The costs of low employee engagement are well-established: lower productivity, less innovation and higher turnover.

By Nathan Christensen

To help employers mitigate these costs, solution providers have developed countless engagement surveys, from short pulse to comprehensive questionnaires. While engagement among U.S. workers increased slightly last year, nearly two-thirds of the American workforce remain disengaged.

The problem isn’t the technology. Many of the solutions in the market today effectively diagnose low engagement, determine pain points and identify solutions. Now more than ever, employers are intimately aware of their employees’ engagement (or lack thereof).

But these tools are not being leveraged effectively. Administering an engagement survey is a critical step, but it’s like going to the doctor: if you don’t identify a purpose for the visit and follow the treatment plan, your time in the doctor’s office is wasted. To get positive results from your engagement survey, the company and their employees must put the results to good use.

There are three common mistakes to avoid when implementing an employee engagement survey:

  1. Treating the engagement survey like a workstream instead of making engagement cultural.
  2. Measuring satisfaction instead of engagement.
  3. Empowering an administrator instead of a leader that can drive engagement.

Here is how you can avoid these mistakes:

Make Engagement Cultural, Not a Workstream

Employers often treat their engagement survey as a periodic task on their to-do list. Once a year they administer the survey, discuss the results with their management team, and make a few tweaks to their workplace practices, policies and processes. Then they move on.

Achieving sustained engagement and improved performance requires more than simply checking a box. It requires a culture of engagement within your organization.

When engagement is part of an organization’s DNA, it’s a regular topic of discussion at leadership meetings and one-on-ones. It’s also a driving principle behind employee onboarding and performance management, an expectation for employees and managers, and a lens through which new business opportunities, workplace changes or leadership decisions are evaluated. An engagement survey is one of many tools an organization can use to measure progress.

Measure Engagement, Not Satisfaction

Both employers and employee engagement surveys often fall victim to a common trap: conflating employee engagement and employee satisfaction. While the concepts are related, they address separate problems and opportunities within an organization. To drive engagement, employers need to understand the difference between engagement and satisfaction, and ensure their efforts are focused on the former.

Employee satisfaction measures employees’ level of happiness about their overall job experience. Some gauges are whether they view their wages and benefits as sufficient, their workload as fair, and their workplace as comfortable and safe.

On the other hand, employee engagement measures the extent to which people willingly contribute their time and energy toward the good of the organization and its mission, employees and customers. For example, engagement measures whether employees use their discretionary time to move themselves or their work forward, and whether they want to grow and succeed in their role. These characteristics are not required for employee satisfaction.

The distinction between engagement and satisfaction is illustrated by an often-overlooked fact: sometimes an organization’s dissatisfied employees—those who want and expect their teams or organization to be better—can also be some of its most engaged employees. These employees have high expectations, willingly share their feedback, and want to influence the organization’s improvement.

If you want to improve engagement, you need to ensure you have a survey, a team and a plan that aligns with your overarching vision.

Empower a Leader, Not an Administrator

Employers often designate a person to administer their engagement survey and report the results. This person is usually an employee or a third-party provider.

To be successful in this endeavor, you need to empower a leader to drive the effort. This person is responsible for steering both the survey and the organization’s commitment to engagement. As part of this, the leader is tasked with ensuring that engagement stays a priority and that learnings are incorporated into the decision-making process, best practices are continuously evaluated, engagement work is connected throughout the organization, and progress is measured and reported back to the organization’s executives.

Someone who is embedded within the organization can see progress through to ensure an ongoing commitment to employee engagement. This individual will incorporate learnings into decision-making processes to continually evaluate best practices and weave employee engagement initiatives throughout all facets of the organization.

An engagement leader need to be visible and should collaborate with employees across the organization. Involving employees in identifying pain points, making recommendations, and implementing solutions and evaluating their impact increases the chances that engagement efforts will be successful. After all, the employees are the ones whose engagement you’re trying to improve, and they’re ultimately the ones who will decide whether or not to be engaged.

Organizations and their executives have come a long way in the last few years in understanding the importance of engagement and implementing surveys to help them improve. Unfortunately, their results have not always kept pace with their efforts. Avoiding these three common mistakes can make all the difference.

Nathan Christensen is the CEO of Mammoth HR, a Collaborative HR company that serves over 80,000 small and mid-size businesses nationwide. Nathan has been named a “Game Changer” in the HR field by Workforce magazine and was selected by the Portland Business Journal as a member of the “Forty Under 40” class.

Employee engagement stock photo by Chaay_Tee/Shutterstock