I’ve been speaking today at a joint event with Avensure on the subject of Employee Engagement.
In my talk I covered why engagement is so important, how to go about measuring it, and a case study of one of our clients who has done a great job of building a culture of engagement.
I also spent quite a bit of time defining engagement, which can mean a lot of different things to different people.
Cause, effect, or something else?
I argue that to use the concept of engagement properly, it’s essential to understand and measure the state itself as distinct from the culture and management practices that cause engagement and the beneficial staff behaviours that result from engagement.
You need to know the causes of engagement (so that you can improve) and you need to know the outcomes (so that you can prove it’s worth improving), but it’s a mistake to mix those three things together in the measurement or analysis. Be clear about what you’re measuring, and why.
The other subtlety of measuring engagement is that you can be engaged with your job, but not to your employer, and vice versa. Both types of engagement are important, but they can have very different causes and effects. If you love what you do, but hate your employer, what’s to stop you leaving to do the same job somewhere else? We’d expect role engagement to correlate less well to retention than organisational engagement.
On the other hand, you might get on great with your manager and colleagues, but not feel inspired by your role. Employees can be satisfied and engaged with the organisation, but reluctant to fully engage with doing the best possible job for customers. Role engagement can correlate better with productivity and customer quality.
Most jobs have some element of drudgery and some opportunities for self-expression and challenge. It’s those challenges that make roles engaging for the right people, so the importance of organisational engagement is greater for businesses with employees who have limited opportunity for self-expression. If you can’t make them love their job, you can at least make them love you.
A complex picture
To understand the full importance of employee engagement, you need to understand it in all its messy glory. That means having clear, separate, measures of:
- The causes of engagement
- Role engagement
- Organisational engagement
- The effects of engagement
Put all those together and you have the basis for a sophisticated understanding of your people, and a clear way forward if you choose to invest in building a culture of engagement.