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.