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Article | EX Insights

Survey best practice: Engaged employees aren't enough

By Adam Zuckerman | May 20, 2019

In our latest article, we talk about sustainable engagement vs employee engagement.
Talent|Employee Engagement

The concept of employee engagement has been around a long time, and for good reason. Studies have repeatedly shown that companies with engaged employees tend to outperform those with less engaged employees, all else being equal. But, how often is all else equal?

Of course in practice, there are plenty of underperforming companies with engaged employees, and vice versa, precisely because some “all else” factors are not equal. To understand why this is the case, and identify the most critical “all else” factors, Willis Towers Watson continuously studies our clients’ survey results, cross-matched with their business performance. This ongoing research has shown that while engagement is important, a concept called Sustainable Engagement is actually a far more important concept.

Defining Sustainable Engagement

Sustainable Engagement is comprised of three factors.

  1. Engaged. The first is engagement as traditionally defined: The employee’s rational and emotional attachment to the company and willingness to exert extra effort on its behalf (e.g., the classic “Think, Feel and Act” model).
  2. Enabled. The second factor is the extent to which employees have the tools and resources they need to do the job, which we regard as the extent to which they are enabled.
  3. Energized. The third factor measures whether employees are energized, including their physical, interpersonal and emotional well-being at work.

We label these three factors combined as Sustainable Engagement, and have found this concept predicts substantially better business results over time, compared with classically defined engagement alone.

Narrowing one’s focus

When Sustainable Engagement scores poorly one can examine the scores of the individual pieces to determine where to focus attention, rather than having to address a single undifferentiated number. Clearly the actions required to enable employees are different from those to energize them.

How to measure it

Ideally, Sustainable Engagement is measured with nine survey questions—three for each sub-component. When necessary, the index can be reduced to two questions per component or, in rare cases, even one. What’s most important is that all three components are covered.

The full nine-item index is accessible in the Engagement Survey template in Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software, with further explanation provided in the online help menu. Alternative items for each component can also be found in the Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software Library.

Sign in to your Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software account today, or contact us for a demo.


Product Leader

Adam is the dynamic force behind Engage, WTW’s game-changing employee engagement platform. His goal is to create the world's greatest software for understanding and improving the whole employee experience, at work and in life, driving action, change and impact on organizations’ EX, company culture, and business performance. In his own life outside of work, Adam enjoys off-roading in his Jeep and spending time with his family. Follow Adam on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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