Employee Engagement Benchmarks – A Guide & A Caution

Employee Engagement Benchmarks – A Guide & A Caution

Table of Contents

Congratulations on finishing your employee engagement survey! Now comes the task of analyzing the outcomes. How did your organization perform? What areas are you excelling in, and where is there room for improvement? 

A standard next step is to look at your data, define actions, and march towards change.  For many, next steps also include comparing results to external benchmarks to get a sense of how their organization stack ups. 

What is this “Benchmarking” business all about? 

Benchmarking involves comparing the results of your organization’s employee engagement survey with data from external sources or organizations. The goal is to understand how your organization’s engagement levels and specific survey responses compare to industry standards, best practices, or the performance of other similar organizations.

Benchmarking provides context and insights into your organization’s performance and helps you identify areas of strength and areas that need improvement. By comparing your engagement survey results to benchmarks, you can gain a better understanding of whether your organization is performing above or below average in terms of employee engagement and specific engagement drivers.

These benchmarks offer a point of reference to evaluate your organization’s performance, and can help guide your efforts to enhance employee engagement and create a positive workplace culture. 

In the WorkTango Platform, we offer survey benchmarks in a number of ways:

  • Comparisons to best-in-class companies within our customer base
  • Comparisons to organizations in similar industries
  • Comparisons to organizations with a similar count of employees

Many companies find it interesting to look at benchmarks in a way that is most relative to their own organization. 

Hmmmm… Is there any value In Benchmarking?

It’s important to note that while benchmarking can provide valuable insights, each organization is unique, and the focus should be on understanding your organization’s specific context and tailoring employee engagement strategies to your needs and goals.

Many ask: is there actually value in comparing one organization with others? After all, the drivers of employee engagement are personal, and vary by industry and organization. Each company is unique and prides itself on distinct qualities and corporate culture that set it apart. Is it truly justifiable to measure ourselves against external norms of similar organizations? 

While benchmarking offers reference points, its reliability is questioned within the HR industry. A 2016 IBM report challenges the worth of external benchmarks. Backed by data from millions of employee responses, it suggests that industry norms might not be as varied as assumed. Companies focus on interesting, yet unreliable, data for decision-making. The study highlights less variation in factors like industry, size, and job type than commonly thought.

Relying solely on Benchmarking achievements should come with caution

Shifting away from relying so much on benchmarking is crucial. Michael Roberto, an author and management professor, emphasizes breaking free from the benchmarking curse. He suggests learning not only from direct competitors but also from diverse industries and fields. 

The main issue with relying on “normative data” through benchmarking is that it hampers taking action. If your engagement score is four points higher than the external benchmark, will you stop striving for improvement? Is there a significant difference between scoring 94% against a 90% benchmark, versus scoring 39% against a 35% benchmark? 

The focus should be on continuous improvement internally. IBM’s study highlights that “little insight can be gained from industry norms.” Despite benchmarking’s limited validity, however, many organizations still prioritize benchmarks in their decision-making for employee engagement measurements.

Don’t use benchmarks as your excuse

Industries with traditionally low engagement scores sometimes use benchmarks as an excuse for low engagement, mediocrity, or complacency. They justify lower engagement levels by leaning on benchmarks. 

However, the truth is that every industry has organizations with high engagement levels that receive recognition for their efforts. These companies are successful because they prioritize listening and taking action based on internal measurements and diagnostic feedback to enhance employee engagement. Instead of fixating on external “best practice” benchmarks and accepting average scores as normal, these top-performing organizations focus on what truly matters. 

The truth is that benchmarks provided by vendors have remained relatively unchanged over time despite being consistently sought after. IBM’s data indicates that, on the whole, there has been little change in benchmarks over the past decade.

Achieving excellence beyond Benchmarks: 3 engagement best practices

Fostering continuous improvement in employee engagement should always be a priority. And although we do offer Benchmarks in our software, here are some best practices that you can use to ensure your organization is achieving employee engagement excellence – whether or not you decide to use benchmarks.

  1. Prioritize Internal Benchmarks: Give more weight to internal benchmarks that analyze engagement levels across regions, departments, teams, and leaders, instead of benchmarks that compare your organization to external organizations. This approach provides valuable insights into what influences the scores, such as leadership styles or regional factors. 
  2. Evaluate Individual Engagement Drivers: Assess key drivers such as leadership, work environment, and growth opportunities to gain a holistic view of what impacts engagement scores. Leveraging sophisticated data analysis helps identify areas for meaningful impact based on your employees’ feedback. 
  3. Track Trends and Hold Leaders Accountable: Continuously monitor internal trends to enable organizations to set realistic improvement targets. Frequent engagement measurement allows for real-time understanding of workplace sentiment and supports data-driven accountability for leaders. 

Ultimately, the focus of any employee engagement measurement effort should be on cultivating the right mindset, versus focusing on external benchmarks. Employee engagement measurement should revolve around enhancing the employee experience and reaping the proven ROI from those efforts. It should not be confined to regulatory compliance. Embrace insights from research and thought leaders who challenge benchmarks, and understand what’s truly necessary to achieve your desired outcomes for both you and your employees. Your employees will be happier and more engaged as a result.