The ‘E’ Word

There has been much talk on twitter and in the HR blog world lately about employee engagement, much of it prompted by a tweet from Neil Morrison in which he said ‘every time I hear the word engagement, another part of me dies’. I’ve been watching the development of the debate with interest. As many other commentators had written such eloquent blogs I wasn’t going to add to it, but an article, here: I saw at the weekend posed a question that made me itch.

The article was called ‘Whose job is engagement: HR, CEO or dedicated head of engagement’. Actually, when you read the full text it isn’t really advocating that engagement should be the responsibility of one person, but this idea that engagement can be owned is for me, one of the central problems with the whole concept.

I don’t particularly like the word engagement, although I guess it has to be called something. What does bother me is when it is treated like a project, a programme or initiative. Treating it in this way drives the wrong thought processes. It isn’t something that should be a SMART objective, something that requires a formal plan, a work stream or an executive sponsor. You also don’t need to spend a ton of cash on a survey. HR teams already collate a load of management information that will tell you whether your employees like working for you or not; sickness, retention, turnover, grievance levels will all give you an insight. Or you could go mad and just walk round and talk to people.

When it comes to ‘engagement ‘you just have to build it in to everything you do. When you make a decision, you have to ask yourself how this will impact your people. Now don’t think I’m coming over all fluffy. I’m not suggesting that your decisions should be guided by whether people will like them or not. But take them in the full knowledge of how it will make people feel, and specifically how they will feel about the company. If your decision is going to give people the hump, maybe it is still the right thing to do taking everything into account.

If the word we are going to use is engagement, then it is the responsibility of every single person, every decision maker in an organisation. Engagement cannot be owned. It is not a dog.



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