Want to Know About Employee Engagement? Ask!

Leadership and management literature is replete with the importance of measuring employee engagement. Employee engagement is the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and its goals. Employee engagement surveys are a mix of attitudinal and behavioral measures.

Collective measures of employee engagement at an organizational level are important during times of major disruption such as reorganization, down-sizing, M&A or setting a new direction. A measure of individual employee engagement is important in those organization-level situations and at personal junctures such as when an employee takes on a new role, when they have been in the role awhile, when new team members join, a new manager, changes in personal life, and on and on. Essentially, it’s nearly unpredictable what might cause an employee to lose their inspiration, excitement or passion.

The more easily measured components of employee engagement are employee behaviors which include productivity and choices (e.g. to work overtime, or take on an extra project—or not). However, behaviors are lagging indicators that the organizational or individual situation has resulted in boredom, stress, frustration, or broken resilience of the employee.

If employee engagement measurably declines, it can be too late. Once we measure engagement and find trouble, an organization or leader must invest a great deal of energy to rectify the conditions that led to decreased employee engagement and the attitude of the employee(s)– if they can do this at all. Attitude and morale are the leading indicators of employee engagement. They are difficult to measure and can change often.

As a team leader, you should be interested in your team members emotional commitment to both the organization and to your team. Too often, managers leave the measurement of employee engagement up to the company. Employee engagement measures initiated at the organization-level is too little, too late to be of great use to a team leader. And, as a team leader, you should be paying more attention to the engagement of the individual team members than the average engagement of the team. Too often we use the aggregated engagement data rather than the data about individuals.  

So how do you, a team leader, measure the leading indicators of individual employee engagement and do so often enough that you can catch the ebb and flow of attitude that correlates with organizational and individual situations?

You ask. “How are you?” “What’s on your mind?” “What’s got you excited?” “What’s the hardest thing you have done this week?” “What should I know about how you are feeling?”

A form of this question—one that gets beyond what activities an employee did–should be part of every conversation, especially, the weekly, biweekly or monthly update. Every meeting should have a period scheduled to check in on morale—how the employee is feeling about current conditions, their project, their role, their life. Only through individual conversation and only through consistently asking will you get this kind of information about that employee’s engagement. The annual survey will not get you that information. The employee may not be used to this kind of question, but if done consistently, they will come to expect the question is coming and eventually, they will start preparing an answer for you.

Listen to their answer. Knowing that engagement is important, ask a follow up question. Ask how you can help. A decrease in employee attitude is much easier to remedy than one in which the attitude has resulted in changed–usually less desirable–behavior.

As a team leader, you want to know about each member’s individual commitment to the team. You need to know this sooner rather than later. The only way to know is to ask. And you need to be the one asking about employee engagement.