Exploring measures of engagement and the role of internal communication

We’re still talking about the relationship between engagement and comms.

We hear a lot from our clients and comms friends about the cross over between employee engagement and internal communication. Often, it’s about where the boundary sits between the two areas or who is responsible for engagement.

Earlier today, Paul Bennun asked on LinkedIn whether internal communication, employee engagement and employee experience are the same things or different? He is VP of Employee Experience at DAZN Group. You can see Paul’s post below or via LinkedIn.

I know from conversations in the past with fellow comms peers that views over the years change as we develop new knowledge and talk with others working in the space of engagement and communication.

One of the early All Things IC articles Rachel wrote about employee engagement appeared back in 2014, highlighting the Engage for Success four drivers of employee engagement. Since then, it’s a topic that pops up a lot in conversations with our clients and during Masterclasses.

Mike Klein is a communication consultant and strategist based in Reykjavik, Iceland. He is the founder of the #WeLeadComms global recognition program for communication leaders and has worked in internal communication in the UK, US and Europe since 1997. He is also Senior Strategic Advisor for Sparrow Connected, a leading internal communication platform company, with whom he has published a new e-book, Employee Engagement or Business Impact: it’s time to choose.

He has previously featured on the All Things IC blog on the topic of employee engagement. Today, we invited him to share his personal insights on this topic. His article includes what internal communicators can look out for from the Gallup Q12 survey. This survey is carried out in the USA and asks over 2.7 million people 12 short questions to measure levels of engagement.

Mike has also included his personal, ‘IC Influence’ score for each question, highlighting the influence we as communication professionals might have against each question.

I hope you find it useful if you are thinking through measures of engagement. See Rachel’s glossary or the links to previous articles below if you want to learn more about internal communication, employee experience or employee engagement.

Over to Mike…

Exploring measures of engagement and the role of internal communication, photo of Mike Klein

Exploring measures of engagement and the role of internal communication

I’ve been writing about how “employee engagement” has proven to be a lousy objective for internal communication folk for about 20 years, when the idea of “employee engagement” began to surface as an object of management and political attention – offering the promise of ever-increasing worker contentment, commitment and contribution in return for relatively minimal investment.

But the way employee engagement is measured in organisations often emphasises issues and levers that are well outside the influence of internal communication activity.

To illustrate, below are each of the 12 questions in the Gallup Q12 employee engagement survey (considered the “gold standard” in the field), along with a look at the extent to which each can be directly influenced through internal communication interventions.

  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work? An internal comms approach focused on alignment and clarity could support this aim – but the question folds in a big-picture direction with job-specific and manager-specific input. Level of IC influence: 4/10
  1. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right? This seems more about worksite hygiene factors, but IC could help if employees were finding it hard to access key resources. Level of IC influence 2/10
  1. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? Again a job-specific hygiene issue. Perhaps some profiling of employees who are taking initiative and generating professional fulfilment could inspire better awareness of opportunities – depending on the nature of the work and prevailing culture. Level of IC influence 4/10.
  1. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work? Again, job-specific. A program to stimulate greater generosity among managers and peers to support a recognition culture could help, however. IC influence 3/10
  1. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person? This is a bit more amorphous. “Seem to care?” Is this about reality or appearance? Do we want cultures where people focus on “seeming” or actually doing? And is there much IC can do about it? IC influence 0/10
  1. Is there someone at work who encourages your development? “Someone at work” – who could that be? Does it matter who that “someone” is? Does it matter whether someone has a personal, individual incentive to take interest in someone else’s development?  Not something that seems an obvious IC point of leverage. IC influence 0/10
  1. At work, do your opinions seem to count? In a company that spends substantial sums surveying staff, employees will likely have high expectations about the extent that surveying will have. Most of the influence is cultural – does the leadership publicly address employee feedback and does it take action. If yes, internal comms can help significantly in amplifying that response and stimulating additional dialogue. If not, IC can privately challenge management’s resistance to sharing feedback openly and honestly. IC influence 6/10
  1. Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important? This is probably the Q12 question most susceptible to IC influence – and the ability of effective IC to illustrate, amplify, and offer opportunities to take action, if the mission/purpose is actually actionable. IC influence 8/10
  1. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work? This seems a very local, job based question, perhaps alleviated or aggravated by quality improvements or pockets of persistent incompetence.  IC could help by highlighting exemplary quality or efforts to address problems, but that’s a very indirect level of influence. IC influence 4/10
  1. Do you have a best friend at work? Barring a full-on embrace of internal super connection, internal communication doesn’t normally intervene in sparking or facilitating individual relationships for each employee. Probably the Q12 question is least influenced by internal comms. IC Influence 0/10
  1. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress? This is mainly a function of line management discipline and quality – perhaps one which could be amplified and accelerated by some IC efforts focused on the management community. IC influence 4/10
  1. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow? This is really a question about how employees feel about the opportunities life in the organisation makes available to them.  Sure, IC could publicise specific learning and growth opportunities and attempt to drive employee satisfaction around those opportunities, but ultimately, it’s how the employee feels that counts. IC influence 5/10.

Given that the Q12 score is an aggregation of employee answers to these disparate questions, compared across all participating employees and all participating organisations, the influence IC activities can have on these results appears highly limited,

  • Of 120 available points in this “back of the envelope” assessment, only 40 points are given to IC’s ability to influence employee answers to these questions. Merely a third of the total.
  • Only two of the questions – about perceived responsiveness to employee feedback and employee alignment – seem highly responsive to IC input and influence.
  • Three of the questions – covering personal relationships around friendship, work and attention, appear to offer IC nearly zero opportunity to influence them.

Now, if these factors were the only ones that impact business performance, this kind of focus could still make sense. But as IC professionals, we know that we can influence other objectives and outcomes much more directly and powerfully.

Focusing on alignment – creating clarity around what people are supposed to do, why they are supposed to do it, and the prioritization of action and resources can identify and close direct gaps in understanding and performance in a way that a focus on engagement cannot.  And making sure people have the clear language and effective tools they need to reduce friction in the business is well within our influence as IC folk.

Post author: Mike Klein.

Thank you Mike, what do you think about what you’ve read? Feel free to comment below.

Learn more about employee engagement

Do you want to learn more about employee engagement? Check out the numerous articles on the All Things IC blog.

Here’s a selection to get you started:

Learn more about internal communication and employee experience via All Things IC

Thank you for stopping by,


Post author: Dan Holden.

First published on the All Things IC blog 12 May 2022.

Find your next Comms role via the All Things IC blog


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