Digital Opinion has specialised in employee engagement since 2001 and managed survey programmes in more than 30 countries and 25 languages. Our clients have included organisations with just a few hundred employees to a number of FTSE 100 companies. Some have been with us for more than 10 years.
As engagement specialists we have been actively involved in Engage for Success, a government sponsored movement committed to growing awareness about the power and potential of employee engagement and contributed to its 2016 report: The Evidence: Case Study Heroes and Engagement Data Daemons.
Download The Evidence: Case Study Heroes and Engagement Data Daemons
 
  • What is employee engagement?
There has been a great deal of discussion around employee engagement for some time so it's no surprise that there are a range of definitions. The 2009 MacLeod Report (perhaps the most important study of engagement ever undertaken in the UK) mentions 50 including the three below:
"Engagement is about creating opportunities for employees to connect with their colleagues, managers and wider organisation. It is also about creating an environment where employees are motivated to want to connect with their work and really care about doing a good job... It is a concept that places flexibility, change and continuous improvement at the heart of what it means to be an employee and an employer in a twenty-first century workplace." (Professor Katie Truss)
"A positive attitude held by the employee towards the organisation and its values. An engaged employee is aware of the business context, and works with colleagues to improve performance within the job for the benefit of the organisation. The organisation must work to develop and nurture engagement, which requires a two-way relationship between employee and employer." (Institute of Employment Studies)
"A set of positive attitudes and behaviours enabling high job performance of a kind which are in tune with the organisation's mission." (Professor John Storey)
Another comprehensive review of the research is "Employee Engagement, A Review of Current Research and Its Implications" published in 2006 by The Conference Board, a prestigious US research organization which delivers business intelligence to many of the World's leading companies.
This review cites twelve major studies on employee engagement published by top research firms such as Gallup, Towers Perrin (Now Willis Towers Watson), Blessing White, the Corporate Leadership Council and others. Each of these studies offers a different definition of employee engagement, and The Conference Board offers a synthesised definition which sees employee engagement as:
"a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work."
This closely reflects the view of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which sees employee engagement as:
"a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values, plus a willingness to help out colleagues (organisational citizenship). It goes beyond job satisfaction and is not simply motivation. Engagement is something the employee has to offer: it cannot be 'required' as part of the employment contract."
The question is: what circumstances or conditions are needed before a person can feel that heightened emotional connection or sense of commitment and organisational citizenship? In other words, what are the key ingredients of employee engagement? Digital Opinion's own research points to the following:
  • Work - Does it give people the opportunity to do what they're good at? Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?
  • Support - Do people feel supported by their line manager and colleagues?
  • Recognition - Do people feel that their efforts are recognised and valued?
  • Loyalty - Do people want to stay and develop their careers with the company?
  • Advocacy - Do people feel proud of their company and recommend it to family and friends as a great place to work?
  • Values - Do people share the company's values and feel that colleagues' and managers' attitudes and behaviours reflect those values?
In our view these are the pre-requisites for employee engagement. They inform our definition:
"Engaged employees enjoy their work, feel valued, and are proud to tell people that they work for the Company. They go the extra mile to help their customers and colleagues, and they want to stay and develop a career with the Company. In the long run they are the real contributors."
And they underpin our approach to measuring engagement and helping companies to raise it.
Download our paper What is employee engagement?
  • How do we measure employee engagement?
It's been said that measuring engagement is like eating an elephant - a big job and it's difficult to know where to start. Despite that, it's one of the most frequently asked questions by visitors to our website. This page offers some guidance.
First, you need to know what it is you're measuring - what engagement is. At the moment there isn't a universally accepted definition. However, most good definitions agree on a number of key components which relate to things like the enjoyment people get from their work, their sense of pride in the company, and their willingness to go the extra mile to help customers and colleagues. At Digital Opinion our preferred definition is:
"Engaged employees enjoy their work, feel valued, and are proud to tell people that they work for the Company. They go the extra mile to help their customers and colleagues, and they want to stay and develop a career with the Company. In the long run they are the real contributors."
This forms the basis for our engagement model, which reduces the complexity inherent in engagement to measurable proportions and, returning to the elephant analogy, enables us to deal with it bit by bit.
Employee engagement model
In this model employee engagement has two dimensions: the first relates to the satisfaction that people get from the work they do. The second relates to the commitment they feel towards their employer. Each dimension has three facets.
The satisfaction dimension focuses on:
  • Work - Does it give people the opportunity to do what they're good at? Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?
  • Support - Do people feel supported by their line manager and colleagues?
  • Recognition - Do people feel that their efforts are recognised and valued?
The commitment dimension focuses on:
  • Loyalty - Do people want to stay and develop their careers with the company?
  • Advocacy - Do people feel proud of their company and recommend it to family and friends as a great place to work?
  • Values - Do people share the company's values and feel that colleagues' and managers' attitudes and behaviours reflect those values?
These six key questions are always included in the engagement surveys we conduct for clients, and their combined scores drive our Engagement Matrix.
 
  • Engaged people are those who get satisfaction from their work and are committed to their employer. They are the real contributors.
  • Disaffected people are those who are negative on both counts. They can be expected to make a minimal contribution, have a negative impact on their colleagues, or leave the Company.
  • The frustrated are those people who are committed to the company but currently get little satisfaction from the work they do.
  • The uncommitted are those who get satisfaction from their work but have little sense of commitment to the company.
Many of our clients find the matrix an extremely valuable way of measuring, visualising and communicating the current state of engagement in their business or, indeed, within different parts of their business.
Download our paper How do you measure engagement?
  • What drives employee engagement?
An outwardly complex question with a number of answers: research suggests there are three principal drivers of engagement - management style, leadership and opportunity.
Management style appears to be the single most important driver. A recent global study identified the qualities people most associate with an engaging manager:
  • Showing care, concern and interest in people
  • Setting clear and consistent expectations
  • Valuing people's unique qualities
  • Giving positive feedback and recognition for work well done
  • Encouraging and supporting people's growth and development
And those findings are fully corroborated by our own research into the differences between engaged and disaffected employees: the attitudes and behaviours of line managers and supervisors are the critical factor.
Leadership is another key to engagement. The qualities people most associate with engaging leaders are:
  • Being able to communicate a compelling sense of the Company's future?
  • Holding a steady course through difficult times?
  • High visibility and involvement in implementing strategy?
  • An ability to connect with people?
  • Honesty and authenticity - "walking the talk" in terms of the Company's values?
The question is: how many leaders really demonstrate these qualities?
Opportunity is the third factor. Employees who thoroughly enjoy their work, have confidence in the Company's leaders and have excellent working relationships with their line manager are not always engaged. For some people a vital ingredient is missing: a belief that the company provides them with opportunities and support for career development.  
Download our paper Key Driver Analysis
  • What is the business case for employee engagement?
For many business leaders the links between employee engagement and business performance are self-evident. When asked which measurements "give the best sense of a company's health" former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch replied:
"Employee engagement first. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it. That's why you need to take the measure of employee engagement at least once a year through anonymous surveys in which people feel completely safe to speak their minds."
Sentiments echoed by Sir Richard Branson:
"We embarked on consciously building Virgin into a brand which stood for quality, value, fun and a sense of challenge. We also developed these ideas in the belief that our first priority should be the people who work for the companies, then the customers, then the shareholders. Because if the staff are motivated then the customers will be happy, and the shareholders will then benefit through the company's success."
For some business leaders however the links are not self-evident. They still need to see the business case. The good news is that since the publication of a seminal study in the Harvard Business review in 1994 and the subsequent service - profit chain model developed by Sears, Roebuck and Co. the engagement question has generated a large number of studies from academics, consultancies and individual organisations.
This research conducted across a wide range of industries supports the findings of the Sears model and confirms that 'there is a chain of cause and effect running from employee behaviour to customer behaviour to profits.'
So the real challenge is not proof, but application. How do you link engagement to performance in your company and establish the chain of cause and effect? If it's a question that being asked in your Company we should speak. The approach we've developed with other companies might well work for
Download our paper Linking HR & Business Performance Metrics
View one of our case studies
 
 
  • How do we turn insight into action?
"An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage ." Jack Welch
You need to act on the feedback - starting as soon after the survey as possible and then consistently over time. Sounds simple, but it's said that 90% of the companies that conduct engagement surveys don't do anything with them. Here's how we help you overcome that. We recommend a bottom-up and top-down approach which involves the following:
  • We give your line managers and team leaders a no-frills, action report which shows them the feedback from their immediate team, and focuses their attention on the issues that drive both engagement and business performance. Although the report is simple to understand and use it is based on insights drawn from complex key driver, linkage and benchmark analyses.
  • We also provide them with a quick to absorb, practical, step-by-step guide on how to go about working with their team to design and implement action plans which address the issues highlighted in their action report.
  • We give them easy access to an online action planning website (designed just for your business) on which they post the action plans they have designed with their teams. They then have on-going access which enables them to update their plans and add new ones.
  • We provide you and your senior managers with a dashboard to monitor 24/7 the design, implementation and impact of action plans across the business.
Download our paper Engagement surveys: Insights into action