Measuring Engagement: It’s All About Asking the Right Questions

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Dec 22, 2014

Measuring employee engagement is tricky. After all, how do you get people to tell you how engaged they are in their work when they might not even understand the concept very well?

Determining what engagement means involves different psychological constructs that describe a person’s emotional state at a moment in time.

When conducting an organization-wide employee engagement survey, it’s critical to use the right questions to accurately assess an employee’s emotions regarding their job.

Organizations often make one of two mistakes when trying to measure employee engagement. They either use the average score of all questions, or, the score from a single question.

Mistake No. 1: Overall score

One common reaction when reviewing employee survey results is: “We scored 82 percent on our employee survey. That means 82  percent of employees are engaged!

Taking the average score of all questions from an employee survey does not indicate the level of employee engagement in an organization. It simply provides an overall survey score.

An employee survey covers a variety of topics including benefits, safety, leadership, and training. These questions provide valuable information, but using an average of all questions does not provide an accurate measurement of employee engagement.

Employee surveys are typically designed to include both driver (predictor) questions and outcome questions; combining the two is just bad practice.

Mistake No. 2: Single item score

Some organizations attempt to measure employee engagement using a single question such as: “I am fully engaged in my job.”

This seems like a good idea, but think about how you would answer that question. Most people would respond: “Of course I’m fully engaged in my job. I’m a hard-working and valuable employee!”

Our research shows that a single question like this results in an inflated and inaccurate measurement of employee engagement.

How to measure employee engagement

Engagement, in essence, is the outcome or bi-product of all of the organizational and work factors that an individual experiences day-to-day. Therefore, survey items that measure engagement must also measure outcomes.

The most accurate way to measure employee engagement is to use the average score from a subset of validated anchor questions. Anchor questions need to measure three things: the level of energy employees feel from their job, how involved they feel in the work, and how committed they are to their job.

For example:

  • My job is stimulating and energizing.
  • It is easy to become absorbed in my job.
  • If given a choice, I would remain with this organization, even if a job with similar pay and benefits were available elsewhere.

Why anchor questions are important

The purpose of anchor questions is to measure the current emotional state of the employee.

The average score of the anchor questions provides an accurate employee engagement score. The employee engagement score can then be used to identify engagement drivers, study correlates, and make comparisons to business metrics.