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.