Employee Engagement Mastered: The HR Guide | Josh Bersin Academy

June 29th, 2021

Employee engagement used to mean one lengthy annual survey from HR. The results would take a long time to collect...and even longer to turn into actionable data that managers could use to meaningfully improve employee experience.

Fortunately, the status quo for employee engagement is changing. HR survey methodologies—and the strategy and technology supporting these methodologies—have rapidly advanced over the past year.

This is good news for HR. Research shows that organizational performance is deeply connected to the success, wellbeing, and happiness of our people. This means that understanding these advances in employee engagement is key for all HR professionals looking to make positive change in their organization.

How is Employee Engagement Changing?

The past year has revolutionized the way HR leaders think about employee engagement. Amy Lavoie, head of strategic development and people science at Glint, a part of LinkedIn, has observed a shift from leaders surveying just a couple times a year to––at many organizations––surveying nearly seven times during the past twelve months.

With conditions changing rapidly during the pandemic and the subsequent shift to remote or hybrid work, HR professionals have had to search for new ways to understand their employees’ experiences and morale. This has meant experimenting with new engagement frequencies and new technologies to make this engagement possible.

“Leaders realize they cannot make decisions about their business and understand what employees need and what’s happening on the ground without checking in on a much more regular basis,” Lavoie notes.

Lavoie believes this change is here to stay. Paying attention to employee feedback “is not simply a once-a-year exercise,” she says.

Yet not all feedback is equally valuable. Haphazard, poorly designed listening can make employees feel over-observed––or simply overwhelmed. And all this employee engagement data is meaningless if we can’t turn it into insight and action.

Here are some tips for effective employee engagement to help you use engagement to create better employee experience at your organization in 2021 and beyond.

Mapping Out Your New Employee Engagement Plan

One way to envision shifts in employee engagement is to think of the process in three phases.

The first phase is the traditional, top-down annual engagement survey. This was the standard at many companies for years, and can be an effective way to establish a baseline for year-to-year comparisons. Yet increasingly, HR professionals are finding this employee engagement method ineffective for today’s dynamic workplaces and are searching for alternatives that better fit what they and their employees need now.

The second phase of employee engagement is Agile surveying that offers a more fluid feedback system. These surveys can be sent out as needed and taken on multiple devices. They also provide pulse surveying with intelligent sensing. All this means HR can stay up-to-date on employees’ attitudes about their work and gather the data needed to respond quickly and constructively to important shifts in team dynamics, morale, or other key areas.

The third phase of employee engagement is based in AI. Organizations in this phase are leveraging technology to increase the effectiveness of their employee listening. This includes nudges, real-time sensing, and other technology that can gather up-to-the-minute data from all employees. In this phase, the focus is less on the specifics of employee feedback and more on using these robust and constantly updating insights to drive behavioral change.

Moving from one phase to another takes time and a deep understanding of our organizations’ processes and realities. But even small steps in the right direction can make a big difference. Because employee engagement is at the heart of all people-related strategies, any improvements in our data and engagement plans have the potential to make a real difference in almost every aspect of our employees’ day-to-day work experiences.

How to Design an Employee Engagement Survey

Let’s get into the specifics about how this modernized employee engagement may look.

Often, when it comes to the details of an updated employee engagement strategy, survey length gets the most focus. And it’s true an overly long survey can make employees lose attention.

But there are other key factors that can make our employee surveys more successful, too. Here are a few specifics to consider as we’re reworking our employee engagement strategy to be more valuable for HR––and more convenient for our employees.

Survey item order. A good flow of topics and ideas will make your survey more user-friendly. Each topic should lead logically into the next. Questions that prime users to think deeply about the organization as a whole should come first, before other items or topics that may sway the audience in one direction or the other.

Open-ended questions. Leaving room for open-ended questions at the end of our surveys allows employees to think back and offer more reflective answers about their experiences. This is important, given there are themes or topics that may be important to employees, but aren’t covered in the survey. Offering employees a chance to share those thoughts will help them feel heard. And make HR aware of any pressing issues outside the survey’s scope.

Item rotation. Shorter and more frequent surveys mean that some of our questions may begin to feel stale. This may lead employees to offer rote and unreflective answers as they grow overly accustomed to the same questions in survey after survey. Though some items may need to be repeated as we measure change over time, rotating others can help HR avoid this problem and make each survey feel novel and fresh.

Sharing Engagement Survey Data with Employees

Sharing employee engagement data with our teams can be a sensitive matter. There’s often a particular unit, leader, or function within our organization that has a longstanding area of tension or an unhelpful pattern that’s driving numbers down. HR leaders must find a way to present findings not as evidence of personal failings, but instead simply as data points––that is, useful information to spur future growth.

“It’s not about being judgemental,” notes Manisha Singh, VP of Employee Experience, Analytics, and Digital HR at AstraZeneca. Singh says that she’s a big believer in systems. Within a systems framework, this sort of data isn’t the result of any one error on the part of a certain individual or team. It’s simply the result of how both helpful and unhelpful systems can develop in organizations as they evolve and grow.

In her own work, Singh always presents these findings with a positive framing. “‘My organization is good, but how can I make it great?’” she says. “That’s the spirit with which you share this data.”

Managers are used to baselining and benchmarking, so they’ll be used to identifying and overcoming challenges that will help them drive improvements and general performance in their areas, Singh says. As long as this data is presented as an opportunity for positive change, leaders will leave these meetings motivated to discover new ways to improve processes and morale within their team.

Employee Engagement and HR...and Beyond

Promoting this feeling of motivation and general wellbeing among managers is one of the most important shifts an organization can make when it comes to employee engagement. Because while human resources leaders play a central role in employee engagement, It’s ultimately managers who will use this information to foster growth in their respective areas.

It’s HR’s job to inform and inspire managers by turning this data into actionable insights that other leaders can put into practice right away. There’s an art to helping managers take real ownership of this valuable data, which is why crafting our presentations and feedback in a way that feels empowering is so fundamental to the rest of this work.

In the end, it’s not just about gathering employee engagement data. Instead, it’s really what we do with this data that counts. When we can inspire leaders to take true ownership of this data, we’re inspiring them to make the changes that will help their employees truly succeed.

Ready to learn more about HR’s role in employee engagement? Sign up for our Program, The Voice of the Employee, today.