4 thoughts about the truths and myths regarding employee engagement

Research has shown that only about a third of employees in today’s workforce is truly engaged. As a result, organizations try to make the office “more fun” and to cater to each employee’s personal preferences in hopes to get engagement scores up. Only, to their surprise, none of those efforts yield the desired results. Luke Thomas, founder of Friday, even goes as far as suspecting that part of the focus on engagement scores is due to lobbying by software vendors who produce tools to measure it. 

Employee engagement is arguably one of the most misunderstood concepts in today’s workplaces, not just for leadership and managers, but for the majority of professionals. This can lead to both underperformance and even entitlement. Let’s look at some truths and myths about employee engagement. 

Engagement is not the same as satisfaction

According to Bob Kelleher, a thought leader on employee engagement, employers spend too much time focusing on employee satisfaction, due to the misconception that happiness and engagement are the same. They’re not. Engagement is the degree to which both the employee’s and the company’s goals align, and the levels of commitment to success and accountability. You can actually have very satisfied people who have low engagement, because they don’t hold themselves accountable for their own success and for the success of the company. On the other hand, you can have employees whose goals are very much aligned with the goals of the organization and who have a high sense of ownership, but they may not necessarily be satisfied. 

Engagement and performance: Correlation versus causation

One of the reasons why companies place so much importance on engagement scores is that they believe that engagement causes better performance. However, while there is a correlation between engagement and performance, there no causation whatsoever, based on extensive data compiled over the years. Therefore, consider focusing on success, with engagement as a great byproduct. It makes sense. Would you want your engagement scores high if your company is underperforming? Not if your employees’ goals and the company’s goals are aligned.

Engagement without accountability = entitlement

In her book “No Ego”, Cy Wakeman, who has worked with businesses in many sectors for over 25 years, provides insightful, albeit brutal, wake-up calls. According to the data she and her team collected, the obsession with “perfecting the environment” has cost companies billions of dollars due to ego driven behavior and what she calls “emotional waste”. Why? Because when the focus is on external factors, people don’t focus on internal ones. And when people focus on other people or other departments or other factors that they can’t control, they can’t self-reflect. This can cause a sense of helplessness, victimhood, and dissatisfaction. Now, this does not mean that engagement is not a worthwhile goal. On the contrary! But it does mean that engagement needs to be tied to accountability. You want your high accountability people to be engaged, and your low accountability people to either come up with a plan to become engaged (yes, engagement is a choice!) or transition out. And when it comes to feedback, be sure to heavily weigh the responses from high accountability individuals. 

A manager’s role is about framing the conversation

One of the main roles as a manager is to help hold individuals accountable for their results and also their mindset. The team member needs to find a way to turn venting into self-reflection by asking the right questions. But know that it’s not always possible. Remember, you can teach someone who to do things, but not how to be. The key is to continue to work with the right people who are willing to move towards a common goal and who will figure out how they have the biggest possible impact. Of course, HR can also play a major role in helping foster a culture of accountability that leads to desired business outcomes and engagement. 

The day on which you can confidently say that the most important perk that you provide to our employees has nothing to do with snacks or happy hours, but with the fact that you have a high accountability team who focuses on how to reach goals and looks at each challenge as an opportunity rather than an obstacle is a day to be celebrated. 

What about you? What are your thoughts on the truths and myths about employee engagement?


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