagement surveys will not improve engagement.

Defining clear outcomes will help you design an effective employee survey and it will help you evaluate the impact of your engagement strategies and initiatives.

measure the impact of your engagement efforts

What are some example engagement survey outcomes?

Your business case will give you an idea of the kind of outcomes you should be aiming for. Using our NHS example above, the kind of outcomes we might think of are:

  • a reduction in turnover of staff with less than 6 months’ service.
  • a reduction in turnover of staff in their 50s.
  • a reduction in stress-related absence problems.
  • a reduction in work-related grievances.

An increase in participation in the annual survey or even an improvement in survey scores is not enough. The only real way to evaluate your engagement strategies and initiatives is by defining outcomes that are grounded in your business case.

Ensure your survey data analysis is effective

Before we go any further, there is no need to start thinking about statistics, data scientists or behavioural scientists!

One of our other blog posts outlines the best way to analyse your survey data so we don’t intend to repeat it here. However, these are some of the key things you should do.

The simplest way to evaluate your engagement initiatives is to see whether or not satisfaction levels are increasing over time.

For example:

Imagine your previous survey highlighted that people were feeling the organisation does not promote their wellbeing. In this case you may have implemented some specific wellbeing initiatives such as investing in wellbeing hubs, provision of advice and training managers in the need to provide more support to people etc.

In your subsequent survey you would hope that the same wellbeing questions were scoring higher than before. You may even add in some more specific wellbeing questions (pulse surveys are good for this).

This is a very simple example of making the linkage between engagement survey scores and your engagement initiatives. Of course, if wellbeing was identified as a key people challenge in your business case then you have an even stronger message to deliver back to senior management!

Measure engagement outcomes as well as satisfaction levels in your employee surveys

In the dim and distant past employee engagement surveys used to be called satisfaction surveys, the thinking being that if employees are satisfied with their work they will be more productive. However, we now tend to think that engagement involves more than satisfaction. Also, expectations of work have changed over the years. Employees now expect more form their work rather than just being happy enough to turn up each day! This is why we now pay more attention to the employee experience as a whole.

How satisfied employees are with aspects of their employment will obviously give you a clear picture of the things the organisation is doing well and the things it could do differently.

We tend to view engagement as an outcome. If you get everything else in your organisation right then the outcome will be that people are engaged. Using our definition of engagement this means they are satisfied with their work and feel connected to the organisation’s culture.

It is useful to include measures of overall engagement in your employee surveys. The best example questions to use are:

  • I would recommend the organisation as a great place to work
  • I see myself as having a future with the organisation

These questions can serve two purposes:

Firstly, these questions can act as a useful catchall question to establish a baseline level of engagement. This tends to be referred to as your Net Engagement Score or Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). There are a number of ways to measure eNPS.

Secondly, these questions can be used to do some further analysis to identify which specific factors link most closely to overall engagement. Not all of the things that we include in employee surveys will actually have a significant impact on overall levels of employee engagement. The best example is pay. At the moment, pay is a major issue for many employees so many of the surveys we have done recently are showing low levels of satisfaction with pay and benefits. However, what’s interesting is that pay tends not to have a particularly strong link to overall engagement.

This is where measuring engagement outcomes can help.

Correlating how people respond to your engagement outcome questions with how they respond to the other questions in your employee survey will reveal the specific questions that have the biggest statistical relationship to overall engagement. These are your engagement drivers, the things that are tending to drive levels of engagement.

This will allow you to start to identify where you should focus your engagement efforts.

The point is that carrying out a decent analysis of your data will enable you to evaluate your engagement initiatives more effectively. Your employee surveys will allow you to then diagnose the issues you need to work on and then measure how you are doing.

Link employee engagement measures to business performance

The gold standard for evaluating your employee engagement initiatives is to be able to demonstrate how improvements in engagement drives improvements in business performance.

To do this you need to go back to your original business case and outcomes that you defined for your survey as this will give you a big clue about what to measure.

There is a caveat though. As employee surveys represent a snapshot in time it can be difficult to draw firm conclusions about the effect engagement is having on business metrics. Having said that, measuring engagement over time should enable you to identify trends in the data.

There are two types of metrics to look for. Some are people metrics and others are pure business metrics.

Example people metrics include:

  • changes in employee turnover or attrition
  • changes in sickness absence
  • changes in the number of people taking early retirement
  • changes to the number of grievances

Example business metrics include:

  • profitability
  • sales volume
  • productivity measures such as output or throughput
  • customer, patient or service user satisfaction

Once you have your metrics it is just a case of looking for relationships between the different measures.

We recommend using the same principle of correlating that we use to identify engagement drivers. All you need to do is correlate the same engagement outcome questions with each of the metrics you identify.

For example:

  • you would correlate how each employee rated how much they would recommend the organisation as a great place to work with their level of sickness absence.
  • you would correlate eNPS for each department or site with productivity for the same departments or sites.
  • similarly, you would measure eNPS for each department or site with customer satisfaction measures.

This sounds tricky, but getting hold of the data is actually more tricky than the analysis so you need to influence some willing people in the business to get hold of the data.

It does work though. We did this analysis for one of our clients a few years ago and we identified that employee engagement does indeed link to patient satisfaction.

Implement a mechanism for continuous change and evaluation

It is unlikely that you will be able to achieve total employee engagement in the short term. There are likely to be many opportunities to improve engagement that will take time, effort and investment.

As such, you should view your engagement initiatives as part of a long-term continuous improvement process. Some initiatives will have an impact, others won’t. Also, things change. The business environment will change, employee expectations will change etc.

We recommend you circle back to your employee survey strategy and utilise ongoing surveys to continuously monitor the impact of your engagement initiatives. This could be using a combination of an annual employee engagement survey, plus regular employee pulse surveys as pulse surveys will allow you to monitor the impact of specific changes.

In conclusion

Even though there is no widely recognised method for measuring engagement or evaluating the impact of engagement, following our recommendations will help you confidently paint the picture of what engagement looks like in your organisation and how it is having an impact on organisational performance.