How likely is it that you would recommend our product or service to a friend or colleague? That’s the question at the core of an employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), made famous by business strategist and author Fred Reichheld in his 2006 book, The Ultimate Question. It’s something marketers and business owners have come to rely on as a way of checking the fundamental health of their businesses.

While its original intention was to measure customer loyalty and advocacy, it can easily be directed to another target audience: your employees. The Employee Net Promoter Score survey can be a powerful way to quickly understand the overall level of engagement of your workforce and the strongest drivers of that engagement. As you achieve a higher eNPS, you’ll experience:

  • Lower turnover
  • Increased productivity as a result of increased engagement
  • An easier time recruiting strong candidates due to an enhanced employer brand and more employee referrals

Here’s how to make eNPS work for you.

Conducting the Survey

The standard NPS question needs to be tweaked only slightly to become an eNPS question. The most common formulation is:

How likely is it that you would recommend this company as a place to work?

Respondents answer with a score ranging from 0 (not at all likely) to 10 (extremely likely), and fall into three categories based on their ratings:

  • 9-10 – Promoters
  • 7-8 – Neutral
  • 0-6 – Detractors

The eNPS can then be calculated with this simple equation:

eNPS = % Promoters – % Detractors

Your eNPS will be on a scale of -100 to +100. (Companies often miscalculate by subtracting the number of promoters from the number of detractors or by just averaging out the responses. Don’t fall into either of those traps).

Once you do that calculation, you have a high-level understanding of the overall happiness of your workforce.

While it’s referred to as the “ultimate” question, eNPS really involves at least one more question:

What’s the primary reason for the score you gave?

While the first question tells you where you are, it doesn’t tell you why you’re there. That’s where the second question comes in. Asking this open-ended question and examining the free-form responses helps you understand the biggest drivers of employee happiness and engagement at your company. Without it, you’re likely to just feel frustrated.

The second question—what’s the primary reason for the score you gave?—lets you understand why the score is the way it is and what you can do about it.

Understanding Your eNPS

The numerical eNPS is straightforward in its meaning.

If your eNPS is negative, your employees on average are detractive. A negative eNPS likely means you’ve got employee engagement problems as significant as the score is negative.

If your eNPS is positive, your workforce is promotive. The higher the score, the more likely your employee base it to encourage their friends to join the company, and to feel fully committed to the company and fulfilled by their work.

A word of caution: if you’re familiar with NPS scores regularly seen for customer surveys, your eNPS results may surprise you. Employees are likely to be harsher in an eNPS survey than they would be in a customer NPS survey, and for good reason. On average, they invest far more time and emotional energy in their relationship with work than they do with the products they buy. Keep that in mind as you calculate your eNPS.

Finding the Biggest Drivers of Your eNPS

Understanding why your eNPS is the way it is requires looking carefully at the responses to the second question. Depending on your resources, you can hire an analyst or examine the responses in-house, but take the responses seriously if you want to understand the main drivers of engagement and employer brand advocacy.

Look at the primary reasons provided by each of the three groups.

What are promoters saying that makes them particularly likely to recommend your company as a place to work? Is that driving force something you can deliver to neutral and detractor employees?

What’s holding neutral respondents back from being promoters? Are they significant challenge? Or, is there some low-hanging fruit that you can quickly address to boost engagement?

For detractors, is their dissatisfaction stemming from something that can be addressed immediately? Are there clear themes that suggest you need to consider some major changes?

Responding to Your Results and Improving eNPS Over Time

When done well, eNPS is a whole system for employee engagement, not just an occasional outcomes measurement.

Once you can answer the above questions, come up with a plan to improve your eNPS. Identify what you’re going to do, and be able to explain how your recommended actions map directly back to key drivers of your eNPS score. After you execute on the plan, conduct another eNPS survey to see what progress you’ve made, and repeat this process for continual improvement.

At the end of the day, demonstrating that you’re taking your eNPS seriously and acting on the results is what matters most. The message you need to send to your employees is one that inspires optimism: “as a company, we understand how our employees feel, and we’re going to do a variety of things to improve their work lives.”

And when you follow through with action, you’ll inspire further engagement.