How can we guarantee that our employees remain not only committed to their work but are also genuinely absorbing eLearning content and personal growth opportunities?
As the nature of work continues to transform and our workplaces adapt to these changes, it has become increasingly vital to equip employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to take on new roles and responsibilities. This is where learning and development (L&D) comes into play, acting as a cornerstone of a company’s long-term success. But how do we ensure that our employees are genuinely engaged in the L&D process and eager to grow alongside the organisation?
In this blog post, we’ll delve deeper into the fascinating world of employee engagement within the L&D sphere – exploring what it is, why it is important and how to measure it, whilst also exploring the benefits it brings.
What is Employee Engagement?
Investopedia defines the term employee engagement quite simply as “the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward their job.” We might substitute ‘learning and development’ for ‘job’ but the concept remains the same.
Employees need to actively engage with educational materials for the education to stick and prove fit for purpose. In the modern workplace, there’s no point in requiring employees to study topics that won’t be of direct use. You want learners to become invested in their own upskilling and personal development plans, to be able to see a direct relationship between its effects and their career prospects.
Here are some startling statistics about current trends in workplace development:
- A McKinsey report reveals that 69% of employers are doing more development work than before the pandemic.
- In 2020, McKinsey also reported that 9 out of 10 leaders have identified skills gaps or anticipate them within five years.
- HR giant Willis Towers Watson has predicted that in just 10 years’ time, 85% of the jobs which exist will be ones we don’t currently recognise as jobs at all.
Employee engagement, then, is an active, enthusiastic willingness to learn and grow. Although this isn’t a simple thing to achieve, there are methods of maximising participation and knowledge retention.
The key to achieving this wholescale revision to the way we work will be employee engagement, keeping the workforce attentive to the task at hand, aided by technology but not (yet) replaced by it.
Why is Employee Engagement Measurement Important?
In today’s fast-paced world, measuring employee engagement has become more important than ever before. With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating new trends, employers have recognised that the development of staff is key to staying competitive.
As companies shift to less supervised working from home, adopting AI and automation, and building increasingly flexible supply chains, the demand for agile workplaces has risen. Additionally, the explosion of e-commerce and online services has created a need for upskilling across both hard and soft skills.
However, simply providing remote learning opportunities is not enough to ensure that employees are truly engaged with the material and process of acquiring new skills. You can’t just peer into their souls to determine their level of motivation, can you?
That’s why measuring employee engagement is critical. It provides valuable insights into how employees are interacting with the learning material and whether they are truly invested in their own development.
How to Measure Employee Engagement
In order to measure anything, you need to decide what metrics you’ll use. In the case of employee engagement, which is part subjective, and part objective, it’s important to select measures which balance how employees feel while at work, or in training, with how they behave.
Below, we’ll look at six reliable metrics for measuring engagement.
Identifying Key Metrics for Employee Engagement
1: Employee Satisfaction
DEFINITION: A measure of how fulfilling an employee feels their work is.
This is a subjective measure, requiring employee surveys, which require honesty and the trust that their words will not be used against them. Such surveys can be scored, requiring participants to assign a numerical value to various aspects of their role.
Respondents can be asked using feedback forms whether their work or training is enjoyable, relevant, rewarding, interesting, fulfilling, or all of the above.
Several preconditions are vital to arrive at a truthful picture of overall staff satisfaction. Firstly, surveys must be anonymised, so that respondents feel empowered to be absolutely honest.
Secondly, employees should be encouraged to complete the form and enabled to do so. They must be motivated in such a way that most employees do respond. If only a small pool of individuals complete surveys, they will tend to be those whose opinions lean strongly towards the positive or negative.
For an obvious illustration of this, you merely need to look at restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor. They tend to either be five-star reviews gushing with praise, or one-star reviews from customers who have had terrible experiences. Middling experiences provide less emotional incitement.
Researchers call this underreporting bias, and make conscious efforts to minimise it.
One simple strategy may be to make satisfaction surveys a mandatory part of employee annual reviews. Then everyone becomes used to completing them without question.
2: Recognition and Feedback
DEFINITION: How appreciated employees feel, especially when offering feedback.
These are measures of communication within teams.The sense of being heard and listened to is vital within every relationship, including relationships within the workplace. Again, this is a necessarily subjective measure, so can be obtained through surveying, or by using a neutral third party who will not identify individual focus group respondents.
Sample questions that might gauge recognition include:
- Do you feel valued in your workplace?
- Is recognition given proportional to achievement? (i.e., is it fair?)
- Is honest feedback appreciated?
- How often is feedback acted upon?
You can score any of these questions by phrasing them as statements and asking for a degree of agreement or disagreement. For instance, you might ask survey recipients to rate the truth of this statement from 1 (not at all true) to 10 (extremely true): “My company values honest feedback.”
Remember, that you are measuring engagement, so you want to find out how employees feel, regardless of whether you think their feeling is justified.
3: Interpersonal Relationships
DEFINITION: How functionally successful inter-office relationships are.
Another major component of employee engagement is having good relationships with colleagues, trainers, and managers. For obvious reasons, this can be especially difficult to ascertain. Either employees don’t want to badmouth colleagues out of politeness, or they are afraid to do so.
Therefore, questions asked to determine the effectiveness of relationships should look at them in the aggregate. You are asking how your employees feel about the office culture, rather than individual managers, trainers, or co-workers.
Some preparatory work of reassurance may therefore be necessary when using this line of enquiry.
4: Alignment with Values
DEFINITION: Does the company’s values align with an employee’s own?
Moreso now than ever before, workers want to feel that their employer’s values align with their own. Particularly with younger employee cohorts, there is less of a clear distinction between personal life and work life. Any disparity between a company’s values and those of its employees can lead to discomfort and a drop in engagement.
It’s okay to be fairly direct in this line of questioning. Employees are no longer shy about sharing their opinions on such matters, but it may be worth reassuring them that there will be no repercussions for honesty, and that, furthermore, anonymity will be preserved.
Sample questions might include:
- Do you feel our company is properly engaged with sustainability?
- How well does our company’s stated mission fit with your own interests?
- Do you believe our company is an ally to LGBTQI+ people?
- Are our training programs conducive to a more equitable environment?
If your company is in the non-profit or public sectors, then these sorts of questions could be especially important, to avoid “mission creep” or unhelpful hiring policies.
If there is a problem with alignment then it could be the case that your corporate mission has drifted from what employees consider appropriate. It could also mean that you are employing staff whose values or beliefs will always be at odds with corporate strategy and objectives.
5: Sickness and Unexplained Absence
DEFINITION: Has there been an upsurge in leave, excluding annual leave?
This may be a rather old-fashioned metric, but it is one of only two objective measures on this list. It requires employers to spot trends in employee absence or turnover. In offices where there is a clear morale problem, there will often be an uptick in staff not attending, or even leaving your organisation altogether.
However, although this is an objective measure it’s not always clear what it is measuring. On rare occasions, calamities like pandemics, economic downturns, or political upheaval can produce dips in morale, which result in increased leave days or disengagement from non-core tasks. It may not be your fault, in other words.
Therefore, it is recommended that this metric is used alongside more subjective engagement measures to give a more balanced picture.
6: Task Completion and Deadline Achievement
DEFINITION: Whether agreed targets are being met on time.
Here’s another objective measure which may be helpful when assessing whether your eLearning content is sufficiently engaging.
Provided you’ve made it clear how useful and/or necessary it is for a course to be completed, and you’ve provided the time and opportunity to do so, if you’re not getting encouraging analytics it may be time for a rethink.
Concrete metrics to consider might include time spent on an eLearning platform, time spent on courses, completion times, final grades, and whether deadlines for completion were achieved. Remember that other work pressures can intrude on personal development, so it’s important to rule that factor out, for a truthful picture.
Training aside, these task-based metrics can also be used within highly productivity-driven departments like IT support, customer service, sales, or marketing. Any team where daily or weekly targets are assigned lends itself to this approach.
When targets or deadlines are missed, it’s worth asking whether these were set at realistic, achievable levels, before assuming that a lack of engagement is to blame.
Determining Which Metrics Your Company Should Use
Deciding which metrics to use is key, as well as identifying suitable methods for determining engagement. Much will depend on how truthful employees are encouraged to be and how much faith they have in your promises of anonymity and of zero individual consequences.
It pays to develop a culture where such honesty is encouraged. By inculcating regular staff feedback sessions, you’ll normalise honesty and find it easier to measure and improve employee engagement on an ongoing basis.
Employee Engagement Measurement Tools and Methods
Let’s now turn to some common methods for obtaining engagement feedback and look at the advantages and disadvantages they convey.
Most of the above engagement metrics assume that you’ll be surveying individual employees’ subjective opinions. Employee surveys remain the best way to do so.
Many online platforms exist to enable survey writing, completion, collation, and analytics, making this one of the most convenient methods for sourcing employee opinions at scale.
You have the option of running longer surveys at regular intervals or posing spot questions to your staff, especially if they work online. Surveys may be less helpful for obtaining the qualitative, experiential feedback you’ll get from in-person methods (see below).
Another age-old method of obtaining feedback is to use focus groups of employees to provide opinions and experiences in person.
The challenges here are several. First, the focus group must be representative in terms of demographics and breadth of opinion. This latter quality is hard to gauge without having already conducted widespread opinion surveying.
Therefore, it’s likely that focus groups work best when they are supplementary to opinion surveying. It’s also a good idea to bring in an outside party to conduct focus groups since employees rarely enjoy giving feedback directly to the managers it implicates.
Focus groups must be primed with reassurances that there will be no personal repercussions and that, on the contrary, honesty expressed without malice is to be encouraged.
A common use of one-to-one interviews is the “exit interview.” The jury is very much out on how helpful these are since employees are often still aware that they’ll need to obtain references and recommendations from past employers for new roles so won’t want to burn bridges.
However, one-to-ones can be helpful between line managers and staff if held within a greater culture of honest feedback. If the lack of engagement isn’t directly related to that interpersonal relationship, an employee should feel empowered to be honest. After all, it is in everyone’s interest.
Leaders should not be surprised, however, if they don’t get searingly honest insights from individual staff members.
Other Data Collection Methods
As mentioned above, you can use technology to track engagement in the sense of tasks completed, deadlines hit, courses completed, and revenue generated. This tends to work well in a metrics-driven environment like sales.
It can also be a good way to measure L&D engagement. If you’ve made it easy for employees to complete training courses and they still aren’t doing so, then it’s probably time to revise your training materials or approach.
Hard, objective productivity metrics are less convincing as an engagement measure within an R&D department, or in IT support, for example, where external factors such as product suitability or marketing approach may contribute to a lack of success and a feeling of deflation leading to disengagement. In other words, numbers alone may not reach the root of the problem.
Whether you use surveys, focus groups, or other methods, the key is to make sure that your measurement approach is consistent, transparent, and aligned with your organisational goals.
What are the Benefits of Measuring Employee Engagement?
There are several good reasons to measure employee engagement, each conveying a unique benefit. Let’s take these one by one.
1: Get to the Root of Morale Issues
By taking a snapshot of how engaged your employees are, you can stave off any serious problems before they develop into crises.
Perhaps some of your team feel underappreciated, or underdeveloped. Maybe they don’t think their role carries any prospect of advancement. Modern employers must face the reality of the upskilling conundrum: you’re often training employees who will move on and transfer the benefits to their new workplace.
If you know the level of morale in your organisation with regard to skills and job roles, you can take steps to design learning programs that provide transferable skills but also offer the possibility of internal advancement, improved earnings, and more fascinating work.
This approach is certainly preferable to watching disgruntled workers vote with their feet and leave for pastures new.
2: Identify and Fill Skills Gaps
By measuring engagement, you can identify what’s missing from your L&D offering, and what training needs aren’t being met. You may also spot skills gaps that will inform recruitment and internal hires.
Perhaps you run an engagement survey, where you ask what types of training your employees would like and, to your surprise, you find there’s a demand for soft skills like public speaking and critical thinking.
This might indicate an opportunity to devise a leadership program that will prove especially useful if the company is expanding, or opening new offices.
3: Improve Training Methods, Increasing Engagement
Clearly, to improve your engagement scores, you need to take a baseline. This will give you a point of comparison if you then revamp or modernise your training methods. As we’ve discussed in other articles, modern L&D offerings are more interactive and engaging, requiring more input at all stages from participants.
By making courses more involving and less passive, you’ll boost participation, which should show up in your assessment metrics, as well as more subjective measures of employee satisfaction.
4: Build Trust and Loyalty Through Empathic Leadership
When you demonstrate that you’re interested in your employee’s engagement, you’re showing that you are interested in how they feel, as well as how good they are at their work. This demonstrates empathetic leadership, which is much in demand.
When employees feel listened to, their loyalty increases, and they are less likely to get bored and frustrated and seek opportunities elsewhere.
Recent leadership studies have shown that 84% of leaders believe empathy results in improved outcomes, and 72% of employees feel that empathic leadership increases their engagement.
5: Spot Developing Trends in Employee Engagement
It’s easy to miss a signal amongst all the noise of employee behaviour and the general busyness of business. By measuring engagement, you can identify patterns that will offer clues to the best direction of travel.
For example, you may notice that as more technical skills are preferred for new hires, engagement drops. From there, you can determine whether this means that your existing employees feel underskilled, compared to younger graduates entering the workplace, or if there’s another reason. As a solution, you could run catch-up courses in hard technical skills to give experienced employees increased confidence in their abilities.
Whether you use metrics, surveys, or focus groups, as you gain a fuller picture of employee engagement, you’ll begin to become less surprised by the future, because you’ll have spotted trends and allowed for them a little sooner.
6: The Bottom-Line Benefits from More Insight
Let’s not forget any company’s prime directive—to make money. By working towards a more engaged workforce, you’re improving team dynamics, cohesion and performance. Engaged teams work well together, and this results in better performance and improved revenue generation.
A good microcosm of this is the sales office. When a sales department becomes a dog-eat-dog, clock-watching environment, morale drops and so does revenue. Even in a department stereotypically depicted as cut-throat, and driven by KPIs, engagement is vital. Revenue generation in sales is hard work, so motivation and morale are key.
Measuring employee engagement is valuable for all the above reasons. It provides an indicator of how determined and keen your employees are, regardless of the profit the business generates. This can be especially valuable in hard economic conditions, where blunt revenue KPIs may not provide the full picture.
Measuring employee engagement is an essential component of building a positive and productive workplace culture. By understanding the level of employee engagement, you can identify areas for improvement, increase job satisfaction, and boost overall performance.
Remember, employee engagement is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process that requires continuous attention and investment. By regularly measuring and tracking employee engagement levels, you can identify trends, address issues, and ensure that your workforce remains motivated, committed, and empowered. Start measuring employee engagement today to unlock the full potential of your team.
With engagement in mind, Skillshub has built an online learning platform of educational materials, including a host of soft skills courses and tools to create bespoke eLearning content.