What is it?

Employee Engagement is a subject that is being discussed more and more in companies today. There is little or no doubt that having it is a good thing. Report after report describes the ‘bottom-line’ benefits that can be realised. However, information on what it actually is and how to achieve it is very illusive.

In this series of blog posts, I intend to give you some insight into my experience of what it is, and share with you some of the things that can be done in order to grow it in your company.

One of the issues with Employee Engagement is that it is often confused with, or seen as the same as, Employee Satisfaction. It is also often seen as something to be done: “we need to Engage with our Employees“. This confusion reminds me of much of the work done with a very similar, and indeed connected subject – Empowerment.

Much of the work that has been done on Empowerment in that past, and unfortunately is still done today, looks at Empowerment as something that is given to employees. The word is synonymous with delegated authority. So when a manager is empowering someone, they are giving ownership. The issue with this is that when employees are not motivated or commited to their role or the company, it can result in the employee feeling like they are being dumped on. In the excellent Zapp!! The Lightening of Empowerment, William Byam and Jeff Cox turned the subject on its head. Empowerment is not something to be done, it is a result: a choice that people make when the environment is right.

I believe Employee Engagement is the same.

One definition of an Engaged Employee is one who:

  • Is intellectually and emotionally bound to the company
  • gives 100% to the company
  • feels passionate about the company’s goals
  • is committed to live by the company’s values

This all makes sense, and it is easy to see how having a workforce made up of people like this would make a dramatic difference to a company. However, all of these things are outcomes. They are the result of how the employee feels and behaves, and much of that is based on their personality or predisposition. Some people are just naturally predisposed to work in this way and others are not. However, almost every person’s discretionary effort is based on how they feel at any particular time; and how they feel is affected by the environment they work in and how they are treated. And remember, discretionary effort is what it’s all about. We are looking for the work people do that is over and above what they have to, or what they can get away with.

We therefore have at least 3 different ways of looking at Employee Engagement

  • Engagement Base – how people are at a personality level: what is their predisposition to being motived, positive and committed?
  • Engagement Outcomes – how the Base, and the environment result in discretionary effort: how do they feel and what do they do, over and above what they have to?
  • Engagement Actions – what is Leadership doing to maximise the Engagement Outcomes: what are the Leadership practices that create the environment for people to choose to be more engaged?

Unless you are starting a new team, or are looking at recruitment, there is nothing to be done about the Engagement Base of your people. The challenge is how to get the best from what you have got. This and more will be the subject of the following parts of this blog series.

Employee Engagement is not something to be done, it is a choice that people make based on their personality, and the environment they are in. The Leadership challenge is therefore, what actions to take to create an environment where people will choose to be Engaged.

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