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Are You Basing Decisions on Junk Employee Engagement Metrics?

Employee engagement has shifted from solely a human resources metric to a top priority in many firms. But we have a long way to go.

Despite growing attention from leaders and managers, employee engagement is declining. According to Gallup, from 2020 to 2021, employees who identified as engaged fell from 36% to 34%, while the number of employees who identified as actively disengaged rose from 14% to 16%.

If you’re making every effort to improve engagement in your firm and not seeing the results you’re hoping for, it might be time to consider where you’re getting your data.

Junk employee engagement data

Many companies measure employee engagement with surveys, but according to Gallup, it’s easy to find companies with poor customer service reputations, serious culture issues and poor business performance who say 80% of their employees are engaged.

The numbers just aren’t adding up.

Unfortunately, employee engagement surveys are too easy to manipulate. For example, the people designing the survey might cherry-pick questions, phrase questions in a way that leads people to the answer they want, manipulate the measurement scale, or try to boil engagement down to a single measure to produce overly positive results.

In the end, the employee engagement surveys become a useless exercise designed to make the company look good on paper rather than provide a clear picture of what’s really going on.

How to improve employee engagement data

Despite their limitations, I don’t believe firms should dump employee engagement surveys. They can be a valuable source of feedback when used correctly. Here are some tips for improving yours.

  • Outsource survey creation and reporting. It’s too easy for people working in the firm to unintentionally word survey questions in a way that encourages positive responses. Work with a third party to design, conduct and report on your engagement metrics. You might not like the results, but they will be more accurate. Gallup’s Q12 Survey and Qualtrics employee net promoter score (eNPS) are excellent options.

  • Ensure you have a large sample. Some surveys are sent only to a small sample of employees or a particular department. Broadening your sample size to include as many employees as possible will give you a better idea of what’s really happening.

  • Guarantee anonymity. Employees need to know they can speak freely to be honest about how they feel about their job and the company. You’ll get higher response rates and more honest answers when your surveys are anonymous.

  • Communicate the value. It’s human nature for people to think, “What’s in it for me?” before taking any action. If employees believe engagement surveys are a waste of time because nothing will change anyway, they won’t bother taking them. Be transparent about what you plan to do with the survey data and how you plan on following through on the results.

  • Limit the length. People are busy, and they have short attention spans. Asking them to complete a 50-question survey will result in people abandoning the survey or clicking through without giving much thought to their answers. Less than 20 questions is usually a good rule of thumb.

  • Share the results. Don’t let employees think survey results are going into a black hole. Share the results and your next steps for following through with changes.

Remember, all progress starts with the truth. If people can’t tell you the truth about how they feel, you can’t have a great outcome. But some intentionality into your employee surveys to improve participation and show you take engagement seriously. Their feedback is a gift that can help you know where your firm is and make a plan for getting where you want to be.


Do you need help with your firm’s hiring and talent strategy?

Boomer Talent Consulting can help you get clarity on your firm’s most critical talent objectives and create a go-forward strategy suited to your firm’s unique needs. Schedule a discovery call today to begin implementing an organizational structure that is positioned and accelerating into the future.


Sandra Wiley, Shareholder, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is a leader in the accounting profession with a passion for helping firms grow, adapt and thrive. She is regularly recognized by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her expertise in leadership, management, collaboration, culture building, talent and training.

Sandra’s role at Boomer Consulting, Inc. includes serving as co-director of the Boomer Leadership Academy as well as the Boomer Managing Partner Circle, the Boomer Talent Circle and the Boomer Learning & Development Circle. Her years of experience and influence as a management and strategic planning consultant make her a sought-after resource among the best and brightest firms in the country.


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