Is Market Research the Solution to Employee Engagement Challenges?

According to Gallup, the world has an employee engagement crisis, with serious and potentially lasting repercussions for the global economy. Only 13% of employees are engaged at work. That means a massive 87% are disengaged.1

Multiple research companies including Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index Survey have found a direct connection exists between well-being and employee performance2. In fact, Gallup researchers studied the differences in performance between engaged and actively disengaged work units and found that those scoring in the top half on employee engagement nearly doubled their odds of success compared with those in the bottom half.

In research into the cost impact of disengagement, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School found in the US, employee disengagement costs the economy a huge $370bn a year. Drilling down to company level, that’s $3,400 a year for every $10,000 in salary. They reported that turnover, which often follows long-term disengagement, costs organisations between 48% and 61% of an employee’s annual salary.3

This disengagement epidemic will continue as long as organisations continue to refuse to address their challenges. However, building that elusive emotional bond with your staff is no different to connecting with your customers, it all starts off with quality data and research.

Learnings from Best Practice in Market Research

Employees are people and people have behavioural trends which are nearly always irrational. Consider your staff as your target market with unmet needs. Market research companies have been addressing this situation for decades. Here are some ways that your company can learn from the market researchers to readdress staff challenges.

  1. Know your market

Before you do anything, you need to know who you are targeting. Segment your staff by their life-stage as well as their demographics. For example, how many new mums do you have? How many empty nesters, new expats, and those whose direct family live in their home country? Your segmentation should represent their unmet emotional needs.

  • Define the issue

A challenge that is half-defined is a challenge half-resolved. If you know what the problem is, can you define it and its impact specifically and clearly? If you do not know what the problem is, then that’s your starting point right there. You cannot deliver customer satisfaction if you don’t know what their needs are. The route you take next is completely dependent on having this clarity.

  • Create your goal

Once you know what the issue is, you can start devising your outcome. Where do you want to be in relation to the current situation? How will you know that you have achieved it? What tangible evidence will indicate success? For example, the UAE has a plan to reduce the number of deaths caused by road traffic accidents to three people per 100,000 population by 2021. The number in July 2017 was six deaths per 100,000 people. This is a very tangible and specific goal. It’s measurable with evidence to indicate the current position against achieving the target.

  • Set your time parameters

Based on your problem and desired outcome, develop a project plan to allocate resources, involve stakeholders, plan communication and schedule milestones for execution. Devising a plan enables you to walk through a project in advance which allows you to predict scenarios and speed up implementation. It also provides clarity to all involved, smoothing the path ahead. Your plan works like a GPS app, so you can identify and navigate routes around traffic to reach your destination within your targeted timeframe.

  • Not all data is equal

I once had to reject a market research proposal that a territory manager wanted to conduct for a fashion business. It involved asking walk-in customers over a hundred questions about their personal lives and shopping habits. The proposed survey time was 30 mins. I concluded the experience would have been detrimental to the brand; that the amount of data to analyse for insights would have been too huge to be helpful (analysis paralysis); and, that the accuracy of data in the responses would be low due to responders’ survey fatigue. Before you conduct the survey, differentiate between data that is necessary and data that is interesting but not useful. Keep to the minimum number of questions required to give you accurate insights.

  • Ask and deliver

Only ask questions about aspects or issues that you and the business are willing to resolve. When you ask an opinion, and get a critical response, you automatically raise expectations in that person’s mind. They assume their issue will be addressed. For example, a particular Dubai-based café asked for intervention to make sense of its customer feedback process, they made a list of all their amenities and asked for comments. They locked certain washroom cubicles to use as storage due to lack of space and this kept coming up as a frustration for customers waiting for facilities. Repeatedly and specifically asking about inconveniences, that cannot be fixed, draws attention to them and reduces customer satisfaction.

  • Mind your language

Words have power and when it comes to asking questions, precision of communication is everything. If the questions are bad, the data collected will be bad. To check and avoid misinterpretations, market researchers test questionnaires first with test responders to discuss any ambiguity and get feedback. Use a selection of responders that represents your target with regards to segmentation, mother language and job roles. As a native English speaker, I can unknowingly and easily use words and phrases that others do not understand. Always run a test for comprehension.

  • Sharing is caring

Once you have collected your data and gathered your insights, be transparent and confident in sharing your findings. Not only does this increase staff confidence that you are listening, it also minimises any suspicion of hidden motives or hollow talk. Increasing trust will help increase engagement.

  • Create a manifesto

Once you have consensus on your recommendations, make a public declaration of planned actions with initial dates and accountabilities. This helps staff understand and adapt to changes that may not necessarily be personally beneficial. A manifesto is a statement of your accountability and commitment. An open display of which encourages the same positive behaviour in others.

In tech talk, the term garbage in, garbage out is used to describe how bad inputs result in bad outputs. Adopt these best practices from research pros and you will greatly improve your insights, your activities, and, ultimately, your employee engagement levels and KPIs.


  1. State of the Global Workplace, Gallup, USA 2017
  2. Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index Survey, Sharecare, USA 2017
  3. Powering Your Bottom Line Through Employee Engagement, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, USA 2013