Employee engagement has many definitions and measures.
Scholars  describe employee engagement as “the emotional and intellectual commitment to the organization.” Employee engagement has also been defined as “positive attitudes and behaviors enabling high job performance, which are in tune with the organization’s mission.”
In its “State of the Global Workplace” report, the Gallup Organization found 13 percent of workers are fully engaged in their jobs, 63 percent are not engaged and 24 percent are actively disengaged.
The most common way organizations measure engagement is by using survey items that measure satisfaction, effort and commitment to the organization. Other techniques include mood monitors, employee opinions, focus groups and social media sentiment.
However, there isn’t much research on measuring employee engagement.
How valid and reliable are the above measures? Can employee engagement surveys really tell you how engaged your employees are? Are self-perceived employee engagement levels a better measure of employee engagement? How about direct measures of employee behavior and linking engagement to business outcomes?
Direct measures of employee engagement
What are some direct measures organizations can use to better understand and measure engagement levels? A recent article in Harvard Business Review discusses some, including:
- The amount of work outside normal working hours.
- Time spent with people outside the immediate team.
- Participation in ad-hoc meetings and initiatives.
The article outlines four broader direct measures that organizations can use to measure employee engagement:
1. Management quality time: This is the quality and quantity of time an employee spends with his manager. An employee’s engagement level can increase the more time he spends with his direct manager and the organization’s leaders.
2. Colleagues: An employee’s colleagues and team members directly affect his engagement level. The ratio of highly engaged to lesser-engaged employees on a team affects an employee’s engagement.
3. Relationships: The number of strong-tie connections an employee has will affect his engagement level. The number of strong-tie connections, weak-tie connections and variability of network over time are all direct measures of employee engagement. Frequent interaction with colleagues increases engagement, as does exposure to ideas from people outside an employee’s core relationships.
4. Work schedule: The amount of meaningful work time an employee has between meetings and other events determines his engagement level. When employees’ work time is overly fragmented, their engagement levels decrease drastically. It takes 15 minutes to return to productivity after an interruption.
The larger goal: Linking engagement with business outcomes
Traditional attitude surveys versus new ways to directly measure employee engagement make up just one part of the engagement story. The other part is defined by business outcomes and how increased employee engagement can lead to higher productivity, more innovation and fewer conflicts. Organizations with more engaged employees have a greater return on assets, profitability and shareholder value. 
Pursue a holistic, integrated approach to measuring and driving employee engagement. Can we find measures of causal links between employee engagement and performance? Can we develop measures that have predictive validity and can help provide meaningful information for the future?
Measuring employee engagement should be more evidence-based, and for that we need practical, reliable and consistent metrics. We must track engagement, sentiment and issues within organizations.
We have to discover ways to make employee engagement measures more meaningful for organizations globally, and for managers and teams to be able to understand and evaluate employee engagement.
 Richman, A. (2006), “Everyone wants an engaged workforce how can you create it?” Workspan, Vol. 49, pp. 36-9.
 John Storey, Patrick M Wright, David Ulrich eds. (2008). The Routledge Companion to Strategic Human Resource Management.
 Macey, W. H., Schneider, B., Barbera, K. M., & Young, S. A. (2009). Employee engagement: Tools for analysis, practice, and competitive advantage. Malden, WA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Sarab Kochhar is director of research at the Institute for Public Relations. A version of this article originally appeared on The Measurement Standard.