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The culture and employee engagement equation


Sending out an annual survey to employees to assess internal culture is a common practice for many people and culture professionals. The problem is that companies often focus exclusively on measuring engagement rather than opportunities to improve it. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs, that’s a worrying statistic, coupled with the notion that companies are merely hearing this feedback, but not acting on it. But what does it take to turn employee engagement feedback into action, and action that contributes to the culture goals of the organization?

Know where you stand - metrics aren’t enough

Numbers alone only tell you a part of your employee engagement story. They usually tick a corporate reporting box, and give you a vague indication of how happy, or unhappy, each department feels overall. What a linear metrics-based system cannot do is give you the underlying detail as to why your employees answered questions the way they did, or what particular aspects of their workplace are influencing their responses, one way or the other. What the numbers alone certainly cannot do, is improve your organization’s business outcomes, or tell you very much about how to improve.

By collecting feedback from employees that includes open-ended responses, where they can express their opinions and thoughts, leads to the kind of employee engagement results that will allow you to take action as an organization – simply because you’ll now understand what issues or problems need addressing. Numbers alone can’t tell you that your finance team are concerned that the outdated software they’re using is impacting their productivity.



Companies need a holistic, real-time view of employee engagement to truly make an impact

The first step to achieving this view, is measuring engagement more often, in smaller, regular and focused ‘pulse checks’. By undertaking these checks, you’ll know about every day stressors, deadline pressures, location and relationship issues as they happen – not six, or 12 months later. Your employees also begin to feel as if they’re being seen and heard, while management begins to understand, on a deeper level, what’s really going on in the workplace and what to do about it.

Regular pulse checks also allow for analysis over time, giving the organization a view of the trends of topics and issues that might have come up in the past six, 12 or 18 months. This also allows you to see where you’ve made improvements. Maybe a lack of facilities in the employee kitchen was indicated that needed improvement, but being a relatively easy issue to address, 12 months later, it’s reported as something your employees appreciate about their workplace.


Get it right from the beginning – let prospective employees know who you are

In many organizations, there’s a stable flow of employees exiting, and therefore new employees entering the workplace. Part of working towards a great culture, is getting the fit right at the hiring stage. An integral element of this is firstly knowing what your company stands for, and being able to articulate your culture to an outsider.

A good example of an organization who has been crystal clear on their culture and identity as an employer is Netflix. In 2009, Netflix’s culture deck made its way onto the internet, and promptly went viral due to its daring tone and no holds barred approach.

One of the most memorable phrases to come from that deck is “brilliant jerks”. Netflix coined the term to describe exactly the kind of individual they don’t want on their team;

“On a dream team, there are no ‘brilliant jerks.’ The cost to teamwork is just too high. Our view is that brilliant people are also capable of decent human interactions, and we insist upon that.”


While they were at it, they also debunked the myth of the “eccentric and tech obsessed CEO” and noted “those afraid of feedback need not apply”.

Was it a bold approach? Sure. But it was clear, concise and let anyone who might be interested in working for Netflix know exactly what to expect. It also allowed candidates to self asses as to whether they would fit into the culture Netflix had built. All people and culture professionals know that technical skill is only part of the hiring equation, and that hiring for a culture fit is equally, if not more important. It’s essential that you’re clear with candidates about your culture before they sign on the dotted line of their new employment contact, lest you wind up back where you started, and looking for a new candidate that better suits your organization.

It starts at the top

Organizations need to actively manage their employer brand and culture, and making improvements to your employee engagement starts from the top. The senior leaders of the organization must articulate and model a clear vision to all employees, and should encourage open communication from staff. It’s also important that management demonstrate to employees that everyone has a part to play, and a direct impact on their work environment.


Learn from those who get it right

There are great lessons to be learned from organizations who have cracked the code on culture and employee engagement, and taking the time to understand what they’re doing right can produce some valuable strategies.

Southwest Airlines is an example of an organization who has figured out that employees perform best, and are most engaged when the company mission is clear. In the airline industry, customer service is not always easy, however Southwest’s employees are united under one common mission statement: “To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline”. However, Southwest didn’t stop at letting their employees know what the mission was, they were also clear about the purpose: “We exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

By bringing their employees along for this journey, the staff at Southwest Airlines feel like they’re part of the crusade to achieve the company’s mission and live this purpose in their day to day roles.

This is just one part of several elements that make up Southwest’s employee engagement strategy, including regular profit shares, internal recognition programs, and putting their employees before their customers. Everyone in the organization is taught to live ‘the Southwest way’, which encourages them to put others first, and demonstrate proactive customer service. Southwest’s employees feel they’re put first by their organization, and this behavior is modeled from the CEO down.

The sky is the limit

Getting your culture right, and positively impacting the employee engagement in an organization is an art and a science that involves having a clear understanding. An understanding of what your organization stands for and is aiming to achieve, and an ongoing understanding of what your employees truly think and feel about their day to day work lives.

Armed with this knowledge, positive culture change and employee engagement moves from a corporate box-ticking activity, to the very thing that sets you apart from your competitors, improving productivity and customer interactions, and ultimately, your bottom line.


To learn more about employee engagement and culture, download our free whitepaper below: 
a Culture Fit: Building Better Companies Through Company Culture and Employee Engagement. 

Download the Whitepaper

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