Are Your Employees Actively Engaged?

By Bob Kelleher

Management can gauge employee engagement in several different ways. One way to figure out if employees are really invested in their everyday efforts is to assess your training investment; another is to track employee referrals.

Assess your training investment

When you invest in your employees, you generally see an increase in employee engagement scores. Indeed, according to recent research by Dale Carnegie:

  • Fifty-five percent of employees who said they were encouraged to grow and develop new skills were highly engaged in their organization. Conversely, 75 percent of employees who said they were not encouraged to grow and develop new skills were fully disengaged in their organization.

  • Forty-nine percent of employees who said they received the training needed to do a quality job were fully engaged, while 72 percent of employees who said they did not receive the training needed were fully disengaged.

  • Sixty percent of employees who said they believe they have opportunities for personal development and growth are fully engaged in their organization. In contrast, 70 percent of employees who do not believe they have opportunities for personal development and growth are fully disengaged in their organization.

To confirm an increase in employee engagement in your own organization, establish a means to track your organization’s investment in its employees — for example, training investment as a percentage of your payroll. Best-in-class companies routinely budget 3 percent to 5 percent of payroll for training, and they view this budget as an investment rather than a cost.

That’s not to say that more training is always better. For one thing, not every employee warrants training or further investment. Additional investment in employees with attendance issues, on company “corrective action” plans, or with attitude issues may not be justified — at least not until their performance shows improvement.

On a related note, avoid promising a set number of training hours to all employees. (“Here at ABC Company, we provide 40 hours of training per employee per year!”) Otherwise, employees may come to view training as an entitlement rather than something to be earned. Besides, promises like that can be difficult to keep, especially in tough economic times.

Plus, there are the inevitable differences in potential among your employees. Some high-potential employees may require additional investment to maximize their potential, while others who have capped out in potential may not.

If possible, measure, track, and report training budgets at the department, business unit, store, and location level, and highlight the level of investment being made by business unit. Management should track and monitor training investment to keep an eye on those managers who don’t see the benefit of training.

These short term–focused managers may be tempted to pad their bottom lines instead of investing in training, kind of like the farmer who eats, rather than plants, his seeds. Some companies even budget and track training and development at the regional, national, and/or corporate level to prevent this from happening.

Track employee referrals

According to a 2012 study by the Temkin Group, highly engaged employees are 370 percent more likely to recommend their company as an employer. It stands to reason, then, that if your employees are engaged, they’re more likely to refer you as a great employer than employees who are not engaged.

Track employee referrals by department or profit center. You’ll likely find that departments with engaged employees spend less on recruitment advertising, search firms, and so on because they rely on their engaged employees to refer yet more engaged employees to join their department. Less engaged business units have to rely on more costly and less effective advertising and search techniques because they aren’t getting good referrals.