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External benchmarks for employee engagement surveys

3 min read
We get asked about employee engagement benchmarks a lot, and we’re seeing a trend away from heavy reliance on them. Here’s why we think that is:

Benchmarks are data collected from other organisations, against which you can compare your survey. You can see whether your scores are higher or lower than other organisations’, 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 organisations are the same

Every company has a unique culture, perspective and challenges. Just because a group of organisations (the benchmark) scores high and low in one area, it’s wrong to assume that any individual organisation 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 which can significantly change the meaning of a survey item and dilute comparison.

Lost in translation

Benchmarked questions are often translated within different organisations for different countries. Where this isn’t extremely 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 organisations lumped together (even though the experiences of small and large organisations are vastly different).

Benchmarks generalise 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 outwards, rather than inwards to a company’s own employees. What constitutes good for your organisation?

Benchmarks mean compromising on your survey design

Instead of being 100% aligned to your organisation’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 organisations. As surveys become more tailored, they shift away from external comparison and move towards internal action.

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