What Do Employee Engagement Surveys Tell You About Employee Experience?

Don't misread what your employee engagement data tells you about how to improve employee experience.

HR leaders want employees to be satisfied with their work experiences, and many lean on employee engagement data to inform their strategies. This approach seems sound, but beware some commonly held, yet flawed, assumptions about engagement data collection, analysis and communication.

Employee engagement remains a valuable baseline measure for any organization,” says Caroline Walsh, Director and Team Manager, Gartner. “But engagement is an outcome of experience; it doesn’t necessarily signal the expectations employees have for their work experience or help you to identify their priorities.”

High engagement scores can oftentimes be a false positive for a good experience

According to a recent Gartner quick poll of HR leaders, only 16% are satisfied or very satisfied with their current approach to measuring the employee experience. To improve, recognize the limits of engagement measurement.

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Many ways to measure engagement

Most HR leaders still favor direct listening via formal surveys to measure engagement. Surveys assess a set of validated and easy-to-benchmark items. They are a quick and efficient way to collect data, but they don’t accurately represent all employees’ expectations for their experience. 

In a world of increasingly real-time analytics, many HR leaders now take a page from voice-of-the customer initiatives and use nontraditional listening techniques to gather additional visibility into employee opinions, behaviors and attitudes and create more holistic “voice of the employee” (VoE) insights.

VoE technologies, such as employee sentiment and social analytics tools, collect and analyze employee opinions, perceptions and feelings, and provide a way to harness multiple sources of information to understand the dynamics of the employee experience. 

But even organizations with mature measurement approaches have trouble harnessing gathered data to advance overall employee experience strategies.

Read more: The Future of Employee Monitoring

Engagement data doesn’t tell the whole story

Be realistic about the accuracy of engagement data. Employees’ expectations are malleable, easily influenced by other factors, such as personal life experiences and peers’ work experiences, and likely to change over time.

Employees’ level of trust in HR is also low. The Gartner 2019 Modern Employee Experience Employee Survey shows only 21% of employees feel comfortable being entirely truthful about the details of what they want from their work experience. 

Also, engagement only partially measures good experience. Not all employees who are highly engaged report that they are having a good experience: Of highly engaged employees, fewer than one in four (21%) report having a high-quality experience. As such, high engagement scores can oftentimes be a false positive for a good experience. 

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Supplement engagement data to drive action

Don’t just focus on engagement data; use a wider set of success measures to gauge the breadth of employee experience and generate insights that can continually drive improved employee experience.

To better understand employees’ priorities, use methods that account for changes in expectations and build trust with employees — for example, the “moments that matter” approach, employee personas and journey maps. These strategies establish dialogues with employees and ensure mutual understanding between HR and employees. 

To better understand employees’ priorities, use methods beyond traditional engagement surveys

VoE techniques can help to identify those moments. For example, usage patterns in business applications and IT infrastructure can signal where people tend to drop out of a process or spend extra time looking for information before they complete a task. These moments are worth improving. Password resets are a simple example; they are frequent, scalable, emotion-generating — and aligned to the business need for employees to access systems.

More advanced employee-experience design teams also leverage data to build and understand differentiated workforce segments. These segments inform the way personas are defined and characterized, which in turn helps to guide experience design.

Segments are often based on various demographic data points, including what job employees have, how long they’ve been at the organization and their work location, department or business unit. VoE insights enrich the segmentation process by adding information on how people think and feel — allowing for richer personalization opportunities.

Read more: Use Technology to Personalize HR Services

Measure the impact of experience improvements

Also make sure to measure whether improvement initiatives had the desired positive impact on perceptions and feelings. Use data-driven insights to evaluate the results and opinions of employees following a communication campaign, process or policy change. 

For example, one employer wanted to connect new employees to more people across more teams during the onboarding experience, so used VoE listening through social network analysis to track how quickly and regularly new employees were connecting with others.

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients. Gartner for HR clients can read more about 3 Common Misconceptions About Employee Engagement, Busting Employee Experience Measurement Myths, and How to Harness Voice of the Employee Insights for Continuous Employee Experience Improvement.

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