Why is it important to measure employee engagement and how can service leaders do so?
It’s a truism to say that in order to measure something effectively, you really have to be clear about just what it is you want to measure in the first place.
But nowhere is this old adage more appropriate than in the sphere of employee engagement (EE) in the contact centre, where links to customer satisfaction are known to be high.
According to research from management consultancy, Accenture for example, the most motivated workers create six positive customer experiences for every negative one. This compares with the least engaged, who generate four negative experiences to three positive ones.
A key problem though is that there is no uniformly accepted definition of what EE actually is. In some ways, says Jonny Gifford, a senior advisor for organisational behaviour at professional HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), this situation is a good thing in that its meaning can be tailored to fit the specifics of each organisation.
The downside is that the area is often treated with scepticism as a result of the view that, if people can’t even agree what EE is, how can they measure and assess its impact?
Gifford considers the “most rigorous” metric available at the moment to be the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, which essentially measures staff energy levels and work quality.
But he believes that, in and of itself, this measurement is a bit too narrow because, in reality, EE is “a conglomerate of different things”.
“It’s about mutual gains in employment relationships, that is something being for the good of the person and of the organisation, both in tandem,” Gifford explains. “Therefore, what distinguishes it from older notions of job satisfaction is that it brings the two together in a win-win situation.”
Despite the difficulties, we explore just why it’s important to measure EE in the first place and how contact centre managers can go about doing so:
1. Why is it important to measure employee engagement?
If you want to understand your workforce, how to motivate it and ensure performance remains optimal, you’ll need to measure EE.
Such considerations are particularly important in a working environment where employees’ skills are directly transferrable elsewhere and staff turnover tends to be high. Staff attrition in contact centres, for instance, remains very high, and this translates into a large cost for organisations who are constantly required to train up new employees.
To get the best from your customers, you have to treat your people in the best way possible.
With disengaged staff far more likely to leave their employer, it is a good idea to measure EE on an ongoing basis rather than every three to six months, or even annually.
Ingrid Waterfield, director of management consultancy KPMG’s People powered performance business, explains the rationale: “To get the best from your customers, you have to treat your people in the best way possible. So however frequently you look at customer satisfaction scores, you should do the same with employee engagement or you’re not measuring like with like and getting the full picture.”
2. How should you measure it?
The main tool for measuring EE is self-reported surveys, whether they take the form of detailed annual studies, quick and dirty pulse surveys or something in between.
While pulse surveys can be as simple as getting staff to choose faces ranging from happy to angry from a row of emoticons in order to establish long-term patterns and smooth out natural ups-and-downs, more in-depth surveys generally comprise no more than 20 questions.
Responses are usually ranked in terms of overall engagement levels and how well the company is performing against certain agreed measures. A score is then assigned or amalgamated with others to provide an index score, before being compared against industry averages.
Such activity enables managers to get a good picture of how their teams are performing EE-wise in relation to others and where the biggest issues to be addressed are.
While the actual devising and assessing of such surveys tends to be undertaken by the HR department or third party consultancies, line managers will, of course, be expected to provide input and assume responsibility for acting on the findings.
The downside of working with these documents though, says the CIPD’s Gifford, is that, despite their convenience, “they have in-built weaknesses in that people are reporting on themselves. So you could say that it’s not as objective as other metrics”.
There’s a widespread dislike of the annual survey and people’s real views are more insightful than just getting answers to questions that may not be that relevant to them.
On the other hand, harder data that may appear more reliable on the face of it can prove irrelevant. For example, looking at individual absentee rates as a measure of stress and disengagement is flawed in that people could be affected by neither factor but be ill due to other reasons.
However, in a bid to gain a more rounded picture, surveys are now being supplemented by other more qualitative ways of gathering staff views. The introduction of social media platforms, for example, provides employers with an opportunity to data-crunch workers’ dialogue on forums as well as other comments in a more robust way than was previously possible.
“The advantages are that social media tends to be inherently more engaging and it’s quite an interactive way to gauge what people think is important and needs to be addressed,” Gifford says. “There’s a widespread dislike of the annual survey and people’s real views are more insightful than just getting answers to questions that may not be that relevant to them.”
As a result, Gifford believes that just such a “mixed-method approach is definitely the way forward”.
3. What should you measure?
When measuring EE, there is, unfortunately, no single metric such as the Net Promoter Score for customer loyalty.
This situation leads to quite a lot of confusion over what organisations should measure, but according to Jane Sunley, chief executive of specialist engagement consultancy Purple Cubed, it really shouldn’t do.
“Things will vary depending on the environment, but really it’s about ‘are they happy?’” she says. “So ask what’s important to them about being at work, do they want to stay with the company and how productive do they feel?”
She also suggests asking staff to rank the top five things they consider important, whether they are chosen from a list garnered perhaps from input from a focus group, or that they have come up with themselves.
“Ask ‘if you could have ‘a’ or ‘b’, what would you have?’ to narrow it down and find out how well the company is performing in terms of giving them those things,” Sunley advises. “Then you can see what people are looking for and how good you are at this or that.”
But the most important question of all, according to KPMG’s Waterfield, is ‘if there was a single thing you could change about the company, what would make the biggest difference to you?’ This is because such information if collated and analysed provides a goldmine in terms of where EE efforts should be focused to best effect.
Other possible questions based on organisational and/or customer service-related priorities, meanwhile, include:
- Do you trust your boss/the company’s senior leadership team?
- How important is it to feel you have job security?
- Is your basic employment package fair?
- Do you feel you are listened to?
- Would you recommend other people to work here?
- Are you happy with your career progression?
4. What are the key pitfalls in measuring EE and how can you best avoid them?
A common pitfall when measuring EE is simply going to the effort of gathering lots and lots of feedback and then failing to either act on it or let anyone know that you are acting on it. This means that communication, as ever, is key.
Purple Cubed’s Sunley explains: “If you do a survey, don’t just ignore the results. You might only do three things that are important to most people, but communicate that is what’s happening so they can see for themselves.”
Employees’ biggest continual gripe is that nothing results from their input, but it could be that they simply haven’t been informed of progress. “But people spend a lot of money on all of this so it’s mad really,” Sunley says.
Another challenge when bringing in third party consultants to help in measuring EE is that they may well lack experience of your sector. The danger, as a result, is that any surveys and metrics on offer are likely to be generalised rather than specific to your business requirements.
“Making it business-critical is at the core,” warns the CIPD’s Gifford. “You need metrics to be relevant to the strategic nature of your workforce or else something could be measured that’s neither here nor there - or at least won’t be as central as you’d like it to be. What you really want to measure is the important stuff.”
But as a final point, Sunley advises that the ‘keep-it-simple’ mantra is as important here as anywhere else in life in order to keep things manageable.
“Think about what you want to measure and what you want do with the outcome – the issue is, if you ask 200 questions, are you actually going to be able to deal with the answers?” she concludes.