One of the things that has frustrated me for years has been the popularity of the words “employee engagement” and the belief its pursuit should be a central aim of internal communication – and indeed of business itself – without a single coherent definition of the term.
With practitioners, survey firms and corporations each promoting their own definitions of “employee engagement,” it is unlikely agreement on a common definition will happen soon. But some recent conversations I’ve had have highlighted a clear split among those talking about “employee engagement:”
People who want to productively improve workplace relationships and conditions
People who want to show proof that workplace conditions and relationships are improving (particularly as the result of their interventions).
What does this mean?
Group A talks about changes in work practice and success stories as “improved engagement”. Group B talks about change in engagement survey scores as “improved engagement.”
Why is this a problem?
Group A tends to be change and communication practitioners. Group B tends to be corporate clients. Engagement surveys tend to involve nearly all employees, and corporate clients tend to demand consistently high participation and high engagement scores from their engagement surveys.
So, broad solutions that produce score improvements from lots of employees tend to be valued over targeted interventions that may deliver better business outcomes but less (or even negative) impact on engagement scores.
In other words, the tail wags the dog – higher engagement score trumps business impact. But in recognizing that the whole debate over employee engagement comes down to a question between improved outcomes and improved scores, it becomes possible to see where the tail ends and the dog begins.
If you want to look at how small interventions can have a big impact, consider looking at how engaging your internal influencers can spread progress quickly and efficiently. Send me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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