Engagement for Dummies: What, Why, How

Now that we’re past COVID and have low unemployment and people who want to stay remote, the awareness of employee engagement is gaining popularity in the broader business community; we’re dealing with a new world of employer/employee relationships.

I hear the term employee engagement a lot and am not sure I understand what people mean, nor am I confident they do. I’m pretty sure they’d have a hard time finding agreement amongst themselves.

The concept of engagement was skillfully discussed in a Harvard Business Review column by Ryan Fuller and Nina Shikaloff titled “Being Engaged at Work Is Not the Same as Being Productive,” published February 16, 2017. In it, they state, “The holy grail of today’s workplace is high employee engagement.” It has simultaneously become the shibboleth of HR departments throughout the land.

From “What Is the Definition of Employee Engagement?” retrieved February 11, 2019, one definition is “A workplace method designed to improve an employee’s feelings and emotional attachment to the company, their job duties, position within the company, their fellow employees, and the company culture.” https://www.bamboohr.com/hr-glossary/employee-engagement-in-hr.

A more recent definition from Quantum Workplace hasn’t changed much. “Employee engagement is the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward the organization that they work for, their team, and their work.” https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/what-is-employee-engagement-definition#:~:text=Employee%20engagement%20is%20the%20strength%20of%20the%20mental,are%20in%20their%20work%20and%20the%20organization%27s%20goals.

While I agree engagement has significance and value, the problem with engagement being the desired objective for employees is clearly expressed in Fuller and Shikaloff’s “word of caution”: “Engagement is often an ambiguous term.”

Rather than trying to define engagement, let’s look at some of the benefits engagement is supposed to deliver and why it’s important for every organization, large or small.

I passionately believe the most valuable asset any company has is its employees. Most people want to do a good job in their work and don’t like to be blindsided by surprises or unexpected demands. And a workforce that is less wasteful, has lower turnover, and communicates better leads to greater profit.

One of the most potent ways to develop these skills is by documenting the systems and structure that define how the organization operates. For each employee, understanding how and where their work product comes from and how and where it goes when they’re done gives them a sense of their place in the big picture of company value. It creates connection, ownership, a sense of purpose, and control, all of which are part of what engagement attempts to engender.

Documenting the processes of an organization is one of the structural components of success. It gives each employee a sense of their contribution to the overall success of the company. When employees connect their efforts to the value the company delivers, they become more “engaged” and take greater pride in their work.

Engagement creates a sense of attachment, which leads to retention. When staff are engaged, working for a company becomes working with a company and is a joyful experience.

Conversely, when an employee is not engaged, they’re not contributing to the overall success of the company. They are essentially being paid more for what they are doing than their counterparts who are more engaged and productive. The unengaged exist as tumors within the organization, ripe for making mistakes and sowing seeds of discontent.

Why does employee engagement matter? Because without it, your staff can’t enjoy their jobs. I know I love my job and I know I’m engaged. When I had employees, they were happiest when they were most engaged. That’s also when were the most productive and treated the business the way I did.

My one piece of advice? Stop trying to impose engagement and create an environment where staff want to be engaged. Now that we’ve been isolated and trapped (imprisoned?) in the white room of social media, working with a group of engaged people is our only hope.


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