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How to Best Use External Employee Engagement Benchmarks

Collecting feedback via an employee engagement survey is an incredibly valuable way to give your employees a voice in continuously improving their experience. But how do you know if that feedback is healthy or not? Do other organizations face the same challenges as you, or are your challenges unique?

We have a few ways for you to effectively leverage these external comparisons as well as avoid potential issues we commonly see.

How to Use External Benchmarks

  • Use them to determine what’s above or below average compared to other organizations. External benchmarks provide a snapshot of where other organizations stand. They help you identify which challenges may be harder than others to address. This is particularly helpful in the first year an organization begins measuring employee engagement, when internal benchmarks (such as progress since the past survey) are not available.
  • View them through the lens of where you may lose talent. Your organization is in a never-ending battle with others to hire the best workers and keep the top performers on your team. Exceeding external benchmarks indicates your culture is more engaged than others. Your job candidates would be entering a workplace where employees go above and beyond, are passionate about their work, and see opportunities to learn and grow. This helps you attract and retain the best talent. Conversely, if you fall below external benchmarks, other workplaces will likely seem more appealing to the individuals you’re trying to hire.

Potential Issues with Overemphasizing External Benchmarks

  • They can overwhelm your managers. External benchmarks provide yet another data point for managers to monitor. They can make it difficult for your managers to know where to focus. External benchmarks should be used mostly by leadership and HR – managers should keep their sights on their team’s current strengths and opportunities, how those compare to the entire organization, and if progress is being made.
  • They put the emphasis on numbers instead of behavior. Having a comparison point is helpful, but focusing too strongly on data can take the spotlight off of engagement itself. It’s not just about reaching a certain “score.” Hitting a goal might signal to managers and employees that engagement is “over,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. Engagement is an ongoing strategy, not a box that is checked off once a score is reached.
  • They can take precedence over internal benchmarks. As previously noted, external benchmarks provided a solid starting point for organizations getting started with engagement measurement. But once that baseline is set, it’s far more useful for teams within the organization to measure their engagement results against the past or each other instead of those on the outside. Internal benchmarks are valuable because no two organizations are exactly alike. Your organization won’t have the same culture as others, even those of similar size or industry.

At the end of the day, benchmarks don’t tell you how to improve. They help you understand positive or negative gaps compared to other organization, Focus on your engagement drivers to improve what influences engagement the most inside your own organization, strive for continuous improvement, and recognize that your organization’s unique strategy, goals, and culture should shape how you define “good” rather than solely relying on external benchmarks.