When Measuring Employee Engagement Lowers It
You’ve probably heard the phrase “What gets measured gets done” applied to the the workplace, and if you are like many people, you have a belief that using metrics to gauge progress towards any goal is important, or even necessary.
There’s nothing wrong with the principle in general terms, but there ARE several problems — in fact mistakes companies are making when they go forth to measure employee engagement.
In fact, what often results is a distraction, and siphoning off resources – money and staff time away from more direct ways of improving the workplace.
Employee Engagement Measurement Costs, Hidden and Obvious
Surveying staff to determine their “levels of engagement has an obvious cost — the cash outlay for the software, or use of the instrument. While the costs to use, let’s say Gallup’s 12Q survey, are about fifteen dollars per person, which seems economical, this is for a survey of TWELVE questions, so the question is whether this small number of questions is sufficient to avoid test-retest reliability issues. Still for companies with many employees the cash hit can be substantial.
The hidden costs of measuring are much higher. Surveys don’t “ACCOMPLISH” anything unless management acts on the results, and that means there must be time spend analyzing and understanding the results, translating them into action, creating strategies, and so on. That may mean meetings galore, and a huge amount of time allocated, with the majority of that time spent by highly paid executives and managers.
There are “opportunity costs”. That is that while people spend time on the measurement end, that time is no longer available to do OTHER things what might more directly translate into more motivated employees. This is also the case with the out of pocket direct expenses associated with measurement.
A company that spends $40,000 a year just on measuring employee engagement is NOT spending that money on other things that might directly affect productivity and employee motivation.
The Employee Engagement Survey BackFire Syndrome
Unfortunately, the simple act of measuring something in the workplace can have a positive effect (i.e. The Hawthorne Effect), but it can have a negative effect too.
In fact, the nature of employee engagement is such that the measurement process creates an expectation that something will change, and change quickly. When employees are asked to be involved in surveys, they have an expectation that they will QUICKLY see results — tangible changes.
When they do not see those changes, they become more cynical about management and the company, because they feel “suckered”. Employees who are cynical and relatively de-motivated will complete the survey amidst huge cynicism. Employees who keep open minds will adopt a wait and see attitude about possible changes, while employees who are well motivated and already loyal will look forward to improvements with a lot of enthusiasm.
When employees, regardless of their engagement in the first place, do not “see” that nothing has improved, they experience disappointment or a confirmation of their existing cynicism.
The Length Of Time It Takes To Make Visible Changes Is Too Long
The major problem here, as is the case with many large scale attempts to change a workplace, is that it takes a long time, often measured in years, before changes become visible to employees. As a result, when companies measure employee engagement, and then go full bore with altering how executives and management behave, employees STILL won’t see results fast enough to “believe” that being asked to complete surveys is anything more than yet another management ploy, or commitment to empty words.
As a result, the simple act of measuring employee engagement, particularly if coupled with all kinds of “promises” about things getting better, is much more likely to LOWER true engagement, loyalty and employee motivation than to improve it. Companies can try to manage expectations about when employees will see results, but that’s an almost impossible task.
Conclusion: Scrap Employee Engagement Measurement
The best thing a company can do to improve employee engagement may be to stop measuring it.
Take the resources, hidden and unhidden and devote them to more direct ways to improve the workplace, whether it’s providing better tools to staff, encouraging more career development and training, or training managers to be better leaders and managers.