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Employment relations and employee engagement
Employment relations and employee engagement

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2 Can you measure employee engagement?

Guest (2014) is amongst those highlighting that many of the policies and practices that are said to help deliver employee engagement are difficult to distinguish from human resource management more broadly. This might lead us to question whether a focus on engagement offers anything new or different for HRM professionals. As already highlighted, there is a particular concern that employee engagement has become the commercial ‘product’ of consultancy firms; whose services often include the measurement of engagement through annual organisational surveys (Arrowsmith and Parker 2013). We will explore this issue further in Activity 3.

Activity 3

Timing: About 60 minutes

We have highlighted concerns that employee engagement has become a ‘product’ of consultancy firms. A key tool used is the measurement of engagement through surveys.

  • a.First, search the internet and find two or three examples of consultancy offerings in the area of employee engagement. Identify how engagement is defined and measured.
  • b.Now answer the following questions:
    • What are the potential issues with generalised engagement surveys?
    • As a HRM manager, under what circumstances might you recommend using external consultants to measure employee engagement?


These surveys can pose a number of issues in understanding and addressing ‘levels’ of engagement within an organisation:

  • Survey results might reflect that a team or business area that is performing well might result in employees reporting higher levels of engagement (rather than the assumption that engagement causes performance improvements).
  • The issue of ‘how much’ engagement is required to impact performance remains unresolved in both theoretical and practical terms. It seems unlikely that there is a linear relationship between engagement and performance and the point at which maximum performance returns are reported remains poorly understood.
  • The issue of self-reported engagement within a survey response may differ from the extent to which an employee feels engaged on a daily basis at work (Sambrook et al., 2014). This might result from survey response biases or individual differences.
  • Individual engagement may be insufficient to be effective in a team working context, and again the issue of ‘how many’ team members need to be simultaneously engaged to make a difference is not clear.
  • Many other factors may need to be in place to ensure that an improvement in engagement might contribute towards an improvement in performance. As Sparrow suggests (2014, p. 102) ‘an engaged but ill-equipped employee is a happy nuisance to many a customer. Or an engaged but still incompetent employee may be seen as well-intentioned but irrelevant’.

Using consultants is often an expensive undertaking but many consultancy firms consider survey offerings as a ‘loss leader’ and so they may be available at a low cost. If your organisation is new to this area then using a reputable existing survey can be more cost effective than developing your own. However it is important to consider that commercial offerings rarely acknowledge the ‘darker’ side of engagement and, as Guest highlights, the ‘risk must be that it [employee engagement] will soon join the pantheon of laudable aspirations with which we can all agree, including happiness, quality, growth and sustainability; goals that most of us would like to pursue, concepts that some people think we can measure but goals that remain ultimately elusive in many if not most cases’ (Guest, 2014, p. 233).