HR teams are no strangers to benchmarking
It is an essential tool for any business looking to understand how its performance stacks up against competition and contemporaries. Within HR, benchmarking has historically been applied to pay, as teams sought to understand the market value of particular skills, and ensure employees are fairly and competitively remunerated. But, in recent years, thanks to advancements in technology and data science, benchmarking has been applied to other areas of HR too, including employee engagement.
This shift has been driven by a mounting body of evidence that proves, once and for all, the intrinsic link between employee engagement and business success. As our data shows, organisations with highly engaged teams achieve better business outcomes, including higher customer satisfaction, retention, and profitability. What’s more, according to the Workplace Research Foundation, highly engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity.
In light of this, business leaders are paying closer attention to their employees’ engagement levels. They want to know when it dips, and understand why, so that remedial action can be taken before it’s too late. And when it spikes, so they can understand what worked.
This is where science and technology play their part. An employee’s engagement level depends on a host of factors, from how much they’re paid, to their sense of belonging, or how valued they feel their opinions are. So quantifying and measuring employee engagement requires responses to several nuanced, and psychologically supported questions. The outcome of course is data – and lots of it.
HR teams are turning to platforms like ours to streamline this process, and ensure they achieve accurate and meaningful results. Peakon, for example, develops and distributes anonymous employee surveys, and uses AI technology to immediately analyse the results, so HR teams can gauge employee engagement in real time. Armed with these insights, teams can quickly tackle any issues that become apparent.
The effectiveness of this data-led approach was underscored last year. When the UK was forced into its first lockdown in March 2020, Peakon registered a significant uplift in the proportion of employee comments on the platform relating to wellbeing. These rose from 11.4% in March, to 20.2% in April. Organisations using the platform were able to see this and move fast to address the problem. By delving into the comment data in more detail, HR teams could see where the real wellbeing problem lay and implement initiatives to better support employees. By May the proportion of wellbeing comments had dropped to 14.4%, and by October this stood at just 6.5%.
Beyond helping HRs identify existing problems within their workforce, technology can also help predict them. At Peakon we have developed an attrition prediction algorithm, that can help employers foresee, stop, or plan for employee turnover. The signs of attrition can be spotted up to nine months before an employee hands in their notice.
Strong employee engagement gives companies a tangible edge over their rivals – particularly when it comes to the success of a transformation strategy, or growth plans. That’s why leaders need to have a ‘true benchmark’ in place, so they can really understand how they stack up against their competition, and why.
Too many teams fall into the trap of looking at engagement scores and making crude comparisons based on industry or role. This is problematic because engagement scores can be impacted by so many factors. A new joiner, for example, is likely to score their organisation far more highly than someone who has been at a firm for two or three years and had time to identify areas of improvement.
To form a fair and meaningful comparison between organisations and teams, we first need to create a level playing field. And this is where data is, again, instrumental. By combining demographic data, with general trends around tenure, age, gender, occupation, seniority, and office location, we can create a multidimensional impression of an organisation or team – and an up-to-date benchmark for their engagement levels that’s fit for purpose.
How has the pandemic affected benchmarking?
COVID-19 has had the largest impact on employee engagement since the 2008 economic crash. But the impact hasn’t been all bad.
While the pandemic increased anxiety and stress among many employees, it has also given employers the opportunity to step-up and show care and support. This, alongside an increase in remote working, has led to some employees feeling more positive about their organisations.
Our Impact of COVID-19 on Employee Engagement report found that employee engagement increased globally by 2% between January and July 2020. Employees were particularly impressed by the opportunity to work remotely, their working environment, and their organisation’s support for their mental wellbeing. Scores to these questions increased by 10%, 6%, and 5% respectively.
Within this context, it’s clear to see why at Peakon we have updated our benchmarks to more accurately reflect the new world of work. As more employees work from home, for example, of course average scores on remote working will improve. If employers really want to see whether they’ve shifted the dial in these areas, they’ll need to look at their results in context, against the updated true benchmarks.
What it means is that, when we finally emerge from the pandemic, businesses won’t be able to rest on their laurels. They can’t just revert back to inflexible working policies or display any less care for individuals’ mental health. If they do, they will be actively disengaging employees and will risk falling below the new heightened standard upheld by their peers.
Business and HR leaders cannot afford to do this in ‘normal’ times – and they certainly can’t now. COVID-19 has forced executives to double down on transformational change initiatives that need to happen in months, not years. Following years of digital transformation projects being focussed on improving services for the customer, organisations now have access to tools that can help HR teams make decisions that will truly engage employees. If they’re to succeed, they’ll need to truly engage employees, get them on board with their plans, and empower people at all levels to reach their full potential.
Dr. Joe Cainey is Director of Data Science at Peakon. Peakon, a Workday company, is an employee success platform that converts feedback into insights you can putto work. We don’t just measure engagement, but help to improve it too, with personalised training and suggestedactions. Why? Because work should work for people, and not the other way around.