November 7, 2011

Employee Engagement is not about Buzz Word Bingo

This is the first in a series of posts where I’m going to focus my writing on employee engagement.

I’ve always been fascinated by the term engagement. It can mean so many things. It can also be interpreted in so many different ways too. I’ve always (personally) felt that an engaged employee will be far more productive than a disengaged employee. In return, there is a corollary to business or financial results, customer satisfaction, etc.

I know, that’s not exactly Nobel Prize winning commentary, is it.

But for many, it is.

First off, how does one actually describe an engaged organization? What is an engaged employee?

Let’s start with what it’s not.

Buzz word bingo.

Organizations that sound the trumpet of annual, quarterly or weekly engagement gimmicks are somewhere between daft and imbecilic. You may trick me with cotton candy once, but I’m eventually going to figure out it’s only made of sugar and fancy food colouring.

Richard Axelrod refers to it as plug ‘n play activities.    

Successful employee-engagement practice is not about plugging in a set of tools and techniques that you just read about in some hotshot guru’s latest book—and then expecting engaged employees to magically appear.

I couldn’t agree more, but to many, employee engagement seems unnecessary and even nebulous.

Why is that?

In my opinion, engagement needs to be taken very seriously in an organization. Trying to fake out your employees with gimmicks may in fact create a disengaged workforce. Furthermore, not thinking about engagement in terms of an opportunity to increase overall organizational productivity is naïve if not foolish.

Want proof?

Yes, yes you do.

In what I would refer to as landmark research this past May 2011, Azka Ghafoor, Tahir Masood Qureshi, M. Aslam Khan and Syed Tahir Hijazi from the University of Central Punjab in Lahore, Pakistan published “Transformational leadership, employee engagement and performance: Mediating effect of psychological ownership“.

They sought to prove that an employee is engaged when they demonstrate what they refer to as “psychological ownership”. More specifically, when backed by transformational leadership (and leaders), employees will thrive on the basis of “self-identity, belongingness, self-efficacy and responsible attitude”.

What they proved was astounding:

Employee engagement makes employees more accountable and enhances the sense of belongingness. Employee engagement practiced under transformational leadership develops the positivity in behavior that leads to trust and satisfaction that enhances sense of belongingness. The sense of ownership is supported by the perception of citizenship of employees. Once employees feel themselves as part of the organization their self-identity with organization improves.

In summary, when an employee feels part of something, when there is unequivocal trust in the workplace and when backed by an environment that is positive and coupled by inclusive leadership, that employee will become engaged.

Want more?

“This identity and association with the organization develops commitment in employees and their performance increases.

That’s right. These researchers proved that an engaged employee is committed to the cause and with commitment comes an increase in performance.

So to recap, this isn’t rocket science. And yes, I know, it’s but one piece of research.

There is no need, however, to introduce buzz word bingo or “plug ‘n play” options to improve engagement and performance in your organization.

It’s not cotton candy.

Common sense is a good start.

Next time, I’ll share my specific thoughts on some must-have components to achieve the engaged (and therefore productive) organization.

Thereafter, I’ll share some thoughts on the link between customer satisfaction and employee engagement.

Everyone now … “Bingo”.

4 Replies to “Employee Engagement is not about Buzz Word Bingo”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this term “engagement” for a while and I have to wonder if it isn’t just the latest in a long line of management tactics to get more from employees without giving more in return. Engaged employees produce more, and do higher quality work; but do they get a raise for that? Typically not. More work + same salary = win for the employer.

    It’s similar to another recent buzzword, “ownership”. If the employee adopts the mindset of a self-employed consultant and feels they own the responsibility for customer success, they’re going to work harder and give their all to make the customer happy. But they’re not compensated as an owner is, with stock options and profits. They just get their salary, regardless of how successful they make the customer outcome. If I want to take on the responsibility and workload of a business owner, I’ll start a business and keep the profit for myself.

    But it’s worse than that. It’s not enough any more that we show up, do our jobs the best we can, and get paid. Now the company wants our heart and soul. They want us to create our identity, our sense of self, by aligning our psychological life with the company’s values and mission.

    Is this ethical? What is the effect on spouses and families of “engaged” employees?

    I agree that it’s ideal when an individual’s values happen to align with those of their employers. It’s a win-win for both, and people in such situations often say things like “I can’t believe they pay me for this.” But creating some new 5-point program of engagement won’t make that happen unless the employer is willing to meet employees at least part-way.

  2. @AnonForThis – I’m not sure I agree with your sentiment, although I respect it.

    Being a more engaged employee corresponds, ideally, to being a happier employee. When someone is happier, productivity usually becomes close to effortless and thus both sides of the equation benefit.

    An engaged individual does not have to trigger an increase in salary, bonus, stock, what have you.

    I’d much rather work somewhere that respects me, values my opinion, asks me to contribute and surface ideas, than the alternative at the same level of pay.

    If I’m being micro-managed, if my ‘boss’ doesn’t give a rat’s ass about my development, my ideas, my family, my career progression, etc. then I can guarantee you I’m not going to be engaged. I might put in my time, but I’ll be ambivalent and my mind will wander elsewhere.

    Do I believe I should be appropriately compensated for my skill and my output? Well absolutely.

    But because I may be engaged and happy to achieve business results (also as an owner) I’m not expecting more money. If my results demonstrate that I should be compensated more, and I get the added bonus of feeling like my job is more like a passion than a job (and I’m happy, engaged, an owner) … then all the better for me.

    Thanks for dropping by. I hope you are in an organization where your opinion is valued and you are enjoying what you’re doing.

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