I’ve recently been asked to deliver a workshop on employee engagement. It’s been a while since I’ve run a session like this, so I dug out my material and refreshed my thoughts.
And got very grumpy.
Now I know that there are issues with the concept of employee engagement as it is often presented. There are many unanswered questions too.
What do we actually mean by the term?
Exactly what are we asking people to engage with? The job, the company, the mission statement, their profession?
Is employee engagement anything new or is it just re-mixing and updating the old theories about motivation and job satisfaction?
Can we measure it? Especially if we don’t know what it is?
Can a feeling ever be a percentage?
Has Engage 4 Success ever said anything useful?
Is it even a thing, or is it snake oil?
But it struck me that there is a bigger, more fundamental question.
However we label it, we know lots and lots of stuff about what people like, want and value about and from work. We also know plenty about what demotivates and disengages people too.
So why don’t we apply it?
I’ve worked in HR for more than twenty years. During that time, in no particular order, here is a list of people related stuff, all of which contributes to creating good work and good workplaces and making people happy that I have seen side-lined, budget removed from, ignored and paid lip service too:
- Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
- Flexible Working
- Learning and Development
- Leadership development
- Candidate experience
- Supporting working families
- Fair approaches to remuneration
- Decent toilets and basic facilities like somewhere to make a nice cup of tea.
If we want employee engagement, job satisfaction, effect employee experience, motivation, self-actualisation, discretionary effort or just simply happy people, we know much of the theory.
So the big question is simply this.
If organisations want employee engagement so badly, why aren’t those same organisations doing the things that we know will get us there? We can make an industry out of this stuff, make it more complicated than it needs to be.
Or we can get on with it.
Here’s a stock image of some people looking really happy at work. Cos, you know, engagement.
One of the most telling comments I received when running a CIPD workshop for the Engagement Module was when one of the learners said “So, what you are really saying is that we should just be doing good people stuff but call it ‘engagement initiatives’ because that’s the term CEOs and people like that want to hear”.
Before the financial crisis that sent everything into a spin and sparked auasterity leading to a decade of more for less, I was sitting in the offices of what was then the Dti with a client. At the time, our Omnicom agency had a range of models (as they do) and engagement was just one step in a process of enabling employees to develop sustainable binds with their workplace and give more, as a result. It was one step. I was then introduced to a civil servant who would be leading the “taskforce” to ramp up engagement as an outcome of change, He and I had a frank exchange of words about this misdirection. This then rolled into town as a government initiative spawning all manner of nonsense until everyone developed a collective ice-cream headache. Oddy, all the indices headed south. It did distract from the nasty austerity message, though and CBES etc were handed out. But are we any better for the creation of an “industry”? Um…….