Employee Engagement – Why Bother?

\"buyI was fortunate enough to attend the annual Think Yorkshire round table discussion event yesterday evening – a part of the booming Buy Yorkshire Conference – the biggest business conference outside of London no less.  Well worth checking out and the brain child of a fabulous networking organisation called Yorkshire Mafia – say no more!

Back to the plot – the round table discussion, comprising of HR Directors and HR/OD professionals from a host of organisations and perspectives, was aimed at understanding whether effort and energy invested in Employee Engagement (EE) was working for organisations.  A hot topic indeed and subject of thousands of articles and essays across the tinterweb and beyond.

We started with the question “what is it and why bother?”  As you can imagine – no consistent answer but some consistency in what it was not.  It is not just a survey, it is not the sole domain of HR, it is not a substitute for good leadership and it is not just another set of metrics to add to the board pack.  Now, I am sure that some of you reading this will be shaking your head and saying to yourself – “but that is exactly what it is in my organisation!”  Unfortunately you are right – and in so many of the organisations I have worked in and spent time in – this is exactly the sort of activity and attitude that prevails where Employee Engagement is concerned.

Why bother was a tough one to answer – some of the colleagues around the table had done considerable research and I was surprised to hear that there is very little statistical evidence that correlates high employee engagement with high productivity.  If you asked your CEO/MD/ Leader to explain why he or she wants high employee engagement, what do you think they would say?  Answers on a post card please.

My view is that people come down broadly in one of two camps:

  1. In order that we can get more discretionary effort out of our employees and therefore drive productivity/profitability or performance.
  2. Because it is the right thing to do, it indicates that this is a great place to work and people are happy and contributing.

Employee Engagement is a multi-million pound industry with a huge amount of employee, leadership and organisational effort and energy expended in tracking and supposedly managing it, but yet nobody can categorically identify the impact it has made?

Yesterday I asked if there were any examples of organisations where the CEO said let’s stop bothering and just get on with all doing our jobs right.\"ricardo  Nobody could come up with one and the closest I can get is the insights and example of Ricardo Semler and Semco in Brazil.  Now he has certainly ripped up the rule book when it comes to organisational management, he even argues that there is no need for an HR function! Heresy!!   When I followed that up with – “so if you stopped tomorrow with your employee engagement surveys and activity – what would you miss/lose out on?”  Interestingly – again it was an emotional level of discomfort with the idea, more associated with change perhaps, than hard evidence that supported the need to keep focussing on measuring EE.

Some of the consistent themes that emerged from our discussions focussed on:

  • honesty and openness – treat people with integrity, treat them as adults and tell them what they need to know
  • trust – accept that everyone comes to work to do a good job, get on with doing yours and trust people to do theirs
  • consistency – follow through and do what you said you were going to do
  • leadership – good leadership encourages and creates good employee engagement
  • retention – if people are engaged they are more likely to stay

The last topic we touched on was the issue surrounding generational diversity in organisations, a topic that I am really interested and passionate about.  Many organisations have 4 generations working within them, all with subtle (or not so subtle) motivations, desires and drivers.  To think that a survey can capture a comparable view of engagement, with that level of complexity and diversity, is probably un-realistic.

Which brings me on to my conclusion; I believe that having employees that are engaged, aligned, passionate about contributing ALL of their effort consistently for the ends of the organisation, will create greater success than if the opposite is true.  If they are happy at work, so much the better and this will almost certainly create\"happiness greater retention levels.  Paul Dolan in his book Happiness by Design defines happiness as ‘the experience of purpose and pleasure over time’ – some of us are more purpose than pleasure orientated, but we must create opportunities for both in our workforces. So, on whose shoulders does this challenge rest? Leaders with a capital L and a little l up and down the organisation. HR can act as facilitators but my firm belief is that engagement is a contact sport played by leaders.  Unfortunately so many leaders are trapped on the ‘operational treadmill’ and do not create the time and space to actively engage in ‘leadership’ work to the extent that they should do – and herein lies the bigger problem.  A topic for another day perhaps.

Thank you all for the discussion last night – really enjoyed it, it is always good to talk.


One response to “Employee Engagement – Why Bother?”

  1. Cynical anon avatar
    Cynical anon

    I absolutely agree with your conclusion that having everyone engaged, aligned, passionate in the organisations goals will be an advantage rather than a disadvantage. How could that never be true!

    My concern, however, is the efforts organisations take to push everyone in that direction! If done half-heartedly, I believe it can have a negative not just a neutral impact. Start engaging, start making the right noises, start those great initiatives – and you raise expectations. And then, when nothing more happens, you have a workforce who feels let down, frustrated and yes – less engaged than they had been in the first place!!!!!! Any wonder why those survey scores never seem to improve and people vote with their feet?

    So, like anything in life, if you’re going to start something, be committed, make it just part of who and what you are. And before you change course, which inevitably will happen, think about the impact that it may have.

    So engage, by all means. But remember, engagement is for life and not just for Christmas!

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