Are your employees really your greatest asset?

simon heathThe first tweet I saw this morning was from Simon Heath. He was calling out that old staple ‘your employees are your greatest asset’.

It is a statement that has become a cliché.

It’s also a cliché to say that actions speak louder than words. In the case of employees, it is most definitely true.

Anyone can say that employees are their greatest asset. In much the same way that anyone can come up with a generic list of values and put them on a website and into the corporate induction.

When it comes to leading people, words are just words.

Whether you really mean them is shown up in your actions, in the every day.

Putting aside the idea of employees as assets (something that I instinctively dislike), this is something you shouldn’t get to say unless you mean it.

If people are your greatest asset, don’t say it, prove it.

It should be evident in your recruitment practices, your people policies, the reward that you offer, the learning opportunities in place, in the actions of your leaders.

To anyone organisation that says people are their greatest asset, I would pose these questions:

  • Do you pay the living wage?
  • Do you offer flexible working?
  • Do you go out of your way to create a great candidate experience?
  • Do you have an induction that supports this statement?
  • Do you invest heavily in your leaders so that they can bring this to life when it comes to leading their teams?
  • Do you have a way to give people regular feedback on their performance – and I don’t mean a once a year appraisal.
  • Do you have awesome internal communications?
  • Do you offer people the freedom to do their best work?
  • Do your people polices treat people and speak to them like they are adults?
  • Do you invest in people’s development even when budgets are tight?
  • Do you offer a range of rewards that are flexible and meet the individual needs of your employees?
  • Do you treat your employees as well as you treat your customers?

As a minimum, if you can’t answer yes to these questions, then your actions don’t match your words. You are not treating people like they are your greatest asset.

So stop saying it.

Image by Simon Heath.


No Survey Required

I saw some discussion on Twitter recently about measuring employee engagement.

I can confirm that I was polite in my contribution.

Of course if measuring employee engagement is something you feel it is important to do, then there are the obvious solutions. Annual surveys and pulse surveys and temperature checks.  Surveys on paper surveys on apps.  Big fat long surveys and little ones too.  Hit a button as you leave the office emoticon style how are you feeling today type checks.

They are all there to choose from. To measure something for you.

Measurement. In inverted commas.

Because of course there is more to engagement than percentages. Filled in forms and one to five ratings and net promoter scores and do you have a best friend at work?

I’ll confess. About all of that I am so….. meh.

Data is useful. Important.

I get it. Evidence.  Proof.  Business cases and return on investment and a basis for decision making.

But there is more to how your employees feel than numbers. The day to day experience can’t easily be quantified.

Percentages are neat and tidy and precise. But people are not.

So here are my strictly unscientific, untidy, unquantifiable and entirely subjective ways to assess how your people really feel about working at your place. No survey required.

First up. Good noise. I always think that when people are happy at work, when there is some team spirit going, on you can not only feel it but hear it.  There will be laughter and chatting.  Good noises, team noises, having fun and working at the same type noises. Silence… tells you something else.

Next is absence and lateness. Something that you can actually put a percentage on if you choose.  I don’t mean the genuine stuck on the motorway serious illness sent home because they look terrible sort of absence and lateness.  Instead the I can’t be arsed type.  The dog ate my homework type.  Which really translates into I don’t really care all that much.  And you know you know the difference.

The state of the place. Disengaged employees don’t care about where they work. Sometimes, very low levels of engagement translate into deliberate damage to the environment. I once worked for an organisation in which casual damage and graffiti were rife.  If people like their jobs and like their colleagues they will be part of making it a nice place to be every day.

Collaboration. Especially when it comes to new stuff and change.  Engaged employees will pitch in, ask questions and take it on board.  People who are disengaged, won’t.  See next point.

Moaning. People who are unhappy at work, moan. Simple but true.  And if there isn’t anything to moan about they will moan about that.  From the big stuff to the minutiae.  Pity parties all round.

Ideas. Engaged employees have ideas and are willing to share them. You will get suggestions for improvements, sometimes without evening asking. They will speak up because they feel that they can and they want things to be better.

Grievances. Employees have a legal right to raise a grievance and have it dealt with in accordance with the ACAS code.  But when employees are engaged and have strong relationships with their managers you are much more likely to see people having conversations about their issues in an adult way rather than writing a formal letter.  Ditto discipline.

The extracurricular. Engaged employees come to learning events.  They take part in team activities.  They are part of the dress down day, the charity bake-off, the wellbeing month and the team lunch.  Because they want too.  When people are disengaged, for whatever reason that may be, they will put often put themselves outside anything that is strictly the day job.

Finally, and perhaps the most telling of all.  The language that people use.  How they speak to each other. Whether it is broadly positive or negative.  How much time is spent in criticism or in anger. Them or I.  The management or us.  They or we.

So by all means run your survey. Figure out a percentage and where you sit in comparison to other companies and set a target for next year.

But don’t forget to look and listen to what else your people are telling you about their level of engagement.

Even when they don’t even know it.

Experience Required

A backwards look through my former blogs will show me to be an employee engagement cynic.

Not that I think engagement isn’t worth striving for. Caring about or understanding.

I am cynical about how we have packaged it to our organisations. The faith we put in it, without evidence.  The bandwagon that we wholeheartedly jumped on.  The way that we attempt to measure it.  The industry that we have created around it.  The rhetoric and the infographics.

But employee engagement is one thing. Employee experience is another.

Engagement is a funny old thing. Ultimately it is about people and their feelings.  Hard to understand and measure under any circumstances.  It is also about purpose and meaning, both intensely personal issues.

You can have high engagement in crappy organisations. If the purpose and meaning is present, if the work is a vocation or a labour of love, then within reason the working conditions, the nice to have benefits and the promotion opportunities and so on…. they somehow matter a little less.

Equally, you can have low engagement in organisations that have all of the things. You can have the best learning and development, reward frameworks, career pathways, fancy offices, flexible working and even a slide, but the heart can still be absent.

I know of an organisation that, if you created a HR wish list that would include everything so-called best practice they have it all.  From an impressive induction, wide-ranging flexible benefits programme, effective performance review mechanisms, pretty good leadership and the like… all of the good people stuff.   But if you looked at their engagement score then they would look pretty poor.  And that survey isn’t telling them why.  My theory is that they just don’t have that emotional connection.  That something, somehow, is out of step in the actual experience of working there.  There is a disconnect.

Engagement can be created…. to a point. It can be measured….. sort of.

But it will always be an outcome of a whole host of variables, some that the company can influence and some that it cannot ever hope to. Engagement is made up of company stuff and me stuff.

What is very much more capable of positive influence is employee experience.

Put simply, what it is like to work at your place.

From the first contact as a candidate to keeping in touch with a leaver. Every single step in that thing we call the employee lifecycle.  Making it as easy, interesting and awesome as it can possibly be. Making the interactions count. Making the meaning.  Every communication, every process, every approach.  Every day.

To adopt a cliché, focusing on engagement is like putting the cart before the horse. It is focusing on the outcome, the end of the process, and not how you get there.

Experience is the thing that, so far as it is even possible, will help you towards that outcome.

So maybe the question is not how do we improve employee engagement. It is not how do we increase the overall percentage to that fabled upper quartile.  But how do we make the employee experience the best that it can be with what we have got.  How do we make people feel.

In all of that people stuff that we do.


A new approach to employee engagement. 

I’m at the HR Summit in Birmingham, hearing from Marshall Goldsmith.  Best selling author, leading executive coach and recognised as one of the worlds most influential business thinkers.  He is here today to talk about the subject of employee engagement.

It’s a topic that I have mixed feelings about, as a backward look over my past blog posts will demonstrate. So I’m interested to hear what he has to say. What is new about this subject that has had so much written about it already.

Only he didn’t talk all that much about employee engagement.  He talked of other things instead.  Ideas, thought provoking notions, and challenges too. So many that they were hard to capture in a live blog.

Here are some of those that resonated with me:

We spend so much time trying to be right. Our behaviour is triggered by what is around us. Someone tells us that they have had a bad day and it is our immediate instinct to try and go one better and prove that ours was worse. We don’t have to do this.  We can chose to do something else. In the moment between stimulus and response there is choice. We can take the positive road instead.

We spend so much time thinking about tomorrow. This mythical place where things will be different. When we will finally follow our dreams. But tomorrow will be no different to today, unless we are.

The great western disease: ‘I will be happy when……’  Complete as applicable. Be happy now instead.  If you don’t follow your dream now, when will you? Just do it. Even if people think you are crazy.

He goes on to recommend these exercises that he does with coaching clients.

Set yourself a question that you can challenge yourself with every day.  

Imagine you are 95. You are about to take your last breath when you are given a gift. The gift to go back to talk to you, now. What would you say? What advice would you give? 

So I am sat here now, thinking of my question, thinking of the advice I would give, from my future self to me today. I know what it is.  I knew it already, somewhere. But the session has made me think and that is why I enjoyed it so much.

When he did speak of engagement, he said this.

He looked at the research and listened to the standard engagement discourse. Talk of reward, leadership, surveys, and so on and so on.

Only this.

Companies talk about what they can do to engage their employees. They don’t talk about what employees can do to engage themselves.

Most of the questions that are asked of employees about work are passive questions.

Take this standard example – Do you have a best friend at work? Answer…. Nope. I don’t like anyone around here. End of discourse. Passive. The employee taking no responsibility for change. It’s someone else’s problem.

Instead…. Ask these questions of people.

Did I do my best today to…. Be happy, find meaning, build positive relationships, be fully engaged.

And then. Reflect.


If you knew you were going to be asked how you would improve this for yourself what would you do?

In all the people he has asked this question no one has ever said ‘nothing’.

If you are negative, disengaged or unhappy at work, in that meeting, everyday… then who loses? It’s not the company it is you.

Finally, he said this.  Life is easy to talk.  It is not that easy to live.



Graphic by those very nice people at IIP.

Even more thoughts on employee engagement

A look through my blog will tell you I’m something of an employee engagement cynic. Not a cynic about the notion of trying to improve work, trying to improve the people stuff, but the concept. Its presentation, its bland, blind acceptance.

The idea of employee engagement is not new, but the language was. The concept went from innovative, to bandwagon, to conventional wisdom quicker than you can say discretionary effort. If you work in HR, and you haven’t read Rob Briner’s excellent deconstruction of employee engagement hyperbole and its evidence base (or lack thereof), then you really should. You can find the link here.

Employee engagement was seen as the answer. On its journey to accepted best practice, somehow it got presented as something that it is not. An absolute. A fact. Some sort of guarantee. That if we do these things that the consultants tell us, that the conferences and the speakers tell us, then we will see it in the numbers. We will see our profitability increase. We took case studies to be causation.

Engagement was presented as the HR holy grail. By consultancies with money to make. By government backed organisations*. By us.

And now we know that it isn’t so certain, after all. That even the report that claims to show the evidence, does anything but. More and more practitioners are realising it wasn’t all that new, after all. Because as I have blogged before, in HR this is what we have always done, always known.

The employee engagement scales are now falling from our eager eyes, and we have realised that the Emperor was naked, after all.

There are two questions left for me, on employee engagement.

The first is this. Why did we buy into the concept so completely and unquestioningly?

I think that part of it lies in that problem. You know the one. Our very own HR version of imposter syndrome. The seat at the table malarkey. No longer did we have to justify the people stuff. We had proof. We had evidence. We had numbers. Now we were serious. Maybe I am being harsh on us. Maybe it just summed up those things that we already believed, in a neat phrase. But I feel that we must look hard at ourselves in the mirror, all the same.

My second question is simply this. Now what?

We know what engagement isn’t. There are no neat numbers or percentages. No easy ROI. Off the shelf solutions. People are messy, complicated, challenging. We know that engagement surveys often don’t deliver what we hoped they would. We know that it can’t be a HR led programme. So where do we go from here?

I’ve said this before, too. I believe that for all the amazing new opportunities that new technology and the future of work stuff that we see coming towards us, it is time to go back to basics at the same time. Focus on doing the people stuff well, and training managers to do the same. We don’t need any new theories. Let’s just get the Herzberg back out. It might be pushing 50, but I don’t discriminate on the grounds of age. If you’ve got problems in your hygiene space, start there. Focus on those things that disengage and demotivate. The theory isn’t perfect, I know that. Its been criticised for its failure to take into account the impact of personality types for starters. Well ditto employee engagement. I am still not entirely convinced how much you can actually change engagement at an individual level. How much of someone’s attitude to work is part of their bedrock personality. Maybe that is a blog for another day. But you take away the stuff that pisses people off.

It is a good thing that employee engagement is being subject to scrutiny and criticism. Not because it is worthless or unnecessary, but because we should always apply a critical mind and think carefully about those things that we strive for or choose to champion in our own organisations.

As well as my call for a little back to basics, there is also no need to throw the baby out with the bath water**. Seeking to do those things that make people like coming to work, connect with their organisation, have a better experience, is still core to what we do. I call it doing good people stuff. The CIPD say it is all about better work and better working lives. Call it engagement if that works for you.

But whatever you choose to call it, carry on doing good people stuff, at your place. Just don’t promise that it can deliver something that maybe it cannot.

*Ever wondered if this had anything to do with keeping trade union membership down? Just a thought.
** There are lot of clichés and metaphors in this blog post. Sorry about that.

Reasons to say no

Over the years, I’ve heard them all. Right back to 2002 when the legislation was first introduced. Reasons to say no to flexible working.

If I say yes to one, I’ll have to say yes to them all.
It’s not the sort of job where people can work flexibly.
It’s not the sort of company where people can work flexibly.
It’s not fair on the rest of the team.
It’s too difficult operationally.
We can’t offer it to every department so we shouldn’t do it for anyone else.
I won’t be able to manage the person effectively.
It will impact upon the customer.

These objections have common themes. Generality. Vagueness. Fixed positions. More about the manager than the employee. Short term thinking. Taking the easy option.

Because when it comes to the flexible working request, it can be easier to say no than to say yes.

The press help to perpetuate the myths. When the right to request flexible working was opened up to everyone earlier this year, the rarely balanced Daily Mail published an article suggesting that small businesses wouldn’t cope, and that those who simply wanted a regular lie in were now able to demand the working pattern of their choice. The entire economy was at serious risk. Probably.

Scratch the surface of the usual objections to flexible working, and underneath you may well find something else.

A lack of appreciation of the possible benefits, instead, focusing on the risks or the potential problems.
A misunderstanding of what fairness and equality is really all about. That a blanket no to everyone is somehow fairer than saying yes to a few.
Closed minds. Sticking to what has always been done, how things have always worked. A lack of understanding that what people want from work has changed, is changing.
Trust issues. Because they might not be working hard if no one is keeping an eye on them. Because it sounds like an excuse not to do much work.
Misconceptions. Flexible working is something that mums with young kids want. Isn’t it?
They simply can’t be bothered to deal with it.

Here’s the thing.

Flexible working isn’t a mum thing. It isn’t a carers thing. An approaching retirement thing. A working from home means watching the Jeremy Kyle show thing.

Flexible working is a talent thing. Attracting it, engaging it, keeping it.

It’s a valued benefit thing.

Because there is something else that I have noticed over the years about flexible working. How when you try it, the world doesn’t end. The company does not stop functioning. There are no riots. Profitability does not collapse, and neither does customer service. Very rarely do other employees resent it.

One request does however, often lead to another. And still, the world does not end.

So how about this as a challenge? No stereotypes. No knee jerk reactions. No outright rejections.

Instead, open minds. Genuine dialogue about what could work. Giving it a go. Trust.

One request at a time.

Engaged but Disengaged

S Cat

I met a man recently, whom I would describe, in true Schrodinger’s cat style, as both engaged and disengaged.

Engaged with his job, his colleagues, his day to day. His job has meaning for him. He has friends there. The hours suit him fine and the pay isn’t too bad. The working environment makes the grade. He knows what is expected of him, he has all of the right tools and equipment, the opportunity to do his best every day. Willing to do the discretionary effort thing, when it’s needed. Proud of a job well done. He even has a best friend at work.

Many of the Gallup measures ticked off, right there.

Although he wouldn’t fill in any kind of survey, if you asked him.

The last time he was sent one, he said that They could stick it right up Their arse.

When he told me this story, he mimed it too. Screwed up an imaginary piece of paper into a ball, tossed it into an imaginary waste paper basket. And followed the imaginary trajectory with a not at all imaginary two fingered salute.

They don’t understand what it’s like on the shop floor.
They don’t know what it’s like outside of the nine till five.
They sit in their ivory bloody towers in the head office.
They send out surveys and they take no bloody notice of what you say anyway and they put a number on it so they can trace it back to me if they want to so I’m saying nothing.
They gave us these stupid values. What a joke. As if anyone has got any time for all that when there is a job to be done and anyway, They don’t follow them. I know They don’t.
They change everything every five minutes.
They makes us go on all these training courses just to tick a bloody box.

Engaged but disengaged. Engaged with the job but not engaged with the company, the management, the leadership, Them.

Meaningful work, made.
Discretionary effort, done.
Performance, reviewed and approved.
Objectives, fully achieved.

So where exactly does this fit into the neat little employee engagement box?

And then it dawned on me. That the They that he talks about, is me.
Not me personally maybe, but someone just like me. Sitting in an office, crafting policies. Sending out surveys. Launching initiatives. Making people plans.

And all the time, he is seen, but unseen.

Engaged but disengaged.

Show me the evidence

We seem to have accepted something about employee engagement that I am not sure is true. Read the literature, the articles, listen to the conference presentations, and you will find an assumption in the mix. That employee engagement will help drive business success. Not can, will.

Look on the Engage for Success website and you will find something interesting. They say that believe that there is a correlation between employee engagement and high organisational productivity and performance. There is much talk of links between these factors.

Correlation. Not causation.

Correlation means that there is a link. A relationship between two variables, of some degree of strength. But it is not causation.

Causation is something else again. If there is causation, there is certainty that one thing leads to another. That there is nothing else going on. That there are no unknown third variables. That the relationship is predictable.

I’m not sure that I see this, in the engagement debate. There is plenty of evidence, anecdotal, case study and more formal research, that shows high employee engagement and strong financial performance regularly occur together. I don’t seek to dispute this.

The evidence tells us that where there is high engagement, then there is often high productivity and strong financial performance, as well as other positive factors such as reduced absence levels. From that we seem to have made the leap of faith that if we work hard on engagement, then jolly nice financial stuff will follow. I have heard HR professionals talk about this as if it is a certainty.

But what if there is something else going on?

What if it is the other way around completely?

Maybe if you work in a company that is successful financially, there is plenty of cash for pay rises and bonuses and learning and development and a great benefits package and a snooker table in the employee chill out zone and a slide in the office. Maybe that is why the company has a great engagement score.

Maybe if you work for a company that is financially successful, their success is partly based upon great leadership, and this has positive effect on employee engagement?

But what if these factors just naturally come together?

What about companies were the numbers are good but the engagement score isn’t, and vice versa?

Maybe there are other variables at play that we haven’t even thought about.

Maybe I am getting a little too pedantic here. Maybe this issue isn’t that important. But in HR, we are hanging so much off the engagement agenda. It’s our thing, right now. My argument is that we should not unquestioningly accept the hype.

The improved performance engagement ‘promise’ is sometimes how HR talks to the business. How we seek to business case some of the people stuff. But what if it is flawed? Not the concept of striving to do good people stuff, not the desire to make work a better place to be, not the aspiration towards great leadership, strong employee voice and all the other stuff. But just the notion that one number can drive other numbers. That your percentage score can really drive your financial performance. That there is cause and effect.

There seems to be a consensus that engagement is a good thing (which I agree with) and that it will lead to a certain outcome (which I am not sure is necessarily true). Because what we do know about employee engagement, is that it is about feelings. About something inside. Connections. And people are messy and cannot be neatly measured, the way profit and loss can.

So when it comes to engagement, is the tail wagging the dog, or is it the other way around?

Just a thought.

For more on this subject, I’d recommend ‘Engaged with what? A systematic review of the construct of engagement’ by Balain and Sparrow, which inspired this blog post.

Stating the Obvious

The subject of engagement has been on my mind a lot of late, hence the plethora of blog posts I’ve written on the subject. It was certainly a hot topic at the HR Director’s Summit I recently attended. I’m going to say just one more thing, and then shut up about it for a while.

And it is this. Employee engagement is stating the bloody obvious.

Treating your people well so they want to come to work and form good connections with your company? Offering them good leadership? Listening to what they have to say? Recognising them, developing them, communicating with them? No shit Sherlock.

Haven’t we always known this?

HR professionals have. This is what we talk about, every day. Engagement might not be the word we have always used for it, but we are talking about it, have talked about it, all the same.

Because what is engagement, after all? As I have said, many times before, it is what you get as a result of doing good people stuff. From recruitment to communication, leadership to the reward strategy, the working environment to the exit interview, and every other single thing in between. HR, leaders and managers alike, joined up.

Because people are everything. Get that bit right and your customers know about it. Get that bit right and your bottom line knows about it.

Those early companies that had the first welfare officers knew it. The Donovan Commission knew it. The People at Cadbury’s knew it. And HR people everywhere know it.

Employee engagement is what we have always done, cared about, worked towards. Rebadged, repackaged, rebandwagoned. Made into a ‘thing’. Made into something to strive for, by itself. It has become a destination when it should be about the journey.

If we need a label, a language, a common word, a definition for others with which to explain it, then okay. There is nothing wrong with this word. But let us not pretend this is something new. Let us not pretend that this is something complicated. Because I keep reading articles, hearing speakers, and we are all saying the same things in slightly different ways. We have made a complexity of it all. Made a structure of it all. A project and a process of it all. I can’t help but think our desire to make engagement sound more than it is, is somehow linked to the HR seat at the table, take me seriously obsession.

Happy, motivated, satisfied, interested, inspired, contented, fulfilled employees is something worth striving for. Something that will help your business, your performance, your financials. Something in HR that we should be leading for.

Haven’t we always known this?

And that, is my final word on the matter. Probably.

Musings on Engagement No.2 – Connections

I blogged recently about the extent to which the word engagement in the employment context is losing its meaning. Doug Shaw commented (and has blogged to the effect) that it never had one anyway, outside of the HR profession, and most employees haven’t even heard of the term.

But do you know what? Definitions don’t matter. Feelings do.

Engagement is a personal thing, an individual thing. Engagement is felt in your gut. It is not logical, it is instinctive. That is why a one size employee engagement approach doesn’t fit all. It’s why fancy mission statements, value sets and slick communications don’t create engagement; because they don’t create gut reactions. Engagement is not rational.

For me, engagement isn’t about going the extra mile, discretionary effort, positivity, enthusiasm or any of the other meanings and definitions that a Google search will give you. To me, engagement equals connection. It is all about the tie that binds me, to where I work. Engagement is the reason I work somewhere, not anywhere.

Connections come from different places, different people, different stuff deep down inside. Connections come from our core values, our belief system,
We connect with people, not programmes. We connect with meaning, not mission statements. Outcomes, not office buildings. Making a difference, not making some money.

When it comes to engagement, read the books and understand the theory, check out the speakers and the thinkers on the topic, by all means. But then figure out what it means for you personally. Understand your own motivations, what connects you. What gives you that gut reaction, about what you do, where you work. And then find out what connects your employees, to your place.

I recently read ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek, which is all about getting to the heart of inspirational leadership through understanding people’s ‘why’. It’s a pretty good way to think about employee engagement. If you have a good why at the heart of the employment relationship, a good answer to the question ‘why would you work here’, then engagement can flow, naturally.

Why you do something, like something, want something, feel something, isn’t always rational either. It’s that connection thing, that gut instinct thing, once again. I love my iPhone, and I’m not swapping from Apple, even if the alternative is cheaper or has fancier buttons. I am very partial to a well known boy band, and I am not converting to another group if they bring out one song I don’t like. The same applies at work; if you like where you work, if you are connected or have a good why, then a little extra in the pay packet somewhere else won’t tempt you.

As Nietzsche said, he who has a why can stand almost any how. Companies that have a strong why, do good things, make good connections, can have strong engagement, or whatever word you choose to use. That is why companies without lots of fancy, shiny stuff can still rock the annual survey scores (if you must).

For me, today, I have two whys, two connections, two reasons to get out of bed in the morning. What we do and who I work for. I work for a company that makes a real difference to people’s lives, and for a leader that places real importance on the people stuff. And I mean real importance, not the pretend sort that goes out of the window when things get tough operationally of financially.

This is my own definition of engagement.

What’s yours?

Dream on, dreamer?

Does anyone remember the ‘Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’? If you don’t, it was a 1970s TV series that chronicled the frustrations of work and life felt by Reggie, who eventually, tired of corporate life, faked his own death, only to miss the life he had lead and come back to it by pretending to be someone else.

There is a section in one episode in which, talking to his cat, Reggie chronicles his day; a day that is the same as every other day. It went a little like this (made a little more modern, of course).

Get up
Go to toilet
Check twitter feed
Check emails
Clean teeth
Take a shower
Get dressed
Eat breakfast
Drink coffee
Get in the car
Drive to work
Park in the car park
Walk into the office
Power up the laptop and insert the password
Make a cup of coffee
Do emails
Go to meetings
Do more emails
Check twitter feed
Have another cup of coffee
Do conference calls
Eat lunch
More calls, and emails, and meetings, and emails, and calls, and meetings
Have a cup of coffee
Get to 5pm.
Turn off laptop
Get in car
Drive home
Get out of car
Check emails that have arrived since I left the office
And so on.

I read an article recently that talked about making work enjoyable. It argued that one of the key ways in which work is made meaningful is that it is also enjoyable.

We talk all the time, in HR, about employee engagement. It is holiest of grails. Meaningful work, enjoyable work, engaging work.

But do you know what? Some people hate work.

For some people the working day is just something to be borne. Get up, go to work, get through the day, get paid. And I don’t just mean people that haven’t found the right niche. People who haven’t got the right leadership. People who haven’t got a voice. People who the company haven’t reached yet.

Some jobs are bloody tough.
Some jobs are bloody boring.
Some jobs don’t allow for people to make their own decisions or determine how their day goes, or even when they go to the toilet.
Some jobs are done in unpleasant working environments.
Some jobs are really badly rewarded.
Some jobs are so far from meaningful, engaging, autonomous, enjoyable as to make meaningful, enjoyable work a largely irrelevant concept.

Where are these people in the debate, today? We can talk about changing, disrupting, evolving, challenging work and working environments all we like. But it is a much easier debate in some areas, industries, companies, job types, than others. So much of what I read or hear discussed about improving work, is exciting, interesting, shiny. But it is sometimes so far away from the reality of the day to day for many people and organisations.

I don’t pretend to have the answer to the question that I am posing. Maybe the answer is to do everything we can do engage those people, to make all work as meaningful and enjoyable and engaging as possible. To make work better, for everyone, wherever they are, or whatever they do.

But there is just a little bit of me, that wonders. Are we dreaming?


Musings on Engagement No.1

I will be saying a word or two at the forthcoming CIPD employee engagement conference. So in advance, some thoughts from me on the subject.

Are you engaged?

I’m not sure I am.

Because I’m not sure I know what it means, anymore, to be honest.

Discretionary effort, going the extra mile, going above and beyond, happy, positive, enthusiastic, satisfied. Take your pick.

Engagement is another word at risk of losing its meaning due to overuse. It has also suffered from the Bandwagon Effect. I’m not suggesting that employee engagement isn’t important, isn’t something worth striving for, but I am suggesting that, just maybe, we need to think again. Step back a little from the current perceived wisdom.

I do know this.

Engagement is not a number, or a percentage.
Engagement is not an annual survey, and an annual survey is not your employee voice.
Engagement is not a programme, or a workstream, or an activity.
Engagement is not the sole responsibility of the HR function.
Engagement doesn’t have a precise ROI for your finance team, no matter what the statistics might say.
Engagement doesn’t have a neat, universal definition.
Engagement means different things, at different places. Engagement is contextual.
Engagement should not be pursued in its own right.
Engagement is the result of doing good people stuff.

I also know that I’m not prepared to write a formal business case for employee engagement, despite the evidence that is available to show correlations between engaged employees and business performance. Because if I have to explain the anyone why treating people well, fairly, doing good people stuff, is the right thing to do to anyone in my organisation, then I will get my coat.

I heard Dean Royles speak recently, at #CIPDSocial13. He said one thing that stuck in my mind. He said that he knows what an engaged employee looks like in the NHS. He can walk into a hospital and tell. I get this. Because engagement is different at my place, to your place. I once worked somewhere that high levels of engagement meant employees weren’t writing rude words about their managers on the toilet walls. I can’t say it is what I am striving for, today. But my engaged employee isn’t yours.

Forget striving for engagement as a ‘thing’. Just focus on doing all your people stuff well, and developing your managers to do the same. From recruitment to exit, the entire employee life cycle. Good people stuff plus good management practices leads to engagement, in whatever way you want to define it.

It’s time to go back to basics.