Employee Engagement

What Is Employee Engagement?

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Employee engagement is the idea that employees who are satisfied with their work environment tend to be personally invested in their jobs and are better workers. Organizations study and try to improve engagement among their employees because empirical research shows that organizations with higher levels of employee engagement are better at what they do than organizations with lower levels of engagement.

Benefits of an Engaged Workforce:

In 2009, the Gallup Organization conducted research that compiled earlier employee engagement research across organizations, industries and countries. They found nine business outcomes that are better when organizations employ engaged employees:

  1. Customer loyalty/engagement
  2. Profitability
  3. Productivity
  4. Turnover
  5. Safety incidents
  6. Shrinkage
  7. Absenteeism
  8. Patient safety incidents
  9. Quality

Employee engagement can’t be something that an organization does once a year or whenever leadership feels like morale is slipping. It has to be part of the organizational culture, and management must take responsibility for establishing and maintaining such a culture.

Surveying Employees

When organizations want to study engagement among their employees, the most common technique they use is surveying. There are many companies that are willing to do this type of research on a contract basis, and many companies conduct it on their own without any outside help.

No matter what the questions on an employee engagement survey are, the key is to have a high participation rate. However, survey participation should be voluntary. If employees are given the opportunity to tell their management and leadership what they believe about their work environments and less than half respond, the organization can already tell they have a problem.

A low participation rate means either that employees do not care enough to fill out a voluntary survey or that they do not believe the results of the survey will be used to change organizational practice.

Conversely, a high participation rate means that employees are willing to speak up. Even if employees believe there are a whole host of things wrong with the work environment, they haven’t given up on the organization. A high participation rate can be the positive sign when survey results show management they have many issues to address.

The Gallup Organization pioneered employee engagement research. Over their decades of experience, they have distilled what they believe are the small set of questions that can get at whether or not employees are engaged. They call this set of questions the Q12:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  1. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  2. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  3. I have a best friend at work.
  4. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  5. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

When Gallup conducts the survey, respondents are given six response options -- a five-point agreement scale and a “don’t know/does not apply” option.

It is important to notice that while supervisors are only mentioned once in the Q12, a supervisor has significant impact on how employees respond to these items. Setting expectations, providing necessary materials and equipment, praising for good work, encouraging development and talking about progress are all activities that supervisors drive.

Employee Engagement Surveys in Government:

Employee engagement is just as important in government as it is in the private sector. It is studied at all levels of government.

The US Office of Personnel Management conducts the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey each year. The survey is usually open for most of April and May.

The Partnership for Public Service uses the survey data to come up with their annual rankings of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. These rankings allow individuals seeking employment in federal agencies to compare the work environments of almost all federal agencies. Scores for intelligence agencies are combined into one score. The numbers of employees in these agencies are classified for national security reasons.

Almost all state agencies in Texas participate in the Survey of Employee Engagement administered by the University of Texas every two years. This survey has many more items than the Gallup Q12; however, there are items in the Texas survey that align with each of the Gallup Q12. In addition to sharing each agency’s results with that agency, the University of Texas provides results for all agencies to the Texas Legislature and oversight agencies.