How Do You Measure Employee Engagement (or Love)?

By Kevin on August 17, 2013 in employee engagement

How do you measure engagement? I’m asked that question often, from both employee engagement skeptics looking to frame the effort as voodoo, and from true believers who know engagement when they see it, but still want to know how to quantify it.

It’s an important question. If you believe, as I do, that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, then you need to answer this technical question.

It’s complicated because engagement is a feeling.

Engagement is a feeling just like love is a feeling. And how in the world can we measure the amount of love someone feels? It would be silly to say, “Today the amount of love I feel for my wife is 3.8.”  Or even to ask, “Using a five-point Likert scale rate the amount of love you have for your spouse.” We can’t do an MRI and peer-inside to see the quantity of love someone has inside.

I will admit that you can’t quantify love.

Yet, people who are truly, madly passionately in love do have certain thoughts and exhibit certain behaviors.  A person deeply in love…

  • …is more likely to brag to others about their partner than someone who isn’t in love. (“He’s so handsome…so romantic…so funny…”)
  • …is more likely to tell their friends how good their relationship is. (“I’ve never been so happy…she’s my soulmate…she’s my best friend…”)
  • …is less likely to fantasize about hooking up intimately with another person or to think about divorce.

So while we can’t directly measure love, we can develop proxy questions for love. We can ask questions that can get at the behaviors and thoughts related to love.  We could develop the first ever Measure-Your-Love-O-Meter! Will you play along and answer these questions in your head? On a scale of one to five, with one meaning strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree:

1)   You often tell family or friends how great your partner is.

2)   You are extremely happy with your relationship.

3)   You rarely think about being intimate with another person.

Now if you really answered those three questions you could average your score and come up with your Love-O-Meter measure of 2.5, or 3.8 or better yet, 4.7. But I wouldn’t read too much into it because it’s a silly made up assessment with absolutely no validity.

But now imagine that a million people answered the same three questions. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how you compared to the overall average? Wouldn’t you be curious to see whether men or women had higher average scores? Wouldn’t it be neat to see what the average score was when people first got married, and what it was 20 years into marriage?

More powerful would be to look at correlations. Do couples who have weekly date nights have higher scores than couples who don’t? Do couples who say, “I love you” at least once a week (once a day!) have higher scores than those who don’t? Do couples that have goals for a new house, a vacation, or retirement adventures have higher scores than those who don’t?

We can’t measure love but wouldn’t we get some value from measuring proxies for love?

But of course that was just a silly made up love assessment. Right?

Back to employee engagement.

Engagement refers to one’s emotional commitment to their organization and the organization’s goals. It leads to discretionary effort.  A sales person who feels engaged will work just as hard on Friday afternoon as she does on Monday morning. A customer service professional who feels engaged will go the extra mile to resolve problems and complaints. An assembly line worker who feels engaged will work a little faster and is less likely to have an accident.

Engagement is a feeling. It’s a feeling that makes you:

  • More likely to refer a friend for employment at your company
  • Less likely to think about looking for a job with another company
  • More likely to work extra hours without being asked
  • More likely to feel pride in your company
  • More likely to be satisfied with your job

So while it’s true we cannot put a numerical value on the feeling of engagement, we can certainly create proxy questions—validated over time—around the behaviors associated with engagement.

Imperfect? Yes. That’s why we call them proxy questions. But still an invaluable tool to understand trends and correlations.

Maybe someday we will actually have a way to measure love and other emotions. But until then, remember this: date night is always a good idea.

Check out Kevin Kruse’s new book, Employee Engagement 2.0, and discover how to turn apathetic groups into emotionally committed teams. Kevin Kruse is a NY Times bestselling author and speaker who built and sold several multimillion dollar companies using a talent-first strategy.

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