I like this advice: “]Leaders] should not only ask themselves how their organization can contribute positively to society but also whether this potential contribution can be authentically incorporated into daily actions.”
in our High-Peformance Employee Experience framework Purpose is one of four core dimensions (along with People, Work, and Total Rewards) and we have a similar approach to measuring how it is perceived by employees.
I love measurement challenges like this – taking a big idea and grounding it so you can explore and unpack it.
Employee voice & silence have become topics of serious interest during a period of disruption and upheaval, with the rise of social media, and as leaders realise the importance of psychological safety and the need for open innovation.
– How do individual characteristics, job-related attitudes and emotions, leadership styles and behaviors, and relational and contextual factors all affect someone’s willingness to speak up and express their opinion or make a suggestion?
In this great review, Elizabeth Morrison looks at the progress that has been made in understanding the antecedents and consequences of voice & silence since publishing her first (field-shaping) review in 2014:
Yes. Almost 1 in 5 companies see this pattern. So what can you do if you’re one of them?
Employee engagement is something that many organisations measure and track, often through surveys. There are good reasons for doing this. Monitoring engagement is seen as good governance. There’s also evidence that high-perfoming companies build a virtuous circle of engaged teams with strong business results.
“Engagement” has a variety of definitions, but there is broad agreement on what it’s trying to get at, i.e. things like:
Sense of belonging and connection
Pride and advocacy
Willingness to invest discretionary effort
William Kahn is usually credited with providing the first formal definition of engagement. He talked about:
“The harnessing of organisation members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally.”
The degree to which employees find engagement is the result of both individual characteristics and factors that are related to their experience at work.
Employee experience (EX) factors include day-to-day elements, such as the job itself, and how you interact with your manager and your team. Some of these stand out as being especially important, such as feeling recognised by your manager and having a sense of psychological safety.
Engagement drivers also include broader organisational factors. For example, the ability to grow a career and your confidence in leadership. In my experience, there are systemic capabilities that can provide an engagement lift if you get them right, such as performance enablement and effective communications.
When the CIPD developed an umbrella approach to employee engagement a few years back, it identified the following useful framework:
The key point here is that engagement is typically seen as a condition in its own right. In the CIPD’s words, engagement relates to a “state of being”. It’s common to view engagement through the lens of self-determination theory. Another perspective on engagement is to consider it as something akin to “flow”. It’s one reason why engagement has been linked to improved performance outcomes (safety, productivity, sales, etc.)
Engagement is not retention
While you can expect that engagement is related to retention, it’s also different. Retention refers to employees’ intention to stay with their current employer. (Note that I’m using plain language here and avoiding more technical terms like retention rates.) The opposite of retention is turnover — and here I’m mainly thinking about people leaving voluntarily for another job in a different company.
When employees make a decision to leave in this way, it’s the result of a complicated equation that reflects a wide range of considerations.
Some of those are external to your experience at work.
One very obvious external factor is the economy. Is unemployment low? Is your sector growing? Are your skills in demand?
In the last 18 months, another factor has been people simply wanting to make a change after the slog of the pandemic and lockdowns.
In addition, there has been high inflation. If you look at the data behind the “Great Resignation” you see that lots of people have made sideways moves. This may be due to people looking for even a small pay increase during a cost-of-living crisis.
As well as these external factors, turnover is a result of individual characteristics (e.g. risk appetite) and, of course, employees’ experience at their current place of work. Do you have an idiot for a boss? Do you feel your pay is unfair? Is your team short staffed? Are you feeling overwhelmed and even burnt out?
There is lots of research into these EX retention drivers, some of which is summarised below (these data come from the WTW Global Attitudes Survey):
What’s noticeable is the prevalence of total rewards in retention drivers. That’s not the case for engagement. Engagement is driven by more relational factors. In fact, if you think about employee experience in terms of both “connection” and “contribution” (as I sometimes do — shown below) then engagement is more strongly related to connection (to the people you work with and the sense of purpose you get from work) and retention is more strongly related to contribution (the opportunity to have an impact through your work and the recognition you receive for your efforts).
Linking engagement, performance and retention
In summary then, engagement is different to retention, but both are impacted — to some degree — by your experience at work. In many scenarios, therefore, you can expect engagement and retention to track one another.
They segmented 350 organisations according to both the level of employee engagement and the level of retention, comparing each to their respective industry average.
They found four segments as shown here:
The good news is that 37% of companies have highly engaged employees who are looking to stay. Engagement and retention go hand-in-hand here.
These “value drive” companies also have a performance advantage, delivering the best profits and growth, as shown below:
At the other end of the spectrum are 30% of organisations that have disengaged employees who are looking to leave (“value drag”). Of course, engagement and retention (and performance) are linked here too.
There’s a rump of 15% of companies, which suffer from low engagement, but where employees are not looking for the exit (“value potential”). You can imagine reasons why people might be “stuck” like this. Perhaps these organisations are older corporates with relatively high numbers of long-tenured employees, for example.
What interests me most is the 18% of companies that have the pattern I described at the top of this piece — high engagement, but also high turnover (“value risk”).
It’s worth saying that some leaders I’ve worked with don’t think this pattern is a big problem. They feel it shows they’re doing a great job of developing ambitious people. They might even expect their most-engaged talent to be on the lookout for opportunities— it’s a sign of success.
Moreover, if folks are walking out of the door engaged, then you are building a fantastic pool of potential re-hires. There’s research that shows re-hires can be among the most productive of employees. In some industries, it’s not uncommon for people to move around a lot (and you can argue that this is going to become more common in the future of work).
There’s some truth in this. But there is a cost to turnover and it’s significant. The real total cost of losing someone includes the cost of hiring, onboarding and training a replacement. You also need to account for the loss in productivity and the impact on those who remain (in terms of morale and climate, for example). This can easily end up to a multiple of the leaver’s salary.
You can see from the above analysis that these “value risk” organisations are not as profitable or as fast-growing as their “value drive” peers. There is an overall performance disadvantage. It’s likely that these companies are facing too-high a retention risk; they’ve crossed what might be considered a healthy (or “optimal”) level of turnover.
Three key steps for taking action
To return to the second question I posed at the start of this article, what can you do if “value risk” is a pattern that you see at your company?
There are three key steps you can follow, which I will go on to summarise at a very high level: Understand — Prioritise — Spark Change.
According to the research, there are some areas where the employee experience differs for these “value risk” organisations. For example, employees:
Are less likely to believe their voice matters
Perceive less equity when it comes to advancement opportunities
Feel their organisation doesn’t really match rewards to performance
This is the general case. You need to understand your own workforce dynamics by analysing people data to build your own picture.
Here is an outline of some of the ways you can do that:
i. What did people who left tell you before they departed?
This is a simple analysis, but powerful. Tag leavers in your prior engagement survey, and review the results for those who were engaged but left vs. those who stayed. Are there specific topics where there are big gaps?
You can segment engaged leavers and stayers by function, role, and critical talent group. You should also segment by length of service. When in the employee lifecycle do gaps emerge and on what topics?
You can model retention by treating the decision to leave as an outcome. Are there experiences and opinions that can be linked to the decision of engaged employees to exit? In this phase, it’s key to integrate and triangulate — to add-in demographic and other data. This might include individual variables such as time since last promotion and pay rate compared to co-workers, and so on. It might also include data on fitness for the job at the point of hire. You can also connect insights from exit surveys, such as reasons for leaving.
iv. Add colour and richness
One way to add colour is by looking at employees’ stated intention to stay or leave (for example, in an engagement survey) and their actual stay/leave decision. If you do that, you can identify people who intended to stay and did, and folks who intended to leave and did, but far more interestingly people who you might call “surprise leavers” and “surprise stayers”. Looking at these “surprise groups” in detail can provide a lot of insights.
If you have multiple surveys, the data becomes even more colourful. For example, you can identify people who have changed their mind (about whether to leave or stay) and isolate the factors that led them to reconsider.
You can also review qualitative data (e.g. survey comments), performance feedback, and exit interview data to add richness.
v. Engage and involve (and validate)
It’s important to validate your analysis with people. We sometimes use virtual focus groups (chat-based discussions at scale). You can engage with Employee Resource Groups and other communities. You can co-create solutions by using ideation/crowdsourcing tools and platforms.
Obviously, I’ve run through all of the above in super-quick fashion, but I hope you get a sense for some of the options available. (Feel free to ask me about them if you would like more detail. The screen shots shown above are from WTW’s Engage software.)
The second step is to translate insights into actions. Are there people priorities that need to be accelerated? Are there programme changes you should make? Are there particular EX moments you should focus on?
When we did research into “Transformative EX” organisations, for example, we identified a number of breakthrough moments:
Making flexible work work
Modernising total rewards and enabling performance
Equipping managers to lead through change with empathy
Investing in employee wellbeing
Encouraging inclusion and psychological safety
When it comes to “value risk” organisations, we know from our research, that one key area relates to fair pay:
A second focus area relates to career experiences and career architecture. In all organisations, careers are evolving:
As a result, many organisations are shifting from traditional approaches to more of a career ecosystem:
These are example priority areas to focus on in order to optimise turnover, particularly if you have identified a pattern of “value risk” in your employee experience through the kind of analysis described in Step 1.
3. Spark behaviour change
The third step is to translate actions into impact. When it comes to activating career experiences, for example, most organisations combine tools for employees and managers with consumer-grade technology that personalises communication.
We recently worked with a global pharma company, for example, to develop a careers platform called “Navigator”. The platform integrates their existing development content with a new role framework — bringing career development to life for employees.
On Navigator employees can:
Explore all role families and role profiles across the organisation
Identify areas of interest and the skills required for different paths
View their current role and suggested upward and lateral moves, making their Navigator experience personal to them
Create a career development plan.
You can deploy similar technology to communicate total rewards and to tackle issues related to fair pay.
I’m skimming the surface here, but you can read lots about this on our website.
Recap — “Value risk” can be minimised
Employee engagement has been a leadership focus for more than a decade. Since the pandemic, and especially in areas where key skills are in short supply, retention has also become a top priority. In many cases, the two go hand-in-hand, but in around 20% of companies it’s possible to see a pattern of high engagement and high turnover risk.
If this is something you see in your organisation, you need to analyse the people data you have to really understand the drivers of retention for engaged leavers. Based on our research, these are likely to be related to “contribution” elements of EX (such as total rewards and careers).
Once you’ve done the kind of analyses shown here to really understand the key factors for your workforce, you can then prioritise programmes and changes that will help to optimise turnover.
In areas like total rewards and career experiences, organisations are increasingly using digital technologies to spark behaviour change and to create lasting impact. I’ve touched on that very lightly here, but for sure it’s something I will write a lot more about in the near future.
NOTE: This is a draft I’m working on. Ping me a message with your thoughts; I’d love to hear what you think — Nick
Our clients have continued to prioritise employee experience (EX) through the coronavirus crisis.
They have run surveys on key topics like working from home, communications, and well-being. They have explored issues like resilience and agility.
In terms of how the surveys are being used:
Results have been analysed at a business level, so leaders can immediately address concerns and identify hot-spots
Managers have received team reports, so they can act locally
Employees themselves can be nudged towards specific resources and tools, for example, to support their well-being or to access benefits
So what are some of the learnings from this period?
An immediate focus for many companies was ensuring new work arrangements were effective.
Nomad Foods, for example, quickly deployed a pulse survey focused on well-being and productivity:
“The objectives of the survey were to gather insights from employees who are working from home, understand what we could do differently and gather ideas on how ways of working may change as we move out of lock down.
The results were really encouraging. Most people believed that working from home was going well and felt extremely well supported. In fact, we saw a desire for ongoing flexibility in the future. As a result, we’re now accelerating our smart working initiatives.
The survey helped us identify some groups who were under more pressure, which included those managing issues like childcare (including home schooling) and supporting elderly relatives.“
Tim Kensey, HR Director at Nomad Foods
From a change leadership perspective, organisations viewed the crisis in terms of three phases:
Managing through the initial challenges
Surveys have provided a way to listen to and involve employees in each phase. This has been the case at Virgin Money:
“In Virgin Money we ran a pulse survey in April to assess our agility in creating new ways of working and serving our customers, and we also looked at how we can best support and connect with colleagues.
We achieved our highest ever response rate for a pulse survey, and colleagues told me the content of the survey was superb.
Our Executive Leadership Team and Board found the feedback really helpful.
We’re will also integrate some of the questions from the COVID-19 Leading and Accelerating Back surveys into our all-colleague survey in June.”
Edwina Emery, Employee Engagement Manager at Virgin Money
Analytics and narrative insight
Looking across the survey data that’s been published, it’s clear that employees had a generally favourable impression of their company’s efforts in the early stages of the response. There’s a kind of “grade inflation” effect that you need to consider when analysing results.
It’s also important to examine the drivers of stress and anxiety. Over 90% of employees express some level of anxiety from the coronavirus, with 55% indicating a moderate or high degree of anxiety. Key driver analysis shows where you can focus to have the most positive impact.
Comments analysis provides a narrative insight into key concerns. One organisation that has done a good job of using text analytics is the train operator LNER:
“We analysed our survey results to understand how well people are dealing with this crisis. We found that employee engagement at LNER is not just holding up, but it is improving. In fact, we have seen engagement improve over the course of several years. We’re far more resilient as an organisation.
The results told us that communications are working, people believe our health and well-being programmes are effective. We can also see that many front-line managers are doing a great job of staying in touch with their teams.
We analysed the comments feedback to understand where there were concerns and opportunities. We could see if we had any hot-spots. This showed which things contributed to people’s anxiety about the coronavirus. These insights were especially for staff who are in customer facing roles.”
Jennie Pitt, Inclusion and Engagement Manager at LNER
A key feature of the crisis has been the speed at which events have unfolded.
What’s critical from an EX point of view, is being able to survey people on an agile basis, in the moments that really matter to them.
Agility and responsiveness was critical at ARM, for example:
“We have started to implement a continuous listening strategy at Arm and we were able to quickly measure how well people were managing changing working arrangements.
The response to our pulse survey was overwhelmingly positive. People really appreciated being asked for their opinions.
We also asked people for tips and suggestions, in terms of what was working well. People came back saying that all those tips should be made public as a way of sharing creative ideas and best practice. This kind of in-the-moment feedback and knowledge sharing is really critical.“
Hayley Whitwood, Director, Organisational Effectiveness at Arm
There was a similar focus at Avon:
“We were able to run a short survey in ten languages in a matter of days, with great support and guidance when we had queries.
We got instant feedback from more than 2,000 associates across the globe.
This kind of agile insight is critical for understanding the experience of our associates during this critical time.“
Anne-Elisabeth Jehl, Learning & Talent Manager at Avon
In the third phase of the crisis leaders are focusing on how to rebound strongly.
This includes planning for how to operate as conditions improve, and how to manage through ongoing uncertainty. There’s a focus on effective risk management. Leaders also want to learn from what’s worked well during the earlier stages of the crisis.
Key topics include:
How do you reconnect with people who have been working from home and who may want to continue working from home in some fashion?
How do you “re-board” people who have been furloughed?
What’s the best way to support key workers who have remained on site?
Many companies have been measuring levels of anxiety and stress through all the stages of the crisis and will to continue to track this.
Leaders also want to make sure that the organisation does not simply default back to the way things were before the crisis. Instead, they want to learn from the prior months about the experiences that have led the organisation to be agile and effective.
Leaders also want to ensure that people are not just drifting back into established work habits, but are coming in with a growth mindset. This is critical, given the need to rebound quickly.
When it comes to employee experience, engagement and continuous listening, I am currently working with several large companies where we are helping them:
Save money at this critical time (e.g. halving what they have previously spent on traditional engagement surveys with other providers)
Become agile (e.g. collecting insights in the moment, flexibly, from key groups and then driving change via sprint sessions with managers)
Get far more value (e.g. through smart analytics and alignment to their business priorities and CX)
Simpler, faster, better. Three key priorities, especially now when cash-flow really matters.
I’ve encountered some leaders who think you cannot listen to employees during this crisis because it’s too difficult and expensive. That feels like an excuse. It’s certainly not the case with our tools and our HPEX framework.
Understand this as a defining leadership moment — to continue delivering the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders; staying true to your purpose, values, principles and culture, and embrace new ways of working
Adopt an agile and continuous learning mindset – harness innovation and creativity that arises during difficult times
Involve and engage all stakeholders in decision making (e.g., shareholders, employees, customers, supply chain partners, unions/works councils, healthcare providers, community)
Focus on the intersection of employee and company well-being
Balance immediate needs with the ability to rebound and remain viable long-term
One of my learnings from the Financial Crash is the importance of this final principle. The companies that rebounded the strongest had been able to keep their eye on the long-term. In fact, they took advantage of the opportunity provided by the crisis in order to re-imagine and re-invent processes and systems that had lain untouched for too long due to inertia.
In this scenario, two low-hanging fruit for many companies still are:
Modernising a traditional employee engagement survey and moving to continuous listening and employee experience instead
Re-tooling a traditional and tired performance management process so that it provides more ongoing, constructive and useful feedback
Some of my HR clients have told me that their to-do list has actually risen up the business agenda. That’s because people and organisational priorities are at the heart of how you need to respond to this crisis. Discussions that were hard to move forward are now getting traction. Just so long as you keep a focus on: simpler, faster, better.
Message me if you would like more information on any of this.
At WTW we also have a library of great resources related to the COVID-19 crisis that you can access here.
Tags: #EmployeeSurveys #COVID #FutureOfWork
This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 7, 2020.
Sirota joining Mercer is an end-of-an-era moment. Sirota is the last of a golden generation of employee survey firms to join a big consultancy and the move takes place as technology re-writes the rules for employee research and people analytics. As someone who has worked in the industry, it’s a moment that I feel is worth noting.
Sirota was founded by David Sirota in New York in 1972. It was the first of a group of firms focused on running employee surveys that emerged in the USA in the 1970s and 1980s. International Survey Research (ISR) was founded in 1974 in Chicago by Jack and Gay Stanek, Valtera was established by Bill Macey (also in Chicago) in 1977, and Gantz-Wiley was founded by Jack Wiley and Gail Gantz in Minneapolis in 1986.
These firms had their origins in industrial psychology and sociology. They hired PhDs as project directors and applied scientific principles to the study of employee satisfaction, commitment and (latterly) engagement. Informed by management thinkers like Peter Drucker, Frederick Herzberg and Edward Deming, they tackled issues to do with deteriorating industrial relations, work quality, organisational change and globalisation.
These companies made a great contribution by introducing a discipline for listening to employees in many large organisations. The primary tool was surveys. Often, they were long surveys, sometimes over 100 questions in length. In the early days these were administered on paper, which required a supply chain to oversee printing, distribution and data entry. They built relational databases and developed their own benchmarks (in competition to consortium approaches). The growth of this group of firms was largely driven by geographical expansion. The founders travelled the world with briefcases full of example surveys and a well-honed pitch.
The Internet provided the first great disruption. The firms moved into online surveys and electronic results reports. (When I joined ISR in 1999, results reports were still printed and bound, boxed up and shipped on a pallet to the client. It’s the kind of thing I tell my kids to amaze them). Online technology opened up new opportunities for different kinds of research and there was a blurring of the lines as the survey firms aligned themselves with partners to measure culture, to move into customer satisfaction and to run assessments, and (after Gallup’s bestseller Break All The Rules) employee engagement.
By the 2000s, the firms had ageing owners, they faced new competitors and they required significant investment in technology in order to deliver an engaging online user experience. Gantz-Wiley was acquired by one of those new competitors (Kenexa) in 2006. (Kenexa itself became part of IBM in 2012). Valtera was acquired by CEB in 2006. ISR was acquired by Towers Perrin in 2007. And finally now, after an earlier management buy-out, Sirota is part of Mercer.
As I have written elsewhere, we are in the middle of a period of huge creativity in employee research. Surveys may still be part of the tool kit, but in order to measure and improve culture and engagement, surveys provide data for integrated people analytics. The focus has shifted to ongoing, continuous listening and to using insights to shape employee experience. There has never been a better time to do great employee research.
I am not a historian of the employee survey industry. (And let me apologise now for any inaccuracies above). But it does feel like an apt case study of an industry which has faced a period of creative destruction. And I am excited to see what will follow this golden generation of firms.
Tags: #EmployeeSurveys #EmployeeEngagement
This article was first published on LinkedIn on December 9, 2016
Although there has been speculation about their demise, I see employee opinion surveys, and the insights you gain from them, as being at the intersection of two exciting trends:
People analytics: HR and business leaders want to make evidence-based decisions about people. Data science and predictive modelling provide new options for understanding how people impact performance. And insights from employee surveys are a crucial part of the people analytics mix. You can use employee survey insights to help answer key business questions: How do we attract, retain and engage the digital talent we need to achieve our strategy? What are the barriers to more effective collaboration and how can we overcome them? How do we build a performance management system that encourages innovation? How do we create leadership roles that are of interest to our next generation of leaders?
Treating employees like consumers: The consumer experience has changed radically over the last 5 – 10 years. Employees are increasingly sophisticated consumers of their company’s employee value proposition. Understanding and managing employee experience is becoming a core focus for HR. Employee surveys are again an important means for answering key questions, especially when you spotlight key talent segments: Is this a company where I feel I can make a difference? Is it somewhere where I believe I can have an impact? Do I feel supported by my manager and encouraged to try new things? Can I see a future for myself here? Do I feel recognised and rewarded?
Employee survey data are a critical part of the people analytics picture, especially as it comes to measuring the employee experience and understanding how people impact performance. In fact, there has never been a better time in which to conduct creative and value-add employee research, as new tools provide new ways of listening and making sense of data, including unstructured qualitative data. It’s a good time to be doing more with employee surveys.