Harvard Business Review posted a thought-provoking article on how employee engagement is usually measured and covers an alternative method of measuring it in a more balanced, objective fashion.
The challenge with traditional approaches to measuring engagement is that they rely on employee self-assessment, usually at a single point in time during the year. This leaves the process open to impacts from recent significant events (e.g. organizational restructuring or year-end performance evaluations) as well as the potential for staff to game the system by answering how they believe they are expected to answer instead of answering how they truly feel. The article proposes a different approach which is to tie engagement to multiple metrics which can be measured in an independent fashion.
While I support this philosophy, after reviewing the list of these measures, I was surprised that a number of them are likely to be present to a greater extent when people work on project teams instead of performing operational work.
Some of these indicators include:
Amount of work occurring outside of normal working hours. The article claims that this is a good indicator of discretionary effort, yet how many project team members who chronically work late hours to meet another deadline would feel that this additional effort is truly discretionary?
Number of network connections and time spent with people outside of immediate team or region. Project work usually results in greater cross-functional interaction than operational work, but if those interactions are not positive, engagement is likely to dip.
Percentage of participation in ad-hoc meetings and initiatives. Such events are common in project work but I’ve frequently heard the complaints from team members of being involved in too many impromptu meetings.
Time spent in presence of skip-level leadership. Team members are often exposed to senior stakeholders such as project sponsors. Sometimes this can be a rewarding experience but other times it can result in undue stress and pressure for the team, especially when dealing with an untrained sponsor.
Hours per week spent in meetings with more than twenty attendees. While project work tends to generate a significant number of meetings, usually only the largest projects have meetings with many attendees. Most project managers are aware of the diminishing returns and high costs that result from holding such large meetings. However, not participating in such large meetings doesn’t necessarily imply greater employee engagement.
In his defence, the author does not imply causality (e.g. working more time outside of normal working hours causes increased engagement) and does recommend that a number of these independent metrics be paired with traditional approaches (e.g. annual pulse surveys) to provide a fulsome picture of employee engagement.
Perhaps a future iteration of this research could focus on identifying metrics specific to project work which are indicative of increased employee engagement?