Organisational culture: What does engagement survey data say?

Organisational culture is crucial. It’s a big determinant of organisational effectiveness and can be a constraint or an enabler of organisational change.

“Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

The concept of organisational culture has broadened as a topic. As a result of societal attitudes, it is changing and will continue to evolve.

We conducted some analysis on our database of non-profit organisations’ engagement survey results. The analysis is based on the 80 engagement surveys that we run each year. The findings shed light on the intricate relationship between organisational culture, leadership, abuse, and employee engagement.

The data shows large differences in culture between organisations

Our approach to researching our database for this analysis has been to focus on some culture related questions we’ve asked in our surveys (see table below).

For each question we have ranked organisations from strongest to weakest, and in the table below we compare the top 25% – the top quartile of organisations – with the lowest 25%  – the lowest quartile of organisations.


Average percentage of staff who responded positively

Survey question

Top Quartile of organisations

Lowest Quartile of organisations

I would recommend this organisation as a good place to work (Engagement Index)



I trust and respect the leadership group in this organisation



This organisation is open, honest and shares information effectively



My ideas and opinions are listened to



This organisation manages change effectively 70%


This organisation has strong values and operates to high ethical standards



Different parts of the organisation work well together



This organisation encourages innovation




When we looked at abuse, we focused on the percentage of staff saying that they have experienced discrimination, abuse of authority, bullying, harassment, or sexual harassment in last 12 months. In top quartile organisations, the figure is less than 8%, for the lowest quartile it is around 20%.


One measure is the difference between men and women in engagement survey results. Where there is greatest gender equality there is no engagement gap. In the least strong organisations this gap is consistently 10% or more i.e., women 10% less positive than men on average.

diverse group of women sat around a table analysing reports on organisational culture changeThere are substantial connections between organisational culture factors

In other words, when an organisation has a high score on one factor it often has a high score on other factors.

Here are a couple of examples:

1) when leaders are trusted and seen as effective, this leads to higher engagement

2) staff who experience abuse are more negative on all factors

Putting this together what we see is that:

a) there are organisations who achieve good scores across the board

b) there are many organisations in the middle with modest/mixed scores

and c) organisations with weaker cultures have poor scores across the board

There are usually substantial differences within organisations on these indicators

In other words, some departments have stronger results than the organisation as whole and some have weaker results.

This confirms what we know namely that departmental leaders have a substantial impact on culture.

What this means is that whilst there may be a predominant culture for the organisation as whole, in all likelihood there will be also many cultures in different departments.

Which in turn brings into focus the role of departmental leaders in shaping culture and their varying skills in so doing.

However, for organisations with strong cultures, only a few departments tend to have low scores. Whereas for organisations with less positive overall cultures, there will be many departments with low scores.

piece of paper on wooden surface featuring graphs and charts to illustrate organisational culture trends

Two key organisational culture trends

  1. We are seeing general improvements in culture over time in many organisations as more leaders buy into the notion that perspectives of staff are important. They are increasingly seeking to listen and create good two-way communications.
  2. Engagement scores were up in Spring/Summer 2020 as a result of greater leader visibility and better communications. However, these returned to trend afterwards.

In summary, organisations with the strongest cultures:

  • Have high engagement
  • Have high levels of trust and respect of leaders
  • Have established good two-way communication methods – listening as well as telling
  • Ensure that their organisation works to high values and ethical standards in practice
  • Have low levels of abuse
  • Are working hard on Equality Diversity and Inclusion

group of staff with hands in the middle of a circle, demonstrating organisational culture

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