Guide to Employee Engagement and Employee Motivation surveys


There is a lot of confusion about these topics. As a developer of both Employee Engagement and Employee Motivation tools, I would like to clarify these concepts, helping HR professionals and consultants benefit more from implementing surveys. I want to highlight the need for individualized motivation approaches besides the popular engagement programs based on anonymous engagement survey results.

Are we forgetting what we knew about Motivation?

While Employee Engagement programs are all on the rise, employee motivation (Work Motivation) gets less talked about in business and management articles, as if engagement would have replaced motivation, as a kind of Work Motivation 2.0. Employee Engagement is indeed more manager friendly, but I want to show here that the current practices leave out some important aspects of Work Motivation. Another particular problem I see is managers left without guidance when they try to get the big picture of Motivation. They are trained in engagement, but then they read about Maslow, Extrinsic/Intrinsic Motivation, Hygiene/Motivation factors and so on. All these seem to be related but it's difficult for them to get a coherent picture where it all makes sense.

Let's get clear on the definitions

Let’s start with the definition of Employee Engagement. The most credible definition, in my opinion, comes from John Gibbons, who made a comprehensive overview of current research and applications. His definition is: “Employee engagement is a heightened emotional and intellectual connection that an employee has for his/her job, organization, manager, or co-workers that, in turn, influences him/her to apply additional discretionary effort to his/her work.” Therefore, employee engagement is an attitude which is displayed through the key behavior of putting extra effort in one’s work. Another practical way to talk about the engagement is the 3S of Aon Hewitt: Say (talk positively about the employer), Stay (be loyal to the company and willing to stay on the job) and Strive (put extra effort in the work).

Let’s see now what Work Motivation is: a set of mental forces that initiates work-related behavior and determines the intensity and duration of efforts. Motivation is what drives us to work. Motivation is the fuel of performance. Work Motivation also examines how the external environment (work conditions, policies, leadership and incentives for example) influences work efforts.

Engagement is part of Work Motivation

We can see that the high-level definitions are very similar, there are a lot of overlaps. Both concepts include elements of work behavior and mental forces within the individual. The concept of Work Motivation originates from occupational psychology, and it is almost as old as psychology itself. The number of theories and studies are insane, and they include everything and some more, including the attitudes and behaviors of Employee Engagement. Therefore, strictly speaking, Employee Engagement is a subset of Work Motivation. However, Employee Engagement is not an academic concept, and it does not originate in psychology. It was first found by statisticians who researched the relationship of organizations’ human factors and financial performance. It was promoted by management consultants to businesses that wanted real-life results and focused on what matters most in practice.

Employee Engagement programs

Most large companies and progressive startups have already implemented Employee Engagement programs. The usual methodology is conducting an anonym survey to measure employee engagement and the drivers (organizational conditions) of employee engagement and implement targeted improvement actions based on the results. There are many surveys available on the market. Good surveys include algorithms that highlight the most promising interventions for each organizational units (BUs, departments, employee demographic groups). Some surveys only measure Employee Engagement, they don’t measure the drivers of engagement, or measure it in a rather limited way, for example, Gallup’s Q12. These surveys save time, but they don’t provide accurate directions for interventions. It is like checking a patient’s overall stamina and the heart, but not checking the other organs. The other difference is the survey frequency. Peakon and Tinypulse advocate administration in weekly smaller doses, while other surveys are designed for yearly or bi-annual implementation. Frequent surveys show issues in a timelier manner, but people may get tired from the constant questioning. The average response rate of Tinypulse is 49%, while well-implemented annual surveys can aim at higher than 90% response rates.

Another subtle difference between engagement surveys is having an emphasize on Employee Engagement or the Organization. Examples for the latter could be Aon Hewitt’s Best Employer survey and our own Organization Effectiveness Survey: OD-Map®. This often-overlooked point is very important actually. Because Employee Engagement is measured by anonymous surveys, its focus is naturally on the systemic conditions of Employee Engagement, and not on the individual employees. It helps leaders in building a more engaging organization or department or team. It helps managers in becoming better leaders. Where it cannot help is how to better retain and motivate Employee A and Employee B. Leadership training programs usually emphasize the need for motivating employees as individuals, finding the right buttons to press (I don’t like this expression, but this is the typical terminology) for each of their staff members. But leadership training programs usually don’t provide much support on how to do that.

The missing piece: motivation 101 one-on-one

Now we can get to the main point of the article. Employee Engagement surveys are anonym, they don’t provide data about the individual, and that’s where Work Motivation comes in. Motivation Questionnaires provide individual motivation profiles, opening possibilities for Self-Motivation Development Programs, individualized retention and motivation programs, and individualized Motivation Dialogs as a leadership tool. Examples of Motivation Questionnaires are the SHL Motivation Questionnaire or our own OD-Tools Motivation Questionnaire: MQ. You can find an overview of MQ applications by following this link: Golden Key Motivation Development Program
MQ users can identify their key people with high flight risk, and can proactively retain them. Organizations also can benefit from enhanced motivation skills of their leaders and increased intrinsic motivation of their employees.

In summary, Employee Engagement is focusing on the systemic factors of engagement, aiming at building an Engaging Organization. Work Motivation, in contrast, brings in individual motivation profiles, enabling individualized retention and motivation approaches.

Written by: Gabor Nagy

More information about OD-Tools MQ: Motivation Questionnaire: MQ

More information about OD-Map: Organization Effectiveness Survey: OD-Map®