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Why eNPS isn’t a great measure of employee engagement.

Spend much time researching employee engagement, and you’ll eventually come across the term eNPS. It can be a useful enough metric, but people often seem to conflate it with employee engagement in general. 

So, is eNPS a good measure of employee engagement, or is this confusion just muddling an already broad term?

Employee engagement versus eNPS

Is eNPS a good measure of employee engagement or not? We’re ultimately here to answer that question, but it’s hard to answer it clearly without first establishing some definitions. If you’ve spent more than five minutes on our blog, then you’ll probably know our definition of employee engagement off by heart.

So, to be brief, engagement is the extent of your attachment to your role and colleagues, as well as your commitment to the business and its goals. And while that sounds simple, there are numerous contributing factors such as wellbeing, work environment, compensation, autonomy and much more.

The good thing about eNPS is that it’s more specific, and therefore easier to nail down. It’s a variation on the idea of a Net Promoter Score, with the little “e” obviously standing for employee. A promoter is someone who would be willing to talk positively to others about the business, while the score is simply a performance metric. “Net” simply refers to whether the results are positive or negative in total.

So, a Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a quantifiable statistic that’s supposed to encapsulate how people feel about your business, its service, and its apparent ideals. So, while basic NPS deals with things like customer satisfaction, eNPS reflects how employees feel about your business, its service, and its workplace culture.

Essentially, that makes eNPS a short-hand stat for assessing the likelihood of employees advocating for your business. So, you can see why some might ask, is eNPS a good measure of employee engagement?

The pros of eNPS

The concept of NPS was invented by Frederick Reichheld as a new method of assessing customer satisfaction. The level of its success excited a lot of people, especially when they realised it might be useful in employee management too. So, let’s look at some of its strengths.

  • It’s a quantifiable result: Arguably, the biggest strength of eNPS is that it gives you a simple, measurable statistic with little ambiguity. With recurring eNPS surveys, this makes it much easier to analyse trends over time to be on the lookout for dissatisfaction among your staff.

    For a comparable example, consider Weekly10’s own employee check-ins. Although the qualitative questions provide valuable context, their use would be extremely limited without quantifiable metrics from other questions and goal-tracking backing them up.
  • It helps you track employee satisfaction: Putting aside the relationship between eNPS and employee engagement for the moment, eNPS can give you an idea of general employee happiness. While engagement is vital, just knowing whether your employees would recommend your products or you as an employer can be very useful info in terms of marketing and recruitment.
  • eNPS surveys tend to be very small and lightweight: One of the biggest problems with any survey is ensuring that there’s enough employee uptake to provide a workable sample size. Fortunately, eNPS gets around this to a degree by being incredibly minimal. In fact, some eNPS surveys contain only a single question. This makes it much less of a chore, and reduces the likelihood of employees being put off from filling it out.

The cons of eNPS

So, Net Promoter Scores definitely have their uses, but is eNPS a good measure of employee engagement? Unfortunately, while NPS is easy enough to get to grips with, it has some definite flaws that make its use as an engagement-tracking tool pretty questionable.

  • There’s a lack of detailed insight: Due to the small (sometimes singular) number of questions and the emphasis on quantitative information, you don’t really get a lot of context for eNPS stats. So, while you might know whether employees are talking positively about your business or not, you don’t necessarily know why.
  • The creator of NPS feels it is being misused: Although Reichheld feels that NPS is incredibly useful for its original purpose, he disagrees with some of the ways it’s been co-opted by businesses. Some businesses have taken to using it to calculate things like bonuses, or to justify investments, which Reichheld states is ‘just asking for trouble.’
  • There are clear flaws in eNPS stats: Given that eNPS is a quantitative metric, you’d think its stats would be on point. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. For example, many eNPS metrics use 11-point rating scales. By itself, this isn’t a problem. What is a problem is that they’re broadly categorised.

    0-6 scores are labelled detractors. 7-8s are labelled passives, while only 9-10s are labelled promoters. So, if you had one team where everyone gave scores of zero or one, and another where they gave scores of five or six, there wouldn’t be any distinction in the end result.

    That’s despite one team responding around 50% more positively than the other. On top of that, so-called “passives” may as well not have responded at all.

So, is eNPS a good measure of employee engagement after all?

Although it has some clear flaws, eNPS can be a useful metric for getting an idea of employee satisfaction. But it’s essential to remember that satisfaction isn’t the same as engagement. Satisfaction is absolutely part of the wider engagement puzzle, but it’s far from the whole. 

For example, picture an employee who is very lazy, does little work and never gets pulled up for it.

That employee is quite possibly very satisfied by not having to work. They could happily recommend others get a job with your company because it’s so easy to coast by. They might even like the products or services their employer sells. In theory, that means they’d give you a high eNPS rating, but nobody in their right mind would call that person an engaged staff member.

Just to be clear, we’re not saying that eNPS stats are useless. We’re saying that, firstly, they aren’t a single measure of engagement in any sense, and shouldn’t be taken as gospel. And secondly, eNPS is only one facet of the questions you should be asking to give managers and HR the insight they need to help employees thrive at work.

Get a clearer measure of how engaged your people are with a simple 10-minute employee check-in.