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CONNECTIONS

An Edelman perspective on making meaningful employee
connections that deepen engagement, build trust
and accelerate business performance

AUGUST 2015

THE 2015 STATE OF EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
By Dr. Andy Brown, Executive Director, London, and
Christopher Hannegan, Executive Vice President, Chicago
It’s hard to deny that engaged employees are a key competitive differentiator. Creating deeper connections
with employees, across organizations and with the wider world are important for business success. We recently
conducted two studies to explore what Internal Communications and Human Resources teams are actually
doing to measure engagement and convert it into competitive advantage. What’s working and what isn’t?
And how can we improve? Here are five key findings:

1) ENGAGEMENT IS STILL JUST TOO “HR”

We think there are a couple factors in play here:

We asked what organizations defined as engagement
and what were they measuring as a result. The data
shows one simple thing: the vast majority of employee
engagement surveys rely on an out-dated, oldfashioned, pure-play “HR version” of engagement.

Engagement survey models are too generic. Most
surveys put forth a definition of engagement that
suits the survey provider and helps them build their
own benchmarking database; few are tailored for
each company. Often, these off-the-shelf surveys
ask questions that are too easy to answer positively.
The solution? Demand a bespoke definition of
engagement and a survey to reflect that.

Almost 50% of all organizations fail to measure
employees’ engagement with the customer or the
brand. This highlights a fundamental question: what do
you want to engage your people with? If it’s just with
you as an employer, the “great place to work”
approach is fine. But if you want your workforce to
engage with your customers and your brand, today’s
common approaches fall very short.
Our view? Engagement is really about three things. Are
your people engaged with…
…you as an employer?
…serving your customers and delivering your brand?
…delivering your business strategy?

2) ENGAGEMENT IS HUGELY OVER-REPORTED
Half of our respondents indicated their “engagement
score” was above 70% in recent surveys. Based on all
we hear about the current engagement deficit, this
raises a very uncomfortable question: are the bulk of
these surveys painting an inaccurate picture?

The measures are too easy. We’ve all seen it: the
standard five-point scale with survey reports focused
on the “percentage positive” (agrees and strongly
agrees). But all of our own engagement research
shows that it’s the “top box” people who act
differently – to each other as colleagues and, more
importantly, toward customers. Organizations need
to stop resting on the easy laurels of “percent
positive” and instead track top-box scores, thus
focusing on those who are truly engaged.
One solution? Make your engagement metrics
tougher and more discerning. One such measure is
called full engagement. This isn’t a nice, cozy
average of your five main engagement questions
that provides a pleasing (but misleading) 70%
engaged score. It takes a much tougher and
meaningful approach. Full engagement looks at how
many of your people (in an organization, a division or
a team) score in the top box on ALL of your
engagement model questions.

© 2015 Edelman

Full engagement is more meaningful because it
measures how many people are “firing on all
cylinders” and engaged in all the aspects you want
them to be. It’s much harder to score highly, as
you’re asking people to “clear more hurdles” to
count as fully engaged. But it’s also a far more
powerful predictor of hard business outcomes, such
as talent retention, customer satisfaction and
profitable growth.

There are also some interesting regional variations:
Leadership is particularly the focus within Asia Pacific
and EMEA while the Americas are looking to
communications to improve employee engagement.

3) EMPLOYEES DON’T TRUST THAT SURVEYS
LEAD TO ACTION

However, for leadership, the most common are:

TRUST: Are leaders doing what they say they will?

While seven in 10 respondents told us their employees
trust that the research process is confidential, little
more than half say employees believe senior leaders
will listen to their opinions. Even fewer (42%) believe
positive change will happen as a result.

VISIBILITY: Do employees have contact with leaders
or are they always behind closed doors?

LIVING THE VALUES: Is there consistency between
the values the frontline is asked to demonstrate and
how leaders behave?

Why is this? We find three common reasons:

And for communication:

Many senior leaders fail to take action despite
naming engagement as a top priority. Huge
volumes of evidence show that engagement
drives hard business outcomes. Leaders need to
act on that and take engagement data seriously.
Managers often get drowned in data. Most
surveys pump out numerous descriptive bar charts
but do not help managers hone in on the few key
drivers that will improve engagement on their own
team. Smarter analytical techniques can help
managers focus on the few data points that
matter, form action plans around those alone and
not get distracted by a mass of irrelevant data.
There’s often little support for turning data into
action. Firms need to put more commitment into
engagement toolkits, planning sessions and
employee “labs” to get people involved in acting
on the data they have generated and forming
solutions to engagement challenges.

4) IT’S ALL ABOUT HOW YOU LEAD AND
COMMUNICATE

So what really matters? Our research suggests the
detailed drivers of engagement within leadership and
communication vary hugely by company, culture and
state of the business.



BROADCAST: Do employees get the information
they need to perform their roles effectively?
DIALOGUE: Do employees’ opinions count, and are
they genuinely listened to and acted upon?
COLLABORATION: How effectively do different parts
of the organization speak to each other?

5) THERE IS A DISTINCT LACK OF STRATEGY
Staggeringly, only just over half of organizations
surveyed
(55%)
have
an
explicit
employee
engagement strategy. Even among those that do,
while 86% of senior leaders are familiar with the
strategy, only 65% of people managers and 38% of
employees are.
Furthermore, one-third of executives surveyed were not
confident
their
employees
could
accurately
communicate the company’s business strategy to
others, a statistic that drops further as the size of the
organization increases. Yet 57 percent of employees
reported they would perform more effectively if they
better understood the company’s direction.

Endless tomes have been written about the drivers of
engagement. But our data shows that the vast
majority of organizations are focusing their efforts on
two main areas to unlock engagement: leadership
(74%) and communication (70%).

© 2015 Edelman. For more information, contact us at employee.engagement@edelman.com.

It’s hardly any wonder then that engagement is
treated as a tactical, internal communications (IC) or
HR project in so many companies rather than being
seen as a strategic business challenge at the board
level.
To a great degree, IC and HR have the most pivotal
role to play here. Engagement should be a core
part of any people and communications strategy.
But it needs a strategy in itself, which you can
develop by asking:

What business objectives will engagement help
deliver upon?

Where do we need to focus to improve
engagement (and what will we not be doing)?

What levers can we best pull to help deliver
engagement?

How will we do this with different employee
segments?

How will we measure our success?

FIVE ACTIONS TO TAKE
Employee engagement remains a pivotal driver of
business success. But a couple simple actions can
help organizations approach engagement in a
much more effective way:
1.

Make engagement just as much about your
customers, your brand and your business as it is
about “HR issues.”

2.

Get tough about measuring engagement. Don’t
fool yourself with easy-to-get high scores that
offer little actionable insight; instead, focus on
employees who are fully engaged.

3.

Be specific. Identify the factors that impact
engagement the most and equip managers to
take focused actions in those areas.

4.

Don’t get distracted away from tackling
leadership behaviors and communications
effectiveness. Those will solve the greater part of
your engagement puzzle.

5.

Build trust by getting employees actively involved
in planning engagement for the future.

NOTES ON THE RESEARCH
The inaugural Edelman ENGAGE “State of
Engagement” study was conducted online in
September - October 2014 with 566 respondents: 124
from Asia Pacific, 135 from the Americas and 307
from EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa).
Respondents worked in senior roles in HR, internal
communications, employee engagement and
corporate communications at the director (28%),
senior manager (30%), manager (26%) and other
(16%) levels.
The Zeno (a Daniel J. Edelman company) “Barriers to
Employee Engagement” Study was conducted
online within the United States by Harris Poll in
September – October 2014 with 305 executives at
organizations with revenues of at least $1 billion. Zeno
conducted a subsequent online survey of 1,000
Americans, representative of the general population
in early 2015.

ABOUT US
Edelman Employee Engagement helps organizations
accelerate business performance, delivered by
highly engaged and trusted employees. For more
information, visit us at ee.edelman.com or follow us
on Twitter at @EdelmanEE.

© 2015 Edelman. For more information, contact us at employee.engagement@edelman.com.