December 21, 2017

Ditch the annual engagement survey: Measure employee engagement like you measure your finances

Deb LaMere

Deb LaMere is the Vice President of Employee Experience at Ceridian. With 17 years’ experience in human resources, Deb is responsible for employee engagement, talent management and performance management for Ceridian.

In today’s world of work, we’re seeing a power shift from employer to employee. Employees are pushing organizations to be better every day, and demanding that employers create an environment within which they want to work.

This is important because workplace culture is key to employee engagement. More organizations, regardless of their size, industry or location, are seeing the importance of driving and building employee engagement, as it can directly impact profitability, customer experience and the company’s overall success. In fact, according to a Willis Towers Watson report, companies with high scores on all aspects of sustainable engagement outperform their sectors in terms of earnings growth by an average of 18%.

Employers are increasingly looking at engagement and culture as part of an integrated employee experience that brings together all aspects of the employee journey. However, according to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends, while nearly 80% of executives rated employee experience very important or important, only 59% of respondents said they were not ready or only somewhat ready to address the employee experience challenge.

This reflects a challenge that employers need to overcome, and fast. The employee experience – with engagement being a core aspect – must be a priority, and employers must move beyond relegating measures of success to an annual employee survey.

There are challenges to the traditional annual engagement survey, namely:

  • It doesn’t meet the needs of managing and engaging a multigenerational workforce.
  • Both candidates and employees increasingly look for transparency and insight into culture and reputation on an ongoing basis, via company reviews and engagement stats.
  • We live in a world in which people seek, and want to provide, continuous feedback – authentic engagement is a two-way street.
  • It is time-consuming and provides a rear-view look into an organization.
  • The cost to an organization can outweigh the benefit. Data collected from long, involved and expensive surveys can become outdated if not turned around quickly.

With employees pushing for innovation, and seeking out strong workplace cultures, it’s vital that employers understand what employees want, and what they value as part of shaping and defining an engaging culture. Therefore, just as financial stability of an organization is important, so too should employee engagement. If CEOs are reviewing their financial performance daily, shouldn’t they be doing the same with engagement?

Related: The annual performance review is dead: create a performance development culture instead

It’s time for employers to start treating engagement as they treat their finances. This means investing in, and updating, tools to engage employees on an ongoing basis, and helping leaders understand what their talent expects and values on a deeper level. Businesses should work towards an “always-on” approach to make adjustments based on real-time feedback, and hold leaders accountable to their engagement results, as they would with financial results. At Ceridian, we have a leadership effectiveness index score that lets employees provide feedback directly about their managers.

A key aspect of an “always-on” approach is that it gives organizations the ability to ask different types of questions, when they want to ask them. It’s responsive, it’s real-time, and it’s actionable.

Here are some tips to get started with an always-on approach to engagement:

  • Define engagement: What does engagement mean to you as a leader, and to your organization? What types of questions do you want to ask? In asking questions related to engagement, think about what’s actionable. That is, if the questions are related to career development or teamwork, what can you take action on?
  • Start listening: Listening to employees means giving them a real opportunity to provide feedback. Reiterating the point made earlier, employees are not only seeking feedback, but they also want to provide it. This requires rethinking the typical approach of asking for feedback using close-ended forms. There’s valuable information in employees’ answers to open-ended questions.
  • Skip the traditional: If one of the challenges of traditional surveys is that they are long and involved, and can make it difficult to glean actionable insights from the results, simplify. Try a short survey, or even a single question, to take the pulse of the organization on a particular issue.
  • Get leadership on board: To truly drive organizational engagement, the leadership team must own it. At Ceridian, we have a fully engaged leadership team that helps to drive our initiatives forward – for example, our CEO, David Ossip, reads every single employee comment from our regular and on-going pulse surveys.

To get buy-in from leadership teams, help them understand how engagement influences business results. An engaged workforce leads to lower turnover, lower absenteeism, higher productivity and higher revenue. Communicate to leadership teams how gathering and taking action on data can improve engagement metrics, and therefore impact the bottom line.

An “always on” approach to engagement really comes back to results. Organizations wouldn’t look at their finances once a year, and nor should they do that with engagement. From a strategic perspective, it’s advantageous to be able to make adjustments when and where you need to, as you would with finances. The result is an engaged workforce that feels empowered, leading to greater productivity and positive, increased financial results.

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