Firstly, what is employee engagement?
Well, the Wikipedia definition is: “Employee engagement, also called work engagement or worker engagement, is a business management concept. An “engaged employee” is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.”
An enormous amount of writing and research has gone into employee engagement over the past 5 or so years, and most of it will reinforce the fact that as a business improvement tool, it is one of the best. Any company that does not have its attention on engaging its employees is unlikely to be around in the future.
What’s rare though, is fully understanding what has people remain neutral or actively disengaged at work. The engagement tools that have been developed to date are, in the main, comparable to the stone tools invented by cavemen thousands of years ago. They do the job, but the full potential of what’s possible is nowhere near realised.
Coming up with new and quirky programmes and activities to keep employees engaged may keep Human Resource Managers employed, but they won’t leave a business with the capacity to create deep and sustainable engagement with their employees.
The source of employee engagement is relationship, and the success of any relationship is commensurate with the state or basis of that relationship. If a company attempts to get their employees engaged from a basis of ‘use’, as in “what do I have to do to these people to get them to be more useful to the company”, the job is over before it has started. With that view as the basis of any relationship, the relationship is weak. Strong relationships are based on mutual exchange, each providing what the other sees as valuable.
We are in relationship with everything. Most of us talk about relationships only in terms of other people, however we have relationships with inanimate objects are well – including the companies we work for. Yet people’s relationship with a company is in fact made up of their experience with the people who manage and run that company. The touch points of that experience can be direct conversations with their manager, but can also be the systems and processes they are required to use, the rumours and gossip about leaders that they listen to, the press the company receives in the world, the corporate messages that are circulated etc.
Many companies make the mistake of assuming that what their employees value most is money. That may have been the case with ‘builders’ and ‘baby boomers’ who saw work as a means to an end. But it doesn’t hold up today. What the X, Y and Z generation value is different.
Perhaps the most important question a company can ask today to begin the process of true engagement is – ‘what is it that my employees value and how can we provide it?’.