Katharina Auer, Measuring Engagement, Zurich Insurance

4 February 2017 / by admin

To set some context

Zurich as a business has an incredible heritage – we are 135 years young and have around 55,000 employees worldwide. It is these employees who are at the heart of our success.

As a business we have extremely ambitious targets for service excellence and growth. In order to help achieve these targets we need a culture of continuous listening and high performance.  In short we want to get a deeper understanding of what makes employees tick, and measure it!

Since 2009, the company has run global surveys every two years, which gave valuable but limited insight into perceptions of, for example, strategy execution, career development, leadership effectiveness and culture. We recognised that our approach to measuring employee engagement should be more strategic and business relevant.

To gain a better understanding of whether we were doing the right things to drive excellent performance, we need much more regular insights into the employee experience. The company decided to move away from their traditional survey cycle which occurred every two years to a continuous listening approach.

So,  working closely with HR, the Zurich IC team developed a new approach called Voice of the Employee, or VoE for short. We wanted to move away from capturing just ‘moments in time’ survey data and snapshots, to a more fluid approach that would provide us with a more regular flow of employee feedback. This would help continuous improvement within teams and help in aligning employees with Zurich’s strategy.

Gathering a more regular feedback flow helps teams track how their doing against improvement priorities they have identified as part of the overall survey feedback.  This is primarily local and team driven, but through ongoing pulse surveys and dialogue with employee networks and communication colleagues around the world, we can get pretty good temperature checks. We may not have all of the sophisticated tools we would like, but our approach is pragmatic and focuses on working with what we have.

Bear with me here as this is going to get a bit technical. In addition to employee engagement and performance enablement, we also  measure the degree to which employees are active advocates of Zurich as a place to work and of Zurich’s products and services, giving us an Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), which gives us structured data.  As it turns out, this score correlates strongly with employee engagement and is therefore a potential predictor of company performance and staff loyalty. The eNPS survey items have been very well received by the business, many parts of which are familiar with this methodology from customer research practice. The biggest advantage of creating the eNPS was that we have created a methodology that makes sense to the wider team outside of the comms function, and one that can be correlated to customer NPS data. Verbatims from surveys as well as network feedback, online comments & ratings give us unstructured data.

We have supported the VoE survey with other measures of employee views, such as online polls, pulse surveys, exit surveys (in some countries) and plans for a new joiner survey. In addition, Zurich monitors internal and external social feedback and data.

In addition, HR used the data to analyse turnover and causes of turnover in specific employee demographics.  This analysis will help address any attrition issues and potentially retention in these specific groups.


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So where does communication come into this?

The employee survey data represents communication outcomes.  Internal Communications (the function) enables internal communications (the process), which includes effective leader and line manager communication, as well as the communication activities, tools & channels the team delivers and manages.   We have clearly defined objectives, outcome and activity measures for everything we do.  We train and upskill leaders and managers with a communication skills training we have developed, and we provide them with the tools and talking points they need.  We look at the data to identify where we, the IC team, need to strengthen our focus.  We encourage open and honest feedback from employees through our channels, including live ‘jams’ on Yammer with senior leaders.  We measure channel effectiveness, we measure communication effectiveness by projects or workstreams and finally, we measure activity effectiveness (with post event research for instance). But the full employee data set is essentially the ‘mother lode’ of outcomes data for an internal communicator.  If we did a good job delivering our activities, as well as enabling leaders and managers to communicate effectively, the outcome data will be positive.

Why does it matter?

Research from AON Hewitt shows that organizations with high levels of engagement (65% or greater) continue to outperform the total stock market index and posted total shareholder returns 22% higher than average. On the other hand, companies with low engagement (45% or less) had a total shareholder return that was 28% lower than the average.

So: effective internal communication practices (the IC team and the IC process) drive engagement, which in turn drives productivity, which in turn impacts business outcomes (for example total shareholder return, employee turnover costs, health & safety performance).

We are now looking forward to working on the next steps of our continuous listening strategy to capture the value of our employees’ views and opinions. The continuous improvement approach will not end as we strive to make Zurich a business where employees continue to thrive, are rewarded with more opportunities and most importantly enjoy their work.

Any comments?

We’d love to get your thoughts on this. How do you currently approach your employee engagement survey? Have you considered a daily approach rather than the more traditional annual survey? How do your leaders / managers help with the ongoing engagement efforts?

Get in touch by emailing Neil at or calling (0) 20 7720 0105.