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Chris Marshall

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Employee engagement surveys ain’t no fad – there’s too much evidence that proves their worth


Employee engagement has been high on employers’ agendas for a few years now. Last year even the Government got in on the act by publishing the independent MacLeod Review. The HR community has been discussing the review widely ever since.

The report was published at a time when private sector companies were addressing the damage redundancies cause. Now because of the recently announced spending cuts, they are joined by HR practitioners in the public sector. But private sector organisations are not out of the woods yet and HR professionals are working hard on rebuilding employee engagement to pre-recession times. Everyone has become obsessed with engagement surveys. So how have they changed in the last ten years?

First of all, the costs of engagement surveys have dropped significantly. The internet has made a massive difference to how data can be gathered and surveys have become much more affordable especially when it is possible to collect the data online. The analysis of the data and the generation of reports are also easier because of the continual development of sophisticated reporting software. We are now charging less today then we were ten years ago for a typical survey.

No wonder these changes helped to stimulate the market. Ten years ago engagement surveys were something that only ‘big’ companies did. Back then, ‘The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For’  list consisted of 50 companies and they were pretty much all large organisations. They’re now also producing separate lists for medium and small companies. Many of our survey clients employ fewer than 200 people.

We’ve also observed trends regarding the employers’ motives to undertake engagement surveys. We now recognise three clear groups. The first type carry out surveys because they want evidence that they are leading and managing the organisation well. They tend to do surveys when things are going well. The second type are similar but their motives are mainly about producing marketing collateral to support the employer brand – by being able to say that they are one of the Best Companies to work for. The third type sees the survey as a key management tool to build employee engagement and ultimately performance in the organisation. You can spot type three organisations: they continue to survey through feast or famine. They recognise that it is especially important to actively manage employee engagement when things are not going to plan and tough decisions are being made.

The third development is in the design of the survey. Over the years there has been an ever growing body of evidence around employee engagement – what it is, what builds engagement, what detracts from it. This weight of evidence has been absorbed into the design of employee surveys so now employee research specialists are more able to design surveys on a sound, evidence based understanding of the psychology of employee engagement. That is why almost all employers these days ask for an engagement survey rather than employee satisfaction or a culture survey.

Looking into the future of engagement surveys, we’re already seeing some interesting trends. At Edgecumbe Research, we are seeing leading organisations using engagement results as part of their business scorecard with targets cascaded through the organisation. We expect this trend to continue.

Recently we’ve seen an increase in enquiries from HR consultants working in Organisational Development, Change, Learning and Development or Performance Management who have spotted the value in conducting employee research as an integral part of their offer. While a few consultancies might have the resources to conduct their own employee surveys, most are unlikely to have the tools and capacity to do this themselves. But if they can add this capability to their armory, by partnering with a specialist research consultancy, it not only enhances their service but could provide a competitive advantage.

Securing new HR consulting work remains difficult, as potential clients still feel uncertain about the economic outlook. Convincing organisations to part with their money requires solid evidence that the consulting work is going to make a tangible difference to their business. Linking the consulting work to engagement will allow consultants to measure their work and predict the likely impact on their clients’ performance. And this is exactly what clients are looking for in the current market as they’re under pressure to prove the return on investment.

Employee engagement is now a phrase that springs to mind right away as a cure when someone mentions low productivity or high absence levels. The development of technology has enabled the spread of engagement surveys among companies of all sizes. And now engagement surveys are being increasingly recognised as a valid tool to help develop and measure leadership and management effectiveness and are now being used by employers and increasingly external consultants. That’s quite a significant change and whilst I believe engagement is here to stay, the question remains, what changes will new technology in areas such as social networking bring and will companies make the most of the information available?

Chris Marshall is Research Director at Edgecumbe Group. for more information visit

One Response

  1. Personal contact beats impersonal surveys

    If managers spent more time with their people and discussed the business, their jobs,  their views and so on there would be no need for a survey. If HR Managers and staff spent more time with the work-force they would know what their mood was and what the impending issues were mood and there would be no need for an impersonal survey.  Don’t say it can,t be done – it was done in the past when many establishments were very much larger than they are today.


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