Fear and Loathing in Employee Engagement Research

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mind-gaugeOne of the key trends in consumer marketing research right now is to measure emotions and connect them to behavior. So we’re hearing a lot about neuromarketing research, about biometrics, and other measures of emotional response to marketing stimuli. This is a very promising area of research – after all we know that emotions motivate behavior, and indeed, can be stronger drivers of behavior than more rationale considerations. Being able to produce a stronger emotional response to marketing programs and tactics is highly desirable.

But what about employees? Why can’t we apply the same logic to our employees and their emotional response to their employer?

Well, it is probably cost prohibitive (not to mention illegal) to put employees into neuromarketing measurement gear or to slap blood pressure cuffs on them while talking about the company they work for. None the less, people bring their emotions to work every day and if we don’t consider them in our employee engagement research, we ignore them at our peril.

Measuring Employee Emotions

Thankfully, there is another way to measure emotions that is adapted from consumer research to employee research. This approach is a series of questions that can be easily and inexpensively incorporated into your employee engagement research to measure what emotions employees feel and how strongly they experience those emotions. Over time, this can become a critical metric to evaluate employee engagement.

These questions come out of established research that started with Paul Ekman, the American psychologist who pioneered the use of facial recognition systems. He identified six basic emotions and tied them to facial expressions. By reading the facial expression of respondents, you could identify the emotion being experienced. The six basic emotions are: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.

Subsequently, Robert Plutchik, another American psychologist expanded on Eckman’s work, adding an additional two emotions: anticipation and trust. He further added the concept of valency: how strongly the emotion is felt and whether it is positive or negative. (For example, you could anticipate something good about to happen or something negative, and you could anticipate something a little or a lot.) He illustrated the construct as follows: plutchiks-wheel

In terms of valency, the standard score is +3 to -3, with 0 being the neutral point.

Using Eckman’s and Plutchik’s research, it is fairly easy to add survey questions to identify what emotions and how strongly held those emotions are for employees. For each of the eight basic emotions, employees could be asked:

“Does thinking about working at ABC Company make you feel negative or positive overall?”



“When thinking about working at ABC Company today, do you feel surprise?”

Not at all

To a small extent

To a medium extent

To a large extent

Of course, you repeat these questions for each of the basic emotions. In terms of analysis, average ratings for those feeling the emotion can be useful when tracked over time. And of course, you can always add an open-end question to better explore why employees feel the way they do. (Alternatively you could ask about how they feel when they think about working for ABC Company for the next few years.)

Evaluating employee’s emotional states enhances the typical employee engagement metrics by giving insight into powerful forces behind the numbers. Businesses that concern themselves with understanding how employees feel will be better able to craft communications and programs to improve employees’ emotional well-being.

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Lenni Moore

Lenni Moore is the Director of Operations at Infosurv. She’s always been passionate about fostering strong professional relationships. It’s precisely these relationships that allow her to exceed her clients’ expectations because she knows exactly what they want and then leverages her experience to get it for them.
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