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Please Don’t Measure Employee Engagement!

I’ve been hearing the same question over and over again:

“How do you measure employee engagement?”

It’s an obvious question, especially coming from a manager. How can you manage something if you don’t know where it stands and where it’s trending? So, here's an obvious answer:

Ask your employees to wear brain-scanning devices. These can be cleverly disguised as free headsets and iWatches. Collect data at random points throughout the day and plot it against scientifically validated standards for high, medium, and low engagement. As a bonus point, you can monitor your employees’ whereabouts, time spent in the bathroom, and other such engagement-related variables.

I hope you find my ideas absurd and offensive, not just expensive and complicated. By the way, if you shop for a serious engagement measurement solution, you will see that, like plastic surgery, all of them are invasive, expensive and complicated.

So, maybe that’s not what nature intended. Maybe there is a simpler, faster, and better way to a healthy, well-run workplace.

First, what is engagement? If you manage people, to you employee engagement means one thing only: do people want to work for you? In other words, do they share your goals? Do they fully contribute their skills? Are they willing to work their tails off to get results?

These are important questions to ask your direct reports. Better yet, build a relationship with them, so that they tell you without being asked. Getting the answers, case by case, issue by issue, and person by person is important. But converting this knowledge into a single number is difficult, unnecessary, and distracting.

What will you do with such a number? Are you looking to engage your workforce—or to pass the blame onto them? Engagement is a measure of your relationship with your people. The only way to improve it is to understand and resolve your differences, preferably as soon as they crop up. And the only way to do that is to start with yourself.

Are you comfortable asking and answering tough questions? Are you willing to show your ignorance and vulnerability in front of your subordinates? These are your metrics. The more resistance you feel towards clearing the air, the higher the chances that those are the real blocks to engagement in your company and your team.

Data is a manager’s best friend. Never settle for an opinion where you can have a stat. Measure productivity, quality, timeliness, customer satisfaction, growth, profitability, market opportunity… If you can’t sit down and talk to it—measure it!

However, when dealing with people, impersonal observation won’t do. Engage with your people in any way you can. Online. In groups. One-on-one. Get personal and get their world. Involve them in goal-setting and decision-making. Share knowledge. Build trust. Then measure all of your company’s vital stats. I guarantee you, they will go up.


If you measure employee engagement, then you might like my book, because it will save you a ton of money!

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Tim Eisenhauer
About Tim Eisenhauer
Tim is the author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's also a co-founder and president of Axero, a technology company that makes intranet software for businesses. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and other top publications.

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