By Aysha Ahmed on June 21, 2022



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In our second #WeLeadComms + Sparrow Connected webinar, Employee Engagement or Business Impact? It’s Time to Choose, we explored why employee engagement is not the absolute measure of business success and the urgent need for internal comms leaders to shift their focus to activities that actually play a role in business impact.  

Our speakers, Mike Klein, founder of #WeLeadComms, Priya Bates, president and owner of Inner Strength Communication, and Jonas Bladt Hansen, partner at ConnectMinds, kicked off the insightful conversation by analyzing what “employee engagement” is, what it is not and what can organizations measure instead in order to make an impact on the business.  

By the time we got to the Q&A portion of the webinar, we had more questions than we had time to answer and plenty of comments from the attendees exclaiming how insightful the conversation was. 

One question that our attendees found particularly interesting was, “What are the limitations of employee engagement scores?” We decided to share the dialogue with you as you may also find it interesting.  

Here’s What Our Speakers Had To Say About The Limitations Of Employee Engagement Scores.  

Jonas: One of the things we have not spoken too much about is that it's often only measured once a year, or two times a year, which I think is really difficult to work with. And then we, as the internal comms function, are not very often in charge of defining the questions.  

So, we have to rely on someone else asking the questions, because it's part of a methodology that we might not understand a scientific model, or whatever we call it. We also don't really understand the crusade of algorithms behind it. That leads us to make assumptions and conclusions that might be wrong.  

I think these are some of the flaws or limitations that employee engagement scores have.   

Priya: I think one limitation is definitely the once-a-year versus a conversation. It's treated like a campaign once a year for organizations to talk to their employees, but they really should be having those conversations regularly.  

The biggest limitation is that it isn't directly connected to business results. There is nothing that comes out of those surveys, the engagement survey, that creates the alignment to the business strategy. I think that's a big opportunity.  

What I would say is we're trying to have an argument or conversation around either-or. But when this is a key tenant of what HR is focused on, it has to be a build for me.  I think we do a disservice to start by saying, everything you do is wrong. And then you turn off your organizations and clients who have gotten a lot of attention from their leaders, because they've got a measurement. And they've got measurable data that they can talk to their leaders about.  

We talk about measurable data as well. We need to create that measurement within internal communications in order to drive the numbers conversation because the leaders understand the numbers.  

Mike: There are two really baked-in limitations of the continued reliance on this number as a context setter for our work.  

One of which is the annual or semi-annual campaign to drive up employee engagement survey participation because one of the tenants of employee engagement surveys is that they must have extremely high participation, that it sucks a lot of the energy, and it certainly sucks the budget out.  

So, it leaves no area for any kind of other research that you might want to do with employees during the interim between those employee engagement surveys, and also, there might not be the leverage to get at least one or two decent questions into the survey itself.  

There are two questions that I like to use all the time - what are the three biggest issues facing the organization? And what are the three most important things you're doing in your job? If you want to look at the alignment, you look at those two questions, and you can see very clearly -  

  • Are people focused on the same things?  
  • Are they using the same sentiment to describe those things?  
  • Is there something getting in the middle between where the organization wants to go and what the employee thinks they have to do?  

The second piece is that employee engagement numbers inherently are all employee numbers. Most changes in the organization don't involve every employee being equally engaged. Say, for instance, you're a hotel chain and McKinsey has told you that the check-in process is where your real customer experience advantage is. Do you really need to engage the waitstaff and the housekeeping folks in exactly the same way as you engage the people involved in the check-in process and the IT folks behind it? You know, employee engagement surveys have some really severe limitations that merit some serious questioning, especially in a time of limited resources.  

Jonas: In an employee engagement survey, you often ask that kind of question, which actually invites us to make a lot of different conclusions and end up with 1,000s of activities. And then we end up doing nothing that improves the business, or we risk focusing on 1,000 things instead of two things. So, regarding your point of asking a few questions, that can be quite helpful sometimes, instead of asking 100. 

Priya: Often what we're changing is the easy things. Right? You see a lot more foosball tables and picnic tables, because it's easy for capital expenditure, versus making the real changes the employees are asking for that would really drive the engagement. We tend to stick to the low-hanging fruit to check a lot of boxes, versus actually making long, sustainable change that needs to be happening in organizations. So that tends to be the fallback and then what it leaves - it creates a sense of distrust and a lack of credibility and usually results in lower participation.  

Mike: It also distances us from specific business activities that again, actually help the organization make more money. 

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The conversation points toward many flaws in employee engagement scores. Whether it is the process or the calculations or the concept as a whole, it's clear that employee engagement scores have limitations.  

Let’s do a quick recap:  

  • Employee engagement surveys are treated as yearly or bi-yearly campaigns while they should be a regular conversation.  
  • These surveys and the need to achieve high scores drain energy and budget leaving no room for other research that organizations might need to do.  
  • Employee engagement numbers involve all the employee numbers while most changes in the organization don't involve every employee being equally engaged. 
  • Employee engagement surveys ask questions that invite several different conclusions, leading to more activities that do nothing in improving business scores. 
  • Employee engagement scores distract companies from implementing real strategies and solutions that the employees and the business actually benefit from. 

Now is the right time to shift focus from a flawed employee engagement score that does little in terms of driving business outcomes, to metrics that will actually help drive business impact.  

Employee engagement or business impact – which will you choose? 

Watch Our On-Demand Webinar To Learn More. 

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