The No. #1 Factor that Affects Employee Engagement and How to Measure it

Paul Barton Communications Employee Engagement

“When you take the time to actually listen, with humility, to what people have to say, it’s amazing what you can learn.” – Greg Mortenson

When you are trying to maximize internal communication, you must focus on outcomes, not outputs. In other words, you should not be nearly as concerned with how many times an article appeared in the company newsletter or how many times the home page of the intranet was visited. What’s most important is the impact of your communication strategies on workplace behaviors, like employee engagement.

Many factors affect employee engagement, but communication is the overriding factor. That’s because everything an organization does is communicating something to employees. As communication expert David Grossman of The Grossman Group says, “You can’t not communicate.” An organization’s working conditions, employee benefits offerings, policies and procedures, taboo topics and unwritten rules are all forms of communicating.

Getting as many employees as you can to become as engaged as possible in your organization’s success is a primary goal of effective internal communication. So, how do you measure engagement?

First, you must define what employee engagement is. That’s been a hotly debated topic over the past few years but here’s the definition I think makes the most sense: Employee engagement exists when an employee feels intellectually and emotionally connected to his or her work in such a way that the employee brings enthusiasm, intense focus and deep commitment to the success of his or her job and the organization.

According to Sue Oliver, founder of Kantana Partners, to determine the levels of employee engagement, researchers focus on these five employee areas and questions:

  1. Job satisfaction: Rate your overall satisfaction.
  2. Organizational favorability: I feel proud to work here.
  3. Organization values: This organization lives up to its core values.
  4. Intent to stay: If I had to do it over again, I would join this organization.
  5. Recommendation: I would recommend this organization as a great place to work.

To be regarded as a strategic communicator and an executive counselor, you must focus on outcomes that are meaningful to your organization, and then find ways to demonstrate the effectiveness of your work.

Additional Resources

You can learn more about how to successfully measure employee engagement and the steps employees must go through to reach engagement in my book, “Maximizing Internal Communication: Strategies to Turn Heads, Win Hearts, Engage Employees and Get Results”, also available on Amazon.

David Grossman’s books “You Can’t Not Communicate” Nos. 1 and 2.



about 6 years ago

Interesting key points and an excellent definition of employee engagement. Also agree that internal communication IS THE KEY to a great workplace and happy and engaged employees. It's a shame that many companies and small teams think that they need big, fancy, complex intranet solutions for internal communication, but actually, there are simple tools that can go a long way in improving internal communication and employee engagement. One such tool is internal company blog. I am a co-founder of BlogIn, web-based platform for creating and running internal company blogs, and I can testify that a simple and easy-to-use tool, like an internal blog, can be the perfect channel for internal communication for many teams and companies.

Alan Crozier

about 6 years ago

While I agree that communication is a vital element in creating an engaged workforce, its importance can be over-played. Everything else in the organisational system would have to be at least acceptable for it to have a deciding influence. In and of itself, it will not succeed. The best communication efforts cannot compensate for poor leadership; inadequate rewards; a disconnect between job demands and job resources; or limited development opportunities. Four of the five determinants of engagement cited could simply be indicators of satisfaction. I have seen a number of cases where people are happy with their employer, would recommend it to friends, and state that they are very satisfied - but they are not remotely engaged. These are indicators of satiation, engagement requires a measurement of the affective state: involvement, commitment and enthusiasm.

Paul Barton

about 6 years ago

Hi Alan, Just to clarify, I'm using communication very broadly here. The point of "you can't not communicate" is that everything an organization does communicates. Leadership behaviors, compensation and rewards, resources to get the job done and professional development opportunities all communicate loudly to employees what the organization truly values. The "do" must match "the say" for engagement to occur. I'm intrigued by your suggestion of measuring involvement, commitment and enthusiasm. Can you elaborate? Would love to hear more. I appreciate your thoughtful feedback! ~pb

Jim Shaffer

about 6 years ago

In my book, The Leadership Solution, published in 2000, I wrote: "Communication represents all the ways we send, receive and process information. It's the things we say and don't say. It's what we do and what we don't do. You can't not communicate." I agree with Paul that what this means is communication as a process, not as a set of formal channels. Leaders communicate by what they say and do. What gets rewarded, recognized and measured communicates. Work processes, training--or lack of it--and recruiting processes communicate what's valued. It's not always advisable to seek 100% engagement because there can be a point of diminishing returns when the cost to engage is greater than the gain that's created. That's why it's important to focus engagement efforts where they have the biggest impact on business strategy execution.

Jim Smith

about 6 years ago

1. Job satisfaction: Rate your overall satisfaction. Wow! 2. Organizational favorability: I feel proud to work here. I sure do, they let you get away with anything 3. Organization values: This organization lives up to its core values. Yes indeed, even the stupid ones 4. Intent to stay: If I had to do it over again, I would join this organization. Oc course, coasting is so cool. 5. Recommendation: I would recommend this organization as a great place to work. Absolutely! So what did we learn from these question, answered anonymously of course? No employee engagement, the vendor's credentials notwithstanding, it worth a dime without an empirical measurement of the before and after. Absent that measurement, it's just an exercise that makes management feel like they did something. I'm hoping that eventually CEO's are going to demand results that can be measured. Seriously, if something cannot be measured, why would you pay for it?

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