Does Your Company Need a Fitbit to Measure Employee Engagement? Probably Not.

By Sarah Johnson, PhD - July 26, 2018

Continuous Listening and frequent pulse surveys have become popular topics in organizations these days. Companies feel the need to have frequent input from employees, and so design a process to continuously collect data on engagement and other key people metrics. Some have even said the use of continuous listening programs is like having a Fitbit for the company.

I personally used a Fitbit for quite a while. I loved the immediate feedback about the number of steps I had taken and how long I had been exercising. It made me aware of how much (or little) I had been moving and encouraged me to get on my feet. I was motivated to get as many steps as I could, and to continue to increase my daily steps average. It’s fair to say that I got a little obsessed with it. I wore it as often as I could.

But it didn’t take me too long to see where my Fitbit was letting me down. When I triangulated my steps with other counting tools I realized my Fitbit was inaccurate. It didn’t count a step if I didn’t use my arms, so all my steps in the grocery store or dragging my suitcase through an airport didn’t count. I learned that I could game the system, so when I felt my actual steps were undercounted I shook my wrist to activate the counter to accumulate the step count I thought was right. While my Fitbit told me how many steps I had taken, it didn’t tell me the quality of those steps; walking through a grocery store is different than hiking a rocky uphill trail. I could compare my step count to that of others, but was it benefiting me to have more steps than they did? Its measures were pretty myopic; all that mattered to the Fitbit were steps…it didn’t care that I was swimming laps or running or lifting weights. What difference did all those steps make to my health and my life? My obsession waned after a while, and I haven’t put the old Fitbit on in years.

So how are pulse surveys and continuous listening different than a Fitbit? If they ask the same questions over and over, if the focus is on the “score” and managers game the system to push that score higher to what they think it should be, if little insight beyond the score is given, then the survey is like a Fitbit. It’s valuable initially, it may create a high level of interest and maybe a little obsession, but at some point it will lose its appeal. Why? It isn’t accurate in its evaluation of organization health. The feedback it provides is narrow and incomplete. It doesn’t take into account strong headwinds or the steep slope of the trail ahead, which may contribute to the organization’s health or the lack of it.

Numbers are great. Tracking is great. But evaluating organizational health and effectiveness is complex and nuanced. One number doesn’t tell the tale, no matter how many times you collect the data or how continuously you listen.

Better to create a survey strategy: What’s important to the company and what will it take to succeed? Then build a survey plan to collect the right data…metrics, multiple populations, meaningful timing and frequency…that provides insight, explanation and suggests action.

Who knows, I may get another Fitbit one day. I just won’t rely on it for the full story.


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