Should We Stop Trying to ‘Engage’ Employees?
Spend time in any business setting and you’ll hear a plethora of industry-focused terminology — ‘corporate synergy’, ‘disruptive technology’ or ‘organizational culture’ are just a few specks that contribute to the dust mountain that is business jargon. Look to the HR or work psychology world and one of the hot business phrases thrown around organizations today is ‘Employee Engagement’ (EE).
‘EE does not have an absolute agreed definition, but there are many. The definitions are similar in nature, but there is different wording in each. This is typical of definitions of engagement.
Firstly, no agreed definition of employee engagement instantly makes me question it as a construct. If we can’t agree on what it is how can we create it, measure it, improve it, or even experience it?
Secondly, is the meaning of the phrase ‘Employee Engagement’ being lost through a lack of clear definition and semantic interpretation and, in turn, poor application?
There are numerous consultants and in-house practitioners that claim to know something about EE. They create and apply interventions to increase engagement in employees. My concern is if we can’t agree on the construct of ‘employee engagement’, how can we create interventions to increase it? Also, if these interventions are affecting employee and, ultimately, business performance wouldn’t it be helpful to know exactly what element of human behavior is being affected?
The Gallup employee engagement score of around 30–35% of U.S. employees being actively engaged at work is no surprise to most people; the score was fairly stagnant during the three years it was measured. The mere fact it didn’t change tells us the practices we’re using to try to improve engagement are not doing their job and that we need to adjust our approach.
‘Employee engagement’ is an evolving construct and one we are continually learning more about. The evidence of how this construct affects human behavior is constantly changing. Without continually consulting this evidence and research from specialists we can’t develop a deep understanding of what is happening when we manipulate that behavior with interventions. If we make the effort to stay connected to the evidence developed through research, we can pinpoint which practices have the most useful effects and which may be detrimental to employees and organizations.
No, I don’t believe we should stop trying to engage employees; engagement, based on current definitions, is a positive state for employees and organizations. If we are to change EE levels on a larger scale we do, however, need to be more inquisitive about the factors of engagement that have a positive effect by referring to scientific evidence and research before designing interventions.