Are we doomed to failure with employee engagement?

Disengaged employeeOver three quarters of business leaders  (78%) surveyed rated retention and engagement as urgent or important, according to a 2014 Deloitte study. However, a separate study found that almost the same number of businesses (75%) had no employee engagement strategy.

With nearly two-thirds of employees not fully engaged in their work according to a Towers Watson survey and a 2012 University of Bath survey finish that only about one-third of employees said they are actively engaged at work it seems that we could be doomed to failure when it comes to employee engagement.


Is employee engagement a waste of time?

Several people argue that employee engagement is a waste of time, including Consultant Robert Bacal who writes,

“There is no evidence that employee engagement causes better performance…. It may be that more profitable companies have better engaged staff, because they are profitable, and do a lot of other things better than companies with less-engaged staff.”

Perhaps the reason people argue that employee engagement is a waste of time is because it doesn’t achieve the result they are looking for. There are a number of reasons why employee engagement doesn’t always work in organisations, and invariably it comes down to the employer’s approach to engagement. For example:

  • They do a poor job of communicating organisational values, vision and goals so employees don’t know how their role contributes to the bigger picture.
  • They don’t set clear goals when it comes to performance and expectations.
  • They don’t properly recognise employees, which results in employees feeling unappreciated.
  • They don’t have a business culture that encourages employees to go that extra mile.
  • They don’t understand that employees are individuals and are motivated by different things.
  • They have data on their employees but they don’t know how to interpret it or use it in the real world.

engage cloudThere is also some disagreement on what the term ‘employee engagement’ actually means. A quick ‘employee engagement definition’ search on Google yields nearly 1.5 million results. Some of these definitions focus on employee happiness, others focus on employee satisfaction , whilst some focus on an employees’ willingness to act in their employer’s best interests. There is no wrong answer but not knowing what you’re measuring and not implementing an employee engagement strategy properly will always lead to poor results.


What you need to do

1. Define what employee engagement means to your organisation

Decide at the outset what employee engagement means to your organisation. It could be based on employee satisfaction, happiness, going the extra mile or a combination of these and other elements. Once you have a clear understanding of what it means to your employees then decide how you will measure it.


2. Understand your employees

Understanding what motivates your employees and what will encourage them to adopt the behaviours you are looking for is critical. Like the definition of employee engagement there is no clear agreement about what makes employees engaged, so look at your data, understand the unique individuals your employees are and base your strategy around what motivates your employees, not someone else’s.


3. Set goals

Employees will adopt the behaviours they believe will lead to the recognition and rewards they want. This means that by simply setting goals for both teams and individuals you can make a huge impact on employee engagement. However, don’t forget that you need to celebrate the successful achievement of those goals with rewards and recognition.


4. Communicate

Employees want to feel as if they are contributing to the company they work for so ensure your managers understand your organisation’s vision, values and goals and are communicating them to their teams so employees know how their role contributes to the overall objective. You can also issue transparent communication about board meetings and decisions that affect the business.


John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.
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