What employee engagement looks like

Sometimes I feel like the term ‘engagement’ has become so overused in business that we think we know what it means, but when we drill down to it we have different definitions. A bit like ‘communication’ and ‘teamwork!

In fact, in a thought piece about engagement Professor Rob Briner said the one thing everyone knows about engagement is that nobody agrees what it is. It means that whenever we talk about or think about or try to measure ‘engagement’ we are almost certainly saying different things, understanding different things, measuring different things and doing different things but believing quite incorrectly they are all the same.

There have been numerous studies by consulting firms that indicate a positive connection between employee engagement and business performance. Interestingly, there are almost no publically available scientific research studies that meet the conditions for establishing cause and effect. This is not the end of the world, but it is worth bearing in mind. What works (or worked) for an American retail giant like Sears with 140,000 employees may not work for a firm with 40 people in New Zealand.

Rather than relying solely on overseas consulting studies, teams can initiate their own discussions about what employee engagement means in their organisations given the work that people do and the company’s strategic goals. In our workshops, most managers can recall a time when they’ve had highly engaged people on their team, and most employees can recall a time when they’ve been engaged at work. When they’re asked to identify the characteristics of this engagement, common words or phrases are things like inspired, committed and go the extra mile. Generally, there’s agreement that work would be better if there was more of that, and less disengagement (characterised by things like complacency, uncommunicative and uncooperative). It may not be a scientific process, but it’s meaningful to that business, and can be the starting point for identifying the right engagement factors and strategies.

If you’re keen to explore what engagement means in your team, contact us for a chat.