Being Engaged at Work Is Not the Same as Being Productive

Written by Nina Shikaloff, Ryan Fuller

The holy grail of today’s workplace is high employee engagement. According to Gallup’s oft-cited research on the topic, just about one-third of U.S. employees are engaged on the job. That number drops to 13% worldwide, and has held steady for years. Many companies are investing heavily to identify what leads to high engagement in order to motivate employees, thereby increasing their happiness and productivity.

We think this is important. But based on our research with several large companies, we want to offer a word of caution: Engagement is often an ambiguous term. Depending on how it’s measured, engagement could represent job satisfaction, emotional investment in the cause, willingness to invest discretionary effort, or advocating for the company as a good place to work. While many studies suggest that increased employee engagement leads to improved business results in aggregate, a deeper look at the data suggests that this may not always be true at an individual level.

Working with two Fortune 100 companies, we looked to test the assumption that highly engaged employees are more productive. The lack of good productivity metrics for most knowledge worker functions (as opposed to clear benchmark numbers for salespeople, for example) makes it difficult to quantify output at an individual level, so we turned to our Microsoft Workplace Analytics product, which uses de-identified calendar and email data to look for a relationship between inputs (working hours, time with manager, network size for example) and engagement.

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Nina Shikaloff
Nina Shikaloff

Nina Shikaloff is a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, where she delivers actionable insights for improving organizational efficiency and talent management to Fortune 500 companies using Workplace Analytics. She previously led analytic consulting, R&D and product management functions at FICO and InfoCentricity.

Ryan Fuller
Ryan Fuller

Ryan Fuller was the CEO and co-founder of VoloMetrix, a leading people analytics company acquired by Microsoft in 2015. Within Microsoft, Ryan leads a business unit focused on making organizational analytics capabilities broadly available. Previously he was a management consultant at Bain & Company.

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