Surveys can offer great business value if the right actions are taken. But it's imperative you understand your data, the key drivers of employee engagement and can gain context on scores through benchmarking.Benchmarking is a fundamental part of the employee survey process – whether that's with other organisations’ results and/or your own historical data. Otherwise, how would you know what a ‘good’ employee engagement score looks like?In the following Q&A our experts consider and respond to 10 of the questions we’re most frequently asked about the benchmarking process.

1. Why use an internal survey benchmark?

Using historical trend data allows you to make a comparison with previous years’ results from within your organisation. This will show you whether scores have improved or declined following actions taken.Internal benchmarking can also be really useful for making comparisons across the organisation to assess specific business units or job roles in relation to overall scores. This can highlight high and low performing pockets, which you can look at more closely to see what those higher-performing areas are doing differently and seek to replicate their success elsewhere.

2. Why use an external survey benchmark?

Getting an external comparison with of lots of employees’ views collated from various organisations provides great context for your own organisation’s results. It can help you to decipher what a really good score looks like in relation to a moderate one.You may find it particularly valuable to compare your employee engagement survey results with those of other organisations of a similar size or from the same industry as you’ll likely share a number of similar characteristics so as to provide a more relevant comparison.You can also use quartile splits by grouping all benchmark scores into quartile bands (i.e. 25th, 50th, 75th), rather than using mean scores. This can show you how your results compare with ‘best in class’ organisations.

3. Will your questions be comparable to those in other benchmarks?

In our experience, there are typically a number of ‘common’ questions that are frequently used in employee surveys. While some of these may have subtle differences in the wording, the actual meaning or intention of the question is the same. Such questions’ scores can be benchmarked and will provide a reliable comparison.

4. What can you learn from benchmarking against other organisations?

External comparisons with a particular region or industry can provide you with great context and give you an additional layer of insight into the strengths of your own results.For example, if you obtain a favourable score of, say, 70% for job role clarity, you might consider this in isolation to be a strong score. But it’s only when you look at how other organisations fare in the same area that you can be sure that it is indeed a good score. In this case, our ETS benchmark score for job role clarity is actually 92% favourable, so you’d conclude that a score 70% isn’t a particularly good score in comparison with other organisations and there’s plenty of room for improvement.

5. What are the key things to benchmark your employee engagement on?

Questions relating to intention to stay, pride in the organisation, advocacy and putting in discretionary effort are most commonly taken as key measures of employee engagement.We group statements relating to these areas into an ‘engagement index’ to monitor the impact of business initiatives on the way employees feel and behave.Here are some statements that would typically make up an engagement index:

  • Overall I am satisfied working for the company
  • I intend to still be working for the company in a year’s time
  • Morale in the company is high at present
  • I am proud to work for the company
  • I would recommend the company as a great place to work.

6. Do employee engagement levels differ much between industries?

There are numerous variances and trends in employee engagement between different industries. For example, manufacturing companies often have lower overall engagement levels when compared with other industries. This is likely to be as a result of common and unique challenges in this industry – such as employees tending to have less autonomy over how they do their work.

7. How important is it to benchmark against other similar companies (of a similar size or industry?

This really depends on the circumstances and, in particular, whether your engagement programme is quite new or established over a number of years. It may be useful to start with an industry-specific benchmark but, with time, you may want to branch out to benchmark yourself against a broader sample giving you a more stretching comparison.An overall benchmark comparison, made up of many organisations across different sectors, is likely to be more stretching. If your organisation is consistently attaining high engagement scores, you should consider a ‘high-performance’ comparison which may include a number of different companies across industries, but only scores within the top quartile.

8. What can you learn about your managers from benchmarking?

Line managers and senior leaders play a significant part in engaging employees. The relationship between line manager and direct report is, arguably, the most important one in any workplace.We recommend devising a manager index to look at areas where management can have a direct impact on an employee, such as performance management, communication and encouraging development. Below are examples of the statements you might use:

  • My immediate manager actively supports my development
  • I believe that the company is well led
  • Senior management lead by example (i.e. walk the talk, live by the values)
  • My immediate manager shows appreciation for the work I do
  • I feel that I am well managed.

Being able to benchmark scores relating to management can reveal areas of strengths and development needs. You can then apply these findings to support managers to improve in order to better manage and engage their teams.

9. What impact can different cultures have on benchmark scores?

You should certainly take into account possible cultural variances when comparing engagement survey results from across different geographical regions. Different feedback cultures and hierarchies, for example, can have a significant influence on employee behaviour and the survey scores.For example, countries in the Middle East tend to have exceptionally high levels of employee engagement, which could be partly due to a high power distance. This means that employees are not accustomed to providing feedback to their line manager or senior executives so scores tend to be higher.

10. How reliable are external benchmarks?

Broad samples of data collected from many different organisations can certainly offer you a reliable point of comparison. Having said that, you should consider any possible external influences that could have an impact upon employee attitudes expressed in surveys. For this reason, fluctuations in benchmark scores often benefit from interpretation to better understand what is behind the trends.

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