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Employee Engagement


This week, I’ve been working at home, writing a workshop on employee engagement based around last year's MacLeod report. As I’ve been researching the topic – and there’s a lot of information out there about it – two things have struck me.

Firstly, to create an environment within which employees can feel engaged is not that difficult. If you give people meaningful work to do, reward them fairly and genuinely care about their wellbeing as they do that work, most people will engage with their job. Of course, many employers don’t provide meaningful work – or even meaning for their employees’ work; they have small budgets and try to skimp on salaries in order to maximise profits; many see their employees as human “resources” rather than human beings. Under those circumstances, getting your employees engaged is going to be tricky, no matter how many great workshops you attend.

The second thing that struck me was that engagement isn’t a binary thing. It’s not that I’m either engaged or else I’m disengaged; I might be highly engaged on some days in some activities but less engaged in other activities on other days. My level of engagement on a day-to-day basis may depend on my mood, on what’s happening outside of work or a hundred other things.

You can imagine it as a continuum. At one end of the scale are the people who are highly engaged with their work – creative, excited to come to work, more than happy to volunteer their best efforts to their tasks, to make suggestions, improvements and so on. These are the people you really want to keep and to keep engaged. At the other end are the people who, essentially, do the opposite – they hate their work, do anything to get out of it, maybe even deliberately sabotage what they’re doing in order to “get back” at their employer for some reason. With these people, you’re lucky if they leave – the danger is that if they’re allowed to continue behaving the way they do, they might continue to stay. Either way, attitude is contagious and both groups will proselytise and try to recruit for their cause.

Of course, these are extremes and most of us, as I mentioned before, will move about on the continuum from day to day or activity to activity but will generally have a “baseline” level of engagement from which we don’t stray too much. What’s interesting is that research indicates that most employees’ “baseline” tends towards the latter of these two examples.

What to do about it? Well, as I said, I’m writing a workshop for employers, so we could sit and wait for our employer to do something about it, to create a better atmosphere to engage us. Maybe some employers will, when they recognise that they need the goodwill of their employees and that it can’t be bought but must be earned. Alternatively, we can consciously try to move our “baseline” up the scale for ourselves – either by engaging more with the work we do or finding other work which engages us more. As someone once said, “ask not what your employer can do for you…” Something like that, anyway.

2 Responses

  1. Engagement? – change the rules first

    Engagement has become the holy grail of organisations.  But the reasons for this are not very pretty, for the most part. Organisations want more, for less, from employees.  And employees who once trusted their workplace to do right by them have been proved wrong so many times, that engagement is becoming less and less likely because employees have been seen as disposible whenever the going gets tough.

    Until we change the shareholder model, profit is always going to come first which means that the biggest cost for the majority of organisations – its people – is always going to be in the firing line when it comes to saving money.  I’m also wondering why senior management hasn’t come up with a more creative response to recession than making headcount cuts – it’s not as though we haven’t seen it before.


  2. Engagement

    Hi Karen

    Very good points – one of the things we teach about engagement is that organisations have to engage with their employees because they want to, not because they see it as a way of increasing profit or productivity.  Those things are likely to be spin off benefits but only if employees see their employer’s efforts as a genuine concern for their wellbeing. 

    As for management response to the recession, perhaps it’s not all bad – look at the constructive approach taken by companies like Honda.  In the minority, true, but a journey of a thousand miles and all that…

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