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The Crux of the Employee Engagement Conundrum: Engagement to What?

Recognize This! – All efforts to increase employee engagement will fail unless individuals clearly see the meaningfulness and value of their contributions and efforts.

One of my go-to UK bloggers on all thing related to Human Capital Management (HCM) is Jon Ingham and his Strategic HCM blog. In particular, I enjoy posts in which he acts as a reporter for sessions and conferences he attends (and he attends a good many around the world).

While I’m a bit jealous at times of Jon for the sessions he’s been a part of, I am grateful to him for his concise, thoughtful posts about the content and outcomes. One example is today’s post on an Engage for Success conference. (Engage for Success is the outcome of several years of concerted effort in the UK to research, assess and drive employee engagement.)

Jon points out in the post:

“I also like David’s key premise that there’s no reason why employees should want to be engaged.  In particular some people only work for instrumental reasons – they get their engagement elsewhere.  We therefore have to earn an engaged response.  Lack of engagement is therefore an enormous management failure.”

Jon then goes on to post screen shots of the presenter’s (David Guest) slides showing his 12 “policies and practices to encourage engagement.” I’m listing those 12 below for those who may find the images hard to read:

  1. Present, promote and live by a set of clear organisational values about workforce management.
  2. Select staff with propensity for engagement
  3. Invest in human capital and employability
  4. Extensive two-way communication
  5. Reward (promote) managers on quality of management of staff within a balanced scorecard
  6. Demonstrate positive organisational support
  7. Develop and maintain a relational psychological contract
  8. Optimise job security and flexible working
  9. Promote fairness of treatment and trust in management – including through employee voice
  10. Design jobs to build in autonomy, challenge, and full utilisation of skills
  11. Promote self-efficacy – through feedback/guidance
  12. Provide a challenging but manageable workload

I don’t disagree with anything in this list – all are critical to helping create an environment in which employees want to engage. So what makes me share this with you? It’s Jon’s last comment in his post about what he’d add to the list: “The answer to the question ‘engagement to what?’”

Indeed, that’s the crux of the employee engagement conundrum. Yes, we all want our employees to be more engaged. Likely, many of us wish that we could be more engaged ourselves. But we’ll never arrive there – no matter what we do or what environment we create – if we don’t answer the question of “engagement to what?”

Some will always see “work” as an end to a means and will never engage as fully as we like. But if we can give employees a clear line of sight into why their work is meaningful within a bigger picture and how each person, individually, is critical to achieving that bigger picture, then we create a vision that’s worthy of engagement.

What’s your answer to the question “engagement to what?”

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12 Responses

  1. Jon Ingham says:

    Hi Derek, thanks for this, including for translating the 12 actions, and building on the ‘to what’ point which I hadn’t had time to do, but also hadn’t quite worked out what I wanted to say for myself – other than thinking it was this that seemed to be the difference betweetn engagement and Guest’s high commitment HRM. But I agree, it is about the bigger picture piece… at least for those who aren’t purely in it for Guest’s instrumental reasons. But even for these, I think we can engage them more than we often think – a key learning from Capital One in one of the later sessions and my second post from today – http://strategic-hcm.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/e4s-case-studies-bt-capital-one.html.

  2. Graham Frost says:

    I was at the same conference as Jon yesterday and have met him several times. I also enjoy reading his views on employee engagement and other work-related matters.
    My answer to the question ‘Engagement to what?’ would be that the organisation needs to get people engaged around a set of core values that mean smoething to everyone. The best way to do that is to involve everyone in the process of deciding what the core values and principles of the business should be. The work isn’t done then either, because once you have these values and principles in place, you have to ensure that everyone in the organisation can align everything they do with those values and principles. I have worked for a company where that was achieved for two or three years, and successfully in terms of finance too, but then the bean counters got the upper hand and slowly choked the life out of everything.

    • Derek Irvine says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Graham (and thanks for adding to the conversation). I firmly believe core values will always be nothing more than a plaque on the wall until you make them real for employees in their daily work. The best way to do this is to empower all employees, at every level, to recognize and appreciate their coworkers in a very specific way when they see them living a value.

      Check out the “Company Values and Recognition” category on the right for more posts along this line.

  3. Emile Bons says:

    Thanks for sharing these. However, if you would ask me, I would say the first step is to start measuring employee engagement or job satisfaction to know which topics to focus on.

  4. I think the bottom line is that employees want to work for an organization that values their contributions and is committed to their individual success. No one wants to feel like just another cog in the machine. Companies that want engaged employees need to be engaged in their employees.

  5. [...] that leads to not just happy employees, but deeply engaged employees as [...]

  6. [...] that in even simpler terms? If you want to create a company culture and workplace in which employees want to engage because they’re happier for doing [...]

  7. [...] that in even simpler terms? If you want to create a company culture and workplace in which employees want to engage because they’re happier for doing [...]

  8. [...] that in even simpler terms? If you want to create a company culture and workplace in which employees want to engage because they’re happier for doing [...]

  9. Santhakumar says:

    Employee engagement with what? All the employee engage with their daily work. Some even don’t aware the company vision as it doesn’t bring any value to them. Innovation activities is one of the way to attract employee engagement. A simple copy paste your innovation and the best innovation with recognition by top management such a lunch with CEO What could the best then this?

  10. Santhakumar says:

    Employee engagement with what? All the employee engage with their daily work. Some even don’t aware the company vision as it doesn’t bring any value to them. Innovation activities is one of the way to attract employee engagement. A simple copy paste your innovation and the best innovation with recognition by top management such a lunch with CEO What could be the best then this?

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