5 Employee Engagement Best Practices for HR Professionals

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It’s time for the annual employee engagement survey again. Conducting a survey sounds easier than it actually is. What are the best practices you need to keep in mind? In this article, we will discuss the 5 must-know employee engagement best practices.

Measuring employee engagement can be a very powerful tool to improve employee wellbeing and increase the revenue for the organization. However, engagement suffers a little bit from the same reputation as HR: It is often seen as ‘soft’ and – to be honest – a little bit of a hassle to deal with.

In this article, we will take a tactical approach to measuring engagement and give advice on how to measure it right. As such, we will go over 5 employee engagement best practices.

If you’d rather watch a video on how to improve measuring employee engagement, check our Learning Bite below:

Employee engagement best practice 1: Measuring the right thing

A common problem with engagement surveys is the way engagement is measured. The technical term is ‘construct validity’. Are we really measuring engagement, or something different? This is not the most sexy starting point – but definitely the most important one!

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Do we want to measure engagement, or happiness? Or do we want to know how empowered our people are? 

The term engagement is used for many different things. They all relate to some state of wellbeing but an engaged worker is not necessarily a happy worker. And a happy worker is not necessarily an empowered worker.

Different companies measure different things. For example, even when two companies have the same engagement score, workers may feel very, very differently.

Knowing what you measure is especially important to create a sense of urgency about improving engagement. We all know that engagement is related to higher productivity, lower product defects, lower turnover, and higher revenue.

However, if you are actually measuring something different, these positive effects may not occur at all! This could mean that you’re trying to improve something that doesn’t lead to more productive employees.

The first best practice is, therefore: measure the right thing. In line with this, employee engagement should be related to business outcomes. Certain ways of measuring engagement show more evidence of bettering business outcomes than others.

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2. Use proven methods

The two best-known questionnaires are the UWES, or Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (also available in an ultra-short, 3-item version), and the GALLUP scale. Both are very well tested. For both scales, higher scores are related to superior business outcomes. For a full comparison between the two, together with two other methods, check this article on employee engagement measures.

Other scales are less tested. This is one of the disadvantages of niche providers: some may use licensed, validated scales but others may use a self-invented scale. This risks your engagement survey being (virtually) worthless. The best practice is therefore: use proven measurement methods.

The person who pays, decides. This is usually a good thing but it can be a bad thing when it comes to adding or changing individual questions.

When you’ve successfully applied the previous two employee engagement best practices, this shouldn’t pose a big problem. However, if you want to take these validated questions and ‘tweak them a bit to make them work in your organization’ you may end up with an invalid scale again.

In addition, when you want to compare the score with next year’s score, you need to have the exact same questions to make a good comparison.

Adding, removing, or changing questions is therefore not advised unless you’re a psychometric expert and have all the time in the world to test questions and scale validity. Unfortunately, you usually don’t have that time when your next survey is due in 2 months.

3. Confidential, not anonymous

The time of measuring engagement for the sake of measuring engagement has long passed. Measuring employee engagement should have a business reason. We will discuss the importance of analyzing this yourself in the next step but for now, let’s focus on the data.

A common mistake is guaranteeing the anonymity of data. This means that you can never use this data for further analysis. 

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The fourth employee engagement best practice is thus: guarantee confidentiality, not anonymity. Measuring engagement for the sake of measuring engagement has never really helped a company.

4. Using your data for value added-analysis

What has helped a company is value-adding analytics. It’s nice to know you’ve achieved a 7% increase in engagement since last year but what does this really mean?You can use the data to measure how engaged workers impact business outcomes. To give an example, at Best Buy a 1% increase in engagement led to a $100,000 growth in revenue per store. 

Being able to show the impact of increasing engagement to business leaders creates urgency. It shows that engagement is not just a toy of HR but a viable way to reach business goals. You can show that an increase in engagement doesn’t just increase revenue for the average company. No, you can prove how much revenue has increased in your company.

5. What’s in it for the employee?

The final employee engagement best practice is to think about the employee experience. Why would an employee want to fill in an engagement survey?

Usually, it’s not because they love filling in surveys. To the contrary. Creating a user-friendly process and rewarding the employee are must-haves.

A few years ago I conducted a field study to measure attitudes of local residences regarding an infrastructure project in their neighborhood. I send them an official-looking envelope with their name and address (this was pre-GDPR). The envelope contained a questionnaire with a return envelope and a letter promising them an areal photograph with their house if they returned the questionnaire. The response rate? Over 90%!

For us, this was easy to promise because the project developer made regular areal photographs. For two dollars per address, we had an almost guaranteed response. What can you promise your colleagues to hook them?

Sometimes, simply promising them insight in their own results is already enough. It’s even nicer if they can compare themselves with others – or maybe you can promise a customized report with tips on their current situation.

This goes both ways. If people are very disengaged, helpful tips on how to prevent burnout will actually help the employee and the company. This will be very helpful for the employee and these customized responses can, of course, be fully automated.

Conclusion

It’s hard to limit the best practices for measuring employee engagement to just five. In this article, we took a tactical and strategic approach with a focus on creating business impact.

To make an engagement survey succeed, you also need to handle the operational side. You need to limit the length of the survey, make it easy to complete, ask managers to remind people to fill it, and so on.

However, this is all in vain when you are not measuring what you should be measuring. Engagement is a viable tool to make an impact and in this article, I’ve focused on using a concept that has a proven impact on employees and the organization.

Engagement has lost some of the reputation it had 10 years ago. However, there’s no denying that it’s more important than ever! These best practices will help you.

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