Measuring Employee Engagement — So Then What?

"Engagement" is, as we like to say, the buzzword of the month (decade?) amongst organization leadership, employee communication and human resource professionals.

Getting an engagement score helps an organization know how they compare with other organizations like theirs as well as to win headlines for "best places to work" in magazines and newspapers.  What it doesn't do is tell leadership anything about what might be wrong and what they can do about it.  Does the score reflect a problem with trust? transparency? empowerment? teamwork? satisfaction? something else?

A team of public relations academics and professionals set out a few years ago to dissect employee engagement in an effort to understand what are the driving factors of employee relations, and what truly contributes to building a workforce that is committed to and fully productive for the organization.  A team lead by Sean Williams of True Digital Communications, Ohio, Julie O'Neil, Ph.D. of Texas Christian University, Michele Ewing, APR Kent State University and me, along with 13 other international professionals and scholars, sought to fully define Measurement Standards for the profession around employee relations.

The research identifies 22 Standards, broken down into three key categories: 

  • Outtakes — Whether employees received, paid attention to, comprehended or retained particular messages
  • Outcomes — evidence of changes to or reinforcement of opinions, attitudes or behaviors
  • Organizational Impact — Whether and how internal communication has influence organizational performance

What is NOT a category is outputs, or what is generated as a result of a program or campaigns, and is typically measured by the number of releases, brochure, posters, meetings held, etc. or the number of column inches generated.  Outputs were discarded by our group because they show no impact, only production.  Using these data points for measurement would be like rating your dentist's effectiveness on the number of x-rays he took of your mouth to cure a toothache!

Next steps for the committee are to identify methods for measuring each of the 22 Standards — both by self-reporting (surveys) and observation (behavioral indicators already available in an organization).  The committee hopes to work with three different organizations to test these standards and their measurement methods — Southwest Airlines is already on-board!

If you are interested in a copy of the 22 standards and their definitions, contact me at