Top 5 Drivers of Employee Engagement in 2012

Looking over our data from 2012 there were a couple of key themes. Despite what people say about immediate management most people appear more driven by what they see happening see at the top of an organization and how it filters through to them. And when it comes to learning and development - it pays to think outside of simple promotions inside the organization. It was also interesting that work/life balance questions were amongst the least predictive of engagement together with perceptions of customer service and that perceptions of compensation and salary came in at a lowly 25th. Now, to some details.

In a previous post we looked at the single top driver of employee engagement in 2012 but we thought it would be informative to take a broader look at the top 5 drivers - the survey questions that best predicted employee engagement levels in 2012 (you can read some more about driver analysis here). Focusing on a group of drivers is usually more informative than focusing on just the top driver. Often there is only a small difference between the strongest drivers in rank order and the most informative clues arise from looking at the themes and trends.

First up, let's take a quick tour of the top 5 questions (NB. there were another 40 questions entered into the analysis). Each question is shown above with the benchmark score for 2012 on the left (the % figures) - the score does not tells us how strongly a question predicts engagement levels, it simply tells us the percentage of people who agreed with it. So the top ranked driver is the question 'I have the confidence in the leaders at ACME' which had a benchmark agreement score of 73% (the average level of agreement amongst thousands of employees including many working in some of the world's best known tech companies in Silicon Valley). Here is quick run down of each question and what they are designed to capture.

I have confidence in the leaders at ACME: A leadership question that is associated with belief in their abilities and their ability to make good decisions.

I believe there are good career opportunities for me at ACME: This is a learning & development question that reflects people's perceptions about the possibilities for advancement within the organization and also for some people the possibility of transitioning to a different type of role.

The leaders at ACME demonstrate that people are important to the success of the organization: This is a leadership question that taps into whether employees see leaders showing a genuine interest in people throughout the organization. This is a question about the genuineness of this but also the visibility of leaders engaging with employees.

ACME is a great organization for me to make a contribution to my field: This is a new learning & development question for 2012 and we're glad we included it. This question captures whether employees feel that the organization is a place for them to develop themselves and their craft. This is a question about mastery and about their career both internally and externally to the organization.

The leaders at ACME have communicated a vision that motivates me: This is a leadership question that hinges on whether people truly resonate with what an organization is going to do and achieve. This is about communicating a vision and also about that vision being something that people can relate to - hint: profit targets leave most employees feeling cold and poor and at the mercy of macroeconomic events that even economists don't tend to predict.

Looking at the top 5 drivers for 2012 we can see two very distinct themes: leadership and learning & development.

The specific leadership question trends here tell us that although many aspects are important as drivers, some things are more difficult than others to deliver on - really demonstrating that people are important to the organization is harder to do than gaining their confidence, and creating a vision that truly motivates people is even harder again.

The strong learning & development theme also tells us something we have long known and something that might be a little newer. The second driver here reaffirms that seeing a path forward in an organization is crucial for employee engagement and the score tells us that it is not easy to provide for everyone (only 58% of people agree this is the case). However, if we are wondering how we can engage our employees when we cannot provide everyone the same internal career opportunities, which can be especially true in smaller organizations, the fourth ranked driver provides a clue - 'ACME is a great organization for me to make a contribution to my field'.

When we speak with happy employees in focus groups they often tell us that they understand that they may not end up as the CEO but they feel their company is a place they can really contribute to their field or their own development and mastery. Furthermore, they don't usually mention expensive external training but rather opportunities and space in their workdays to learn from other talented people whether they be exceptional managers, mentors or other employees. This helps explain why the second ranked driver has a benchmark score of only 58% while the fourth ranked scores 78%.

Finally, when we looked further into the statistical difference between these two drivers we found that it was less than 1%. Organizations are better off taking a balanced view of the top engagement drivers and focusing on the things they can see a practical pathway to impacting.

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