Gallup found that engagement increases marginally to 32.5% for college-educated Americans who work in a managerial, executive, or official role. But no matter how you slice it, more than two-thirds of employees in the U.S. are either ambivalent about or actively unhappy with their jobs.
With these ominous statistics echoing in your head, how does your team measure up? Are you even measuring employee morale at all?
Granted, human satisfaction is not an easy thing to quantify. If you want to put a number on it, keep an eye on employee turnover and track it from year to year. But this too-little-too-late approach will only tell you whether your employee morale-monitoring efforts are working—or not. What you really need is visibility into the problem before you've lost the employee.
Why Measure Morale
You've heard it before: what gets measured gets managed. You likely have a list of high-level business objectives, with established methods of tracking and reporting your progress toward each one. The goal of maximizing productivity and minimizing attrition deserves a place on your list, too, especially considering the high cost of employee turnover—from 50% to 200% of an employee's annual salary.
If this isn't one of your goals, add it to the list, and start tracking your progress:
Objective: To attract and retain top talent who not only make positive contributions at work but also feel valued and appreciated for what they do.
Just remember that the why is equally important to the how. If you're merely following orders vs. genuinely planning to make changes based on feedback, your lack of authenticity will be apparent.
"If you don't really want to know, you won't really do anything about it," says Kathryn Gowans, an organization development consultant who has worked with eBay, General Mills, and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. "If it's not genuine, people can read that pretty easily." Surveying your team and then failing to address their concerns will only increase current levels of disengagement and dissatisfaction.
Once you're ready to start paying attention to employee morale, don't rely on gut feel, anecdotal evidence, or an informal count of the number of smiling faces you encounter as you navigate the cubicle maze to your office. There are established, vetted tools available to help you measure employee morale and resolve issues before they turn into real problems.
4 Ways to Effectively Measure Employee Satisfaction and Morale
What factors contribute most to an employee's satisfaction level? The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has found that the following consistently rank among the top five aspects of job satisfaction, alongside compensation, benefits, and job security: 1. opportunities to use skills and abilities 2. relationship with immediate supervisor and 3. the work itself.
In the bestselling book, First, Break all the Rules, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt W. Coffman found that "the manager— not pay, benefits, perks, or a charismatic corporate leader—was the critical player in building a strong workplace. The manager was the key."
1. Ask the Right Questions
Buckingham and Coffman's 1999 book introduced what is now called the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey. This essential measuring stick has been used by businesses worldwide for more than 15 years to gauge workplace satisfaction. It consists of 12 questions:
- Do I know what is expected of me at work?
- Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
- At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
- In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
- Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
- Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
- At work, do my opinions seem to count?
- Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
- Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
- Do I have a best friend at work?
- In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
- This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
After originally posing these questions to 2,500 business units in 24 companies, Buckingham and Coffman found that employees who responded more positively to the questions also worked in business units with higher levels of productivity, profit, retention, and customer satisfaction. And, critically, they discovered that immediate managers had greater impact on individuals than the overall company.
2. Don't Ask Anonymously
The reason you measure something is to create a feedback loop that informs behavior and indicates progress, Gowans says. Some teams can be very resistant to feedback in interpersonal areas, especially with questions that may seem "squishy and soft and unimportant" like "Do you have a best friend at work?" But even the most data-driven manager alive would have to concede that the originator of the Q12 Survey—polling giant Gallup—is nothing if not focused on numbers.
Questions about personal job satisfaction can seem, well, personal. Thus, you may be tempted to administer the survey anonymously, which could indicate that trust within your organization is low. If you can't openly identify and discuss issues, you can't directly address them. Anonymity by its very nature indicates that there's some reason the responses should be kept secret. Is it because employees can't be trusted to be honest unless names are withheld? Is it because managers can't be trusted to proceed without bias or retaliation if responses are unfavorable?
Ask the 12 questions directly and openly to each individual employee, or have them complete the survey and then meet with you to discuss the results. Start with a simple, "Talk to me. Tell me what's going on."
In order to foster a healthy work environment, managers should be doing this kind of swamp clearing a couple of times a year. "Individual satisfaction levels should be part of ongoing interactions and conversations," Gowans says, "Unfortunately, we often title them ‘performance reviews.' I'd personally get rid of that label as a way to make the conversation more open and reciprocal."
3. Follow the Performance Data
Numbers don't lie. Even in the softer science of employee satisfaction, the symptoms are usually highly visible and quantifiable, if you have the right systems in place. Consider, for example, a discouraged member of your team. As this team member's satisfaction falls, he will begin to fall behind his deadlines. His communication with other team members will start to fade, become more negative, or disappear altogether. If you are relying on sporadic email or spreadsheet updates alone, you might not spot these patterns. You might think he's just having a case of the Mondays.
And this is where visibility into your team member's work and his communications becomes crucial.
If you are tracking all of your team member's tasks, which ones are meeting their deadlines and which ones aren't, you'll be able to see patterns and anomalies. When a typically productive team member starts to show falling on-time delivery rates, you'll know something's up. The same is true when one team member's output is chronically below those of other team members.
Of course, the lynchpin in all this is the availability of that data. If you're not collecting it, you'll never know. That's why it's highly recommended that managers keep a close eye on key productivity metrics for each individual of their team.
4. Act on What You Learn
Perhaps you've done employee satisfaction surveys before, and they haven't made a difference. Consider the possibility that you asked the wrong questions, or that you went directly from data to action—especially if your survey was anonymous—without making sure you understood the commonalities and the individual satisfaction levels first.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is look in the mirror and learn what you can do differently as a manager, rather than implementing an initiative that may or may not address the real issue.
"The easy things to deal with are the technical issues and technology that we don't have defined," Gowans says. "But it's the human dysfunction that causes poor morale. When you lose top performers, it often has to do with the human side."
Luckily, addressing human issues doesn't have to be as subjective as it sounds. Look back to the Q12 Engagement Survey. The core of a strong and vibrant workplace can be found in the first six questions. Based on your employees' answers to those questions, re-evaluate how effectively you're accomplishing the following six essentials as a manager:
- Set consistent expectations for all of your people
- Treat each person differently (based on their strengths)
- Match roles to talents and abilities
- Challenge your people
- Care, acknowledge, and recognize individual accomplishments
- Terminate an employee when necessary
That final bullet may sound counterintuitive. Terminate an employee as a way of boosting team morale? Actually, yes. The purpose of the Q12 survey is to provide visibility into an area that's often shrouded in assumption and mystery. Once you've identified the roadblocks that are affecting morale, you have to be willing to solve them by whatever means necessary. It does tend to boost the morale of top performers when they see that their unproductive, unhappy colleagues won't be allowed to hang around wreaking havoc indefinitely. If employees feel that everyone is treated equally, no matter how well they do or do not perform, everyone is discouraged from doing their best.
Start Measuring Morale Now
Think back through the different work environments you've encountered thus far in your career, and count the methods you've seen for gauging employee satisfaction—from locked suggestion boxes to annual anonymous opinion surveys to exit interviews conducted by HR. Some are nothing more than "how are we doing" barometers. Some represent too little effort, applied too late to make a difference. Some, by nature of their anonymity, will never help you get to the root of the problem.
If your goal is to leverage what you learn in real time so you can create a healthy, happy team that wants to stick around long-term, then there are only four tips that matter: ask the right questions, ask them face to face, track performance, and act on what you learn.
Would you rather learn about your top performer's biggest frustrations in a monthly one-on-one meeting—or in an exit interview? You choose.
To learn how Workfront makes it easier to track and recognize team member accomplishments, click here.
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