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Article | EX Insights

What is a good employee engagement score?

Employee Engagement |Talent
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By Patrick Kulesa , Angela Paul and Stephen Young | May 2021

Organizations routinely communicate their employee engagement score. But what is a good score and what does it mean for your organization?

Context has everything to do with what is a good score. National culture plays a huge factor. How employees answer questions in Japan for example, is very different to how they answer in Brazil. Without this context, interpreting survey scores can lead to the wrong outcomes.

80%?
What is a good employee engagement score?

Consider the following common scenario. A company has operations in ten geographical markets, each with a geography lead. The human resource director ranks the units based on their favorable engagement index score (see Figure 1).

Chart showing ten geographic markets for a fictitious company ranked in order of percent engaged from 90% down to 67%. The top three scores are shown in green, the middle four in yellow and the bottom three in red. Huan (China), Aadi (India), and Charlotte (Australia) represent the top three. Jack (UK), Yua (Japan) and Maria (Brazil) present the bottom three.
Figure 1. Geography leaders ranked by percent engaged

Sally, the human resource director, communicates the top-three leaders' performance rankings, and notes Huan, Aadi, and Charlotte are up for promotion for a great job managing their people.

Sally also arranges a "see me" appointment for three units with the lowest scores, potentially putting Jack, Yua, and Maria on performance improvement plans including a basic people management course.

Did Sally do the right thing?

What if we looked at a typical engagement score for each of these markets and then compared the company's index scores to typical market results? We see quite a different view of the leaders who are most successful and those who really need to improve.

Looking at the index scores adjusted for typical results by market (see Figure 2), we conclude that the scores achieved by Aadi in India and Huan in China are close to usual levels for those markets. That suggestion of a promotion based on engagement scores was premature.

When we compare Jua's score to what is expected for Japan, the difference is quite positive, and Jua might be among those deserving of that promotion. Guiseppe in Italy and Leoine in France are performing quite well, too.

Are Jack (UK) and Maria (Brazil) really in the same performance group? Not really. It looks as though Maria and her direct reports need urgent support with engagement nearly 20% lower than is typical for Brazil employees.

Knowing what is "normal" for a specific market is important as we judge the best and worst engagement scores from a survey. Adjusting for what is normal can help a company avoid costly mistakes, especially given engagement scores vary based on national context, industry, function, and other factors.

We recommend taking the time to understand typical engagement scores across an operation when applying survey results in practice. At Willis Towers Watson, we maintain over 500 separate norms just for this purpose. Benchmarking can prevent costly, unintentional errors in managing people.

Authors

Senior Research Director

Patrick Kulesa, Ph.D., is a member of the advanced analytics group within Willis Towers Watson's Research & Innovation Center. He oversees a group that manages Willis Towers Watson's database of benchmarks on employee opinion, leading a team of data analysts in the U.S., Europe, and Asia Pacific.

He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Northwestern University and over 20 years of consulting experience. Patrick's research has been published in trade industry and academic outlets, and is featured at major psychological, human resource, and industry conferences.


Director
Research & Innovation Centre, London

Angela supports Willis Towers Watson Software users by helping to design off the shelf content, based on thorough research and statistical analyses of large scale employee survey data. Her goal is to ensure that survey content is based on the latest and most robust research evidence. When she is not working, Angela enjoys films with her sons, walks with her Bernese Mountain Dog, and a good chat with friends at book club.


Global Practice Leader
Employee Insights

Dr. Stephen Young is the Employee Insights Global Practice Leader for Willis Towers Watson. He has a PhD in business psychology, and 20 years experience advising the world's leading organisations. He spends most of his spare time with his kids, cycling, and supporting Arsenal Football Club.


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