How to Measure Employee Engagement Globally

A constant complaint about “employee engagement” is that the various research houses define engagement differently, offer different surveys to measure engagement, and then report those results in ways that mean different things in different environments and cultures. For example, Gallup found that Germany’s level of engaged employees is just 13%, but this new Barometer found 89% of German employees to be engaged or highly engaged.

What Barometer? The Conference Board (TCB) recently released a report (subscription required for full access) that attempted to find the common ground in the various approaches to employee engagement by coming to a single definition of engagement and provide a consistent measure for engagement everywhere in the world.

Adding to the litany of engagement definitions, here’s TCB’s: “An employee can be considered engaged if he or she is intellectually stimulated and passionate about his or her work, and demonstrates that through his or her intended actions.”

I like this definition because it speaks to both attitude and actions/results. TCB’s approach also eliminates perceived cultural perception differences to help a company truly understand the level of engagement across different cultural regions and then directly compare those results without “norming” for cultural differences, a process that introduces error into survey results.

What does this mean? In TCB’s words: “The state of mind called employee engagement is experienced in much the same way by workers throughout the world.”

What do you think about this definition of engagement and the idea of cultural universality? Is it too narrow? Too broad?

6 comment(s):

At February 15, 2010 4:17 PM, Anonymous said...

I believe it is too narrow and only an incremental improvement upon the definition of job satisfaction. I believe that the defintion should also define what engaged employees are willing to do. I have also referenced back to Richard Walton's use of the phrase "high commitment." To me, an engaged employee is willing to exert discretionary effort above and beyond normal job requirements due to their passionate alignment with company goals and values.

robert edward cenek

At February 16, 2010 11:20 AM, Barbara A Hughes said...

I think the concept of "intellectual stimulation" is questionable. What about all of the artisans who bake bread, farm, paint houses, etc. Are they excluded from engagement because their pursuits are not necessarily intellectual in nature?

At February 16, 2010 11:28 AM, Derek Irvine said...

Robert, I agree fully with you. If you've read our blog before, you know that alignment with company values and objectives is a strategic theme with us. There is little value to recognition of effort outside of this.

One definition of engagement I've been particularly attracted to for the last several years is: "An output-based concept describing how aligned and committed employees are to the company, such that they are at their most productive." (from International School of Human Capital Management, Faculty of Employee Engagement, London, 2007)

Aligned and committed -- both very important. You don't want employees just working diligently; you want them producing in alignment with your strategic objectives. And you want them to be committed to the point they are willingly working harder to deliver.

At February 16, 2010 11:30 AM, Derek Irvine said...

You raise a good point, Barbara, but I would argue that artisans of any type, farmers, house painters are intellectually stimulated by and passionate about their work. Those who are constantly seek ways to do their work better, more efficiently, more beautifully, more expressively.

Of course, there are some in these fields who are not stimulated or passionate, but that is true of all fields.

At March 10, 2010 5:32 AM, Mike Klein said...

An interesting definition: "intellectually stimulated and passionate about their work". But problematic at a number of levels:

1) No mention of alignment with organization or its objectives

2) No relation between stimulation, passion and productivity

3) No view on how/whether that "stimulation, passion and creativity" supports cultures of innovation or of militant commitment to the status quo

Aside from being unable to aid in discerning whether "engaged employees" are flexibly interchangeable producing units or artistic-technical prima donnas who would fight the slightest change in work rules with strikes and sabotage, this definition appears yet another effort by the engagement fraternity to position itself as the source of happiness and productivity in the workplace, and of the idea that only workplaces that seek to engender this type of "happy productivity" are the only morally acceptable places to work.

In a world crying out for workplace innovation and flexibility, this kind of "enlightenment" may prove very expensive and counterproductive.

At March 19, 2010 5:16 PM, Derek Irvine said...

Ah, Mike, I encourage you to read my posts, especially those under the category "company values and recognition." You will see that alignment of recognition with company values and strategic objectives is one of our core five tenets that I preach nearly religiously.