Employee Engagement

What to Know About Employee Engagement Benchmarks

We get asked about employee engagement benchmarks a lot. We’re seeing a trend away from heavy reliance on them. Here’s why we think that’s the case.

Benchmarks are data collected from other organizations, against which you can compare your survey. You can see whether your scores are higher or lower than other organizations’, and many companies make value judgements (good/bad) based on these benchmarks.

But that doesn’t mean you should rely on them too heavily. Here are some realities around external benchmarks and why we believe there’s a trend moving away from them:

No Two Organizations Are the Same

Every company has a unique culture, perspective, and challenges. Just because a group of organizations (the benchmark) scores high and low in one area, it’s wrong to assume that any individual organization should score high or low in that area.

Definitions Can Be Misleading

For example, “Senior Leaders” in one company may be referred to as “executives” in another, a small difference in definition but one that can significantly change the meaning of a survey item and dilute comparison.

Lost in Translation

Benchmarked questions are often translated within different organizations for different countries. Where this isn’t closely managed, translated items can lose their original meanings and nuances, resulting in incomparable responses.

Disparate Companies Are Often Grouped Together in a Benchmark

Industry, country, and global benchmarks are made up of a group of both large and small organizations lumped together (even though the experiences of small and large organizations are vastly different).

Benchmarks generalize heavily across many different types of companies of different sizes, maturity, and culture, so they may not be a wholly accurate way to assess your performance.

Benchmarks Focus Externally, Not Internally

With an external benchmark, the focus of a survey turns outward, rather than inward to a company’s own employees. What constitutes good for your organization?

Benchmarks Mean Compromising on Your Survey Design

Instead of being 100% aligned to your organization’s unique needs, a benchmarked survey is limited to asking the items that are included in an existing benchmark.

Be Wary of Data Sharing

By subscribing to a provider’s benchmark, it’s likely you are giving them permission to download and use your survey response data to add it to their benchmark database. This ultimately becomes their intellectual property. Do you want this?

We advise against reliance on external benchmarks, and recommend you take ownership of your programs. We understand some stakeholders will be reluctant to let go, and we can offer benchmarking through our partner organizations. As surveys become more tailored, they shift away from external comparison and move toward internal action.