Need to know:
Technology has enabled organisations to conduct engagement surveys on a more frequent basis.
Apps and mobile-enabled websites allow employers to engage with non-desk-based employees.
Real-time analysis and the ability to gather insights through technology can help employers to target specific engagement issues.
Employee engagement may have come to be seen as somewhat of a buzzword in the industry over the last few years, but for many organisations the creation of an engaged workforce is the principal driving force behind their HR and benefits strategies. Indeed, a desire to improve employee engagement was listed as the top issue shaping employers’ benefits strategies in 2016, according to the Employee Benefits/Conduent HR Services Benefits research 2016, published in June 2016.
So how can organisations gauge whether engagement levels within their workforce are improving? And how are advances in technology shaping the way they approach measurement?
Giving employees a permanent voice
The development of employee engagement technology has helped to improve the ease with which organisations can run engagement surveys and analyse the results, reducing the administration burden on HR and benefits professionals. This has seen a shift towards more regular engagement measurement exercises, such as pulse and always-on surveys. John Ryder, chief executive officer at Hive HR, says: “The latest technology is centred around providing employers with the ability to measure their workforce’s engagement in a much more frequent and continuous way […] Employees want to have a permanent say in the things that impact their day-to-day work, so giving them the opportunity to do that [could be] as frequent as weekly or as infrequent as monthly.”
While annual surveys or multi-employer surveys can enable organisations to benchmark themselves against competitors or their own performance in previous years, and focus groups can allow employers to go into detail about an issue with a particular group of employees, the technology behind pulse, always-on and ad-hoc surveys can provide organisations with the ability to gather feedback on a more regular basis at an organisation-wide level.
These tools can complement more traditional forms of measuring engagement. For example, if an organisation launches an initiative to address a problem area highlighted by the annual survey, pulse surveys can then be utilised to gather regular feedback and track the impact of this initiative, says Tony Latter, chief executive officer at The Happiness Index. Depending on the results, the initiative may then be continued, adjusted or time and resources may be directed towards finding an alternative solution. “Not only do [pulse surveys] help [organisations] with a way of generating more successful initiatives and help to improve employee engagement, they can also be a good all-round business tool that helps [organisations] spend [their] budgets more wisely and more effectively,” adds Latter.
This technology can also allow for greater agility in responding to dips in engagement in a particular segment of the workforce. Bespoke questions, alongside integration with other data sets, can enable organisations to gain a clearer picture as to why engagement may be lower in a specific department or location, for example.
Real-time analytics and the speed at which reports can be generated through engagement technologies can also help the HR function to provide timely support to various decision-makers across the business. “It’s moving HR from being the owners [of engagement] and encompassing all the administration around it, to being the facilitators of it and the enablers that can support management and leadership,” says Ryder.
The insights gathered can also help line managers to boost engagement among their teams. Andrew Heath, chief executive officer at WeThrive, says: “The vanguard of engagement and performance in an organisation is always the line manager, so [it’s] all about helping them understand where the opportunities lie in their team and what it is specifically that they need to do to make it better.”
Although email prompts and desktop-led approaches may work well for gauging engagement among office-based employees, the development of engagement apps and mobile-enabled websites is helping organisations to reach non-desk-based staff. Bulent Osman, chief executive officer at StaffConnect, says: “If the [organisation] has a lot of non-desk-based [employees] then [desk-based options] simply don’t work, especially if many of the [employees] don’t have [corporate] email addresses.”
In addition to improving accessibility, mobile technology can also provide a channel through which both employers and employees can give feedback. This includes mobile functions such as messenger tools that enable employers to respond to an employee’s comment while maintaining that employee’s anonymity, video tools that allow staff to ask questions through the app and for senior leaders to reply in kind, and live polling to instantly measure engagement and gather feedback during particular events, such as town-hall meetings.
“Traditionally, [organisations] have pushed out communications and information for employees to consume but now, especially with mobile technology, there’s an opportunity for a two-way dialogue [between employers and employees],” says Osman. “That’s a key change; technology is now allowing this two-way dialogue, which is far more natural, far more engaging and, ultimately, it helps employees feel part of something bigger.”
As engagement surveys become more frequent, enabled by technology, organisations could seek to mirror consumer feedback patterns, says Ian McVey, head of enterprise sales, Northern Europe at Qualtrics. Whereas an organisation may ask for in-moment feedback from a consumer throughout their customer journey, they may ask an employee for feedback at different stages of their time at an organisation, such as during the recruitment process, when they first join or after getting a promotion. “There are these moments in time through the employee journey where [the employer] can start getting feedback independent of the annual ‘how are we as an [organisation]’ survey,” says McVey.
In the future, organisations could also seek to gather feedback and measure engagement by focusing on touchpoints in the average daily life of employees in different job roles. “The trend is going from annual [surveys] to pulse; from pulse to the horizontal lifecycle [of employees]; and then from horizontal lifecycle to probably ad-hoc and vertical ‘day-in-the-life-of’ journeys [of employees],” adds McVey.
Meanwhile, advances in machine learning and predictive analytics could enable employers to identify trends that indicate segments of the workforce at risk of a decline in engagement and thus, potentially, of higher turnover. This could provide organisations with the opportunity to tackle issues early and improve engagement and retention rates. “If [organisations] are reactive [they’re] always on the back foot, whereas being proactive, [they] can get out there and solve those issues,” says The Happiness Index’s Latter. “It’s cheaper to solve issues at the earliest point they appear rather than further down the line, but also [organisations] are able to start influencing people’s thinking earlier on.
The rise of big data, coupled with the better integration of technology and machine learning’s ability to analyse complex data sets, could also help organisations to more effectively determine how engagement affects key performance indicators (KPIs) across the business, says Hive HR’s Ryder.
However, there may be certain barriers to overcome before this becomes widespread, adds McVey. “Can [it be] regulated in the way that the citizen is happy that the data is being used to their advantage and not to their disadvantage; and can an [organisation’s] corporate governance account for the adoption of it? The technology is here and it’s useable; it’s not a technology issue, it’s a people process issue.”
The increased regularity that technology can afford organisations in conducting surveys can help to keep engagement levels up over the course of the year, at the points at which organisations ask for feedback, communicate the results, and follow up on these with actions. While the frequency of the surveys and the number of questions asked will vary according to the needs and culture of each organisation, there should be a balance between gathering an adequate level of insight and ensuring staff remain engaged with the surveys. “It needs to be frequently enough that it sits with the rhythm of the business but the business also needs to be able to react to what the survey results are saying,” says WeThrive’s Heath.
Crucially, employers should provide feedback on the results of measurement exercises. Latter says: “There’s nothing worse than asking for feedback and then not doing anything with it or staff feeling like it’s being ignored. That’s actually worse than not asking in the first place, so [organisations] have got to be committed to doing something.”
Communication can play a key role in obtaining and maintaining employee buy in. “[Employer messaging] can go right from ‘this is important to us and this is why we are doing it’ to ‘this is what you can expect’. And that can [be] right from the top level executive communicating down through teams and managers if they’re well briefed,” says McVey.
While technology can facilitate different approaches to measuring engagement, these approaches are not just about the technology. Some providers can offer value-adds, such as consulting, reporting and communications services, that can support an employer’s wider engagement strategy. “[Look for] a partner that is going to be quite forward-thinking and can add value over and above the technology,” says Latter.
The technology should also be underpinned by a thorough understanding of human behaviour, says Heath. “It’s about how questions [are asked] and using technology smartly to turn those into actions,” he adds.
As the competition for talent intensifies and organisations face market pressures, the need for an engaged workforce and the ability to measure and improve upon this are likely to remain centre stage. As Ryder says: “The winners are going to be [organisations] that can adapt and respond to change most effectively, and one of the ways that organisations can support the responses that they need to be even more agile is to gather feedback from their workforce on an ongoing basis.”