Groundhog Day: A Comment on Gallup and Other “Annual Employee Engagement Reports”

It’s that time of year again—when we get Gallup’s Annual Report on Employee Engagement—and many others too. At this point, you can pretty much predict what the key themes are going to be:

  • Engagement scores aren’t very good
  • Engagement is pretty much flat again this year
  • Engagement hasn’t moved in the past 16 years
  • Gallup tells us what the key drivers of engagement are
  • Companies with high engagement scores happen to have decent business outcomes

Let’s start with the last bullet first. It is getting harder to believe that engagement is a key metric for organizations to focus on and strategize about. Studies that say that “companies with high engagement scores have higher business outcomes” amounts to fake analytics. There, we said it. Did you know that companies with taller buildings also make more money? That’s another example of fake analytics. Real analytics (see SMD’s study that uses cause-effect, longitudinal data) shows that engagement is a key driver of business outcomes less than 30% of the time.

It has to be getting frustrating for HR leaders (and all leaders for that matter) to hear about all the time, money and effort that has been put into driving engagement, knowing that the only thing that has happened is stagnation for the past 16 years. When will a CEO ask HR, “We’ve spent lots of money on engagement surveys and engagement consulting—when is this going to pay off?”

A few rapid-fire questions:

  • If Gallup knows what the key drivers of engagement are—then why don’t the scores ever move up?
  • What exactly is a “good” engagement score? What number do we need to hit when money starts falling out of the sky?
  • Have we hit critical mass on engagement? Maybe this is as high as the scores can get?
  • Isn’t it time we started looking at which employee attitudes drive actual business outcomes instead of chasing this suboptimal metric?

What are your thoughts on the topic?