How to Increase Employee Engagement Exponentially


Posted by Charles Rogel, DecisionWise

Many organizations decide to do an employee engagement survey inspired by Pearson’s Law. Karl Pearson (1857–1936) was an influential English mathematician who is credited for coining the phrase

“That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.”

But can an employee survey alone increase employee engagement? Unfortunately, no, it can’t. An employee engagement survey isn’t magic, in that it won’t suddenly transform your company’s employees into super-engaged machines. To actually increase engagement, your company and its managers must plan and take actions to improve scores.

Four implementation levels of employee engagement surveys

From our research, we find that organizations conduct an employee engagement survey in a progressive roll-out process. It ranges from companies who only use the results to inform the executive team, to organizations that share the complete results with every employee in the organization to drive organization change. We asked over 500 HR professionals which level best describes their current employee engagement survey process and here is what we found:

  1. Establish a baseline (36% of respondents): Executive leadership often decides to conduct an employee survey only to see where the company currently sits with employee engagement. They don’t plan on making changes based on the results of the survey, they simply want to get a pulse on current engagement levels for better understanding. But be careful because this can backfire and actually damage employee engagement. By simply doing an employee survey, leadership is sending an implicit message to the company that changes will be made. Employees are skeptical about surveys in the first place. Many employees are nervous that if they give negative feedback, that they will be discovered and let go. If employees go through the survey process and action is not taken after the results are in, employees will lose trust in leadership and feel that their opinions, ideas, and feedback do not matter, thus leading to lower engagement levels.
  2. Executive Team Action Planning (14% of respondents): After the employee survey results are delivered, leadership will be confronted by a variety of issues and opportunities that can be addressed. The survey results will show overall themes as well as specific items that need attention. For example, overall themes might be issues around communication, employee voice, or lack of growth opportunities. Specific issues could be about changing uniforms, expanding parking accessibility, or improving Internet speed. The key is to take some kind of action that impacts the organization as a whole and shows that employees were heard and their opinions count. Maybe during the first year of the survey the executive team chooses to modify the PTO policy as a “quick-win” to build trust. The next year, a new leadership development program is rolled out to all front-line leaders in the organization to address the perceived lack of growth opportunities from the survey results. No matter the change, be sure to tie these efforts back to the engagement survey so that employees will be more willing to provide feedback in the years to come.
  3. Manager Action Planning (28% of respondents): In researching managers’ perceptions on employee engagement, we asked managers if they would like to understand the influence their engagement levels have on their subordinates. 91 percent responded affirmatively! Our research showed that when managers know how they impact the engagement of their employees, they are willing to take action. This means that you need to provide each manager with the engagement survey results for his or her team to enable manager action planning. Action planning at the manager level is done in collaboration with the work team. The team looks at the workgroup results and decides which areas they can influence locally. For example, one company we worked with received feedback that managers weren’t making themselves available for their employees. As a result, each manager reserved one hour a day where they were required to be in their office for employee needs, feedback, and questions.
  4. Organizational Development (22% of respondents): Sometimes companies conduct an employee engagement survey for multiple years and are surprised when they discover that their managers still don’t even understand what the concept of employee engagement means! Measuring employee engagement and action planning on the results are good first steps, but companies that commit to training and organization development will see better and longer-lasting results. These organizations use their employee survey results to help shape their culture, determine training needs, and implement systemic change. Here are the most common OD initiatives that organizations typically implement as a result of an employee engagement survey:
  • Training on employee engagement (both managers and employees)
  • Improving communication both downward and upward
  • Leadership development training
  • Team building
  • Performance management training for managers

We find that most organizations that are new to conducting employee surveys implement a process from Level 1 to 3. With a year of experience, organizations are normally ready to move to Level 4 with the employee survey results. As you begin your next employee engagement survey, think about the results you are trying to achieve and use the employee survey to help guide your decisions. Employee survey data provides a wealth of information to help improve organizations if it is used the right way. To add to Pearson’s Law:

“Employee engagement which is measured, reported, and acted upon improves exponentially.”