Employee engagement is a lot of things. Here are twelve things it isn't.
Employee engagement dashboards are pitched too often as easy-out for executives looking to avoid meaningful interaction with employees while satisfying the need ‘do this employee engagement thing.’ Engaging with the dashboard and its dials and colors is an acceptable surrogate for conversing, face to face or even by email with an employee.
See? they’ll say. I’m tracking our employee engagement right here. I’m very concerned about it. Top of mind, all day. They'll say this while they haven't spoken to an employee in weeks.
It’s like going to a ballgame and watching the jumbotron for its ads and replays and kiss-cam and thinking you’re engaged with the game and the players and the crowd. I’m at the game! If a giant dashboard engaged the hearts and minds of all the stakeholders in the Dallas Cowboys then they would win Super Bowl every year. Instead ... meh. Their fans are too distracted by the pretty shiny things the owner offers in lieu of a team to cheer.
It’s a symbol of the pretty-shiny thing disorder we see around us.
Sure, you need stats. You have them. They include:
- conversion rates
- customer testimonials
- hiring costs
- employee turnover
- errors, mistakes, fault rates
- customer churn rate
- customer referrals
They’re in your financial reports.
They’re not the only ones.
- How many thank you’s are sharing each day?
- How many hands are raised at a meeting?
- How many ideas or possible solutions are raised during the day?
- How many mistakes and failures are shared?
The same goes for surveys. A survey is an effective means to generate a report not engagement. Saying you’re fostering engagement by submitting your employees to yet another survey prepared by an Org Dev consultant or your marketing research person is not engagement. It’s abuse.
You wanna know what your employees are thinking? Ask them. Person to person, face to face.
You’re either engaging with your employees, you know ... talking with them, listening to them, investing that most precious resources, time, in developing a relationship, a connection or you’re not; you’re hiding in the safe confines of your office looking at the results of your latest survey.
Employees know why you’re surveying them. You’re too busy to listen to them as people. A survey is like a diagnostic test your mechanic gives your car. You read the results and make the changes. Same with employee surveys.
Engagement is messy, it’s undefined. For engagement to be meaningful it has to be personal. Wanna know why? You’re dealing with people. We’re messy and wonderful, inspiring and aggravating.
Gift Cards, Pizza, Casual Fridays
These are bribes. Kids know when they’re being bribed. So, do your employees.
A Flash in the Pan
There’s some backlash rising. Its timing and intent seems similar to the backlash against social media oh say 5-8 years ago.
Different sources, though. You see it in the words of the young who flash their world-weary cynicism like they flash the latest fashion accessory. It’s an attention-getter; I know better than my elders kinda-thing. The other is HR.
I have more patience with HR. They are talented, passionate, professionals laboring thanklessly in the corporate twilight zone, buffering employees from management and vice versa. Their heart is in the right place, so are the skills, but the location of their function is ... well dysfunctional.
Employee engagement is a lively topic now because - ok, we’re among friends right? - there is no way to deny it is an issue. The term itself is a spin on reality. The reality of American business is that only a minority of employees are engaged. 30%. 19% are actively disengaged meaning they’re actively sabotaging their work or the work of others. 51% are going through the motions. Said another way, Employee Engagement is about the majority of workers who are not engaged.
That’s a problem that can no longer be denied, even with dashboards and spinning dials.
Ok, maybe it is becoming a buzzword. So many people are bandying it about, pushing and pulling it into a cliche’. Yeah. Guilty, too. But, it's a lexicon equivalent of the water-cooler. Everyone gathers around it to talk.
I have the impression that the term was coined by The Gallup Organization to reflect the results of its survey over a few million employees, year after year. Their years of research into this topic gives them the credibility to coin the term for us to use.
But it is employee engagement. That last word, engagement. is key. We need to engage in a conversation to find not only a better term than employee engagement but a better term than employee. I wrote about that here.
We needed 100 years to demoralize and disenfranchise the American Worker. We’ll need a few more years to correct this situation. As we do, we'll find a term that better suits the new reality.
HR’s Eminent Domain
Yes, recognition is an important component to generating employee engagement. But walking around mindlessly slapping workers on the back and giving an attagirl or attaboy is not recognizing anyone.
A PowerPoint Presentation
An Item on Board Meeting Agenda, somewhere near the bottom if there’s time.
A Corporate Slogan
Slapping a happy-dappy employee engagement slogan on your corporate website makes as much difference to your corporate culture as changing the colors of your logo or the font type in your brand name. However, it is a great source of cash-flow and recognition for the agency that sold you on the empty solution. That’s all.
The Exclusive Domain of Thought-Leaders, Experts, Consultants
You, whoever and wherever you are in your life-career-company’s org chart, can ‘do’ employee engagement. How? Engage with the person next to you. Listen to them. Learn from them. Help them learn, help them understand. Recognize their strengths, talents and achievements. Celebrate those achievements. Forgive them for their mistakes and help them learn from it. Hell, tell someone about what your cubicle neighbor accomplished. Tell your boss, tell their boss.
Board approval is not required.
It’s an investment in your company’s ability to sustain its operations, even thrive in a global marketplace where your industry will soon be commoditized if it’s not already. At that point, the only competitive advantage you have are your stakeholders, not employees. And if you have an engaged group of employees then you have stakeholders ... owners who are committed, hearts and minds, to their ongoing success. Their is the operative word. It will be their ideas and solutions, passion and commitment, that sustains the business through the tumultuous times. You'll need everyone's best efforts every day.
If you want to know more ways to engage with your employees as opposed to anonymous surveys, my book RECOGNIZE THEM: 52 Ways to Recognize Your Employees in Ways They Value offers 52 ways to recognize your employees, easy exercises to reinforce those habits and skills and inspirational quotes to keep you going.