Employee engagement can be a company’s secret weapon when it comes to overall performance. But accurately measuring engagement levels can be difficult. According to advisory company CEB’s 2014 Global Assessment Trends Report, employee engagement and retention are the single biggest HR priority, and 60 percent of HR teams surveyed plan to use assessments to measure the success of their efforts on these topics.


But what are the best ways to do so? According to Susan Sorenson, writing for gallup.com, “Measurement is the first step companies must take before they can implement meaningful actions to improve engagement. But if they don’t measure the right things in the right way, those actions won’t matter — and they won’t have a measurable impact on business outcomes or the bottom line.” Sorensen suggests measuring employees’ customer ratings, productivity, attendance, and quality of work, among others.


Surveys are a common measuring tool, Ryan Fuller writes for the Harvard Business Review, but they might not be as useful as you think. “While knowing what employees think certainly has value, this data suffers from the same challenges of any other survey-based effort: it becomes dated quickly, there’s availability bias from respondents thinking of only recent events, and potentially gamed results — people telling you what they think you want to hear rather than what they really think,” Fuller writes. Better measurements might be evaluating how much employees work outside of typical hours, how many connections employees share outside of their immediate teams, and how often employees participate in what Fuller calls “ad-hoc meetings and initiatives.”


Employers might also evaluate how much time employees spend interacting with customers outside their normal scope of work. “This approach allows you to measure actual engagement rather than self-perceived engagement,” Fuller writes. Other metrics include looking at how much time employees spend with management per week (more typically indicates better engagement), how well their managers are connected, how many highly engaged employees are on a team, compared to those who are less engaged. Companies should also look at employees’ calendars and meeting schedules as metrics.


“Not surprisingly, engagement typically decreases the more time people spend in very large group settings, where it is hard to be much more than an audience member,” Fuller writes. Not having enough meaningful time between meetings (about two hours) can also contribute to decreased employee engagement. “When this information is paired with traditional attitudinal data such as satisfaction scores, pulse surveys, or annual survey-driven engagement measures, they come together to give an even more accurate picture of what engagement truly means — and where your company is falling short,” Fuller writes.