Employee engagement isn’t all about smiling faces
Throughout my career, I’ve read numerous articles about employee engagement. This is partly because I’m interested in the subject, but partly because these days there are so many of them around it’s hard not to stumble on one in just about any genre of publication.
The sheer volume of employee engagement literature on the market, and the quality of that literature got me thinking about the real meaning of engagement.
I recently read a post by ‘Sharlyn Lauby, an HR pro turned consultant’ about what employee engagement really is. It seems over the years the term has been thrown here there and everywhere, as its popularity in the fashion stakes grew. Now, on many occasions, the definition of employee engagement comes out as a “catch all for everything to do with employees” (Sharlyn Lauby).
So where have we gone wrong?
As Sharlyn put it “happy employees are not engaged employees”. Now, I’m not convinced this statement is necessarily true; happy employees might be engaged employees, but what Sharlyn meant and went on to say in her piece, is that happiness at work does not equal engagement. True employee engagement isn’t all about smiling faces, getting the job done and stopping for cake at 2 pm on a Friday.
“The employee who comes in, does their job and goes home. They love it when no one bothers them. And, they will tell you so. “Just let me come and in do my job. Don’t make me talk to anyone.” Happy – yes. Engaged – no.” Sharlyn Lauby
Sharlyn goes on to talk about another type of employee – those that are motivated to achieve their needs rather than the needs of the organisation. They desire the highest salary they can get, or the most opportunities for promotion. Their main concern is that their needs are met, not the needs of the organisation. Again, they are happy but not necessarily engaged.
“In both cases, these employees can be excellent performers. It’s not to say they’re doing anything wrong. They are delivering what the company asks of them. But they aren’t engaged. An engaged employee is going to work toward moving the business to the next level.” Sharlyn Lauby
How do we achieve happiness, excellent performance AND engagement?
Sharlyn discusses the importance of allowing employees to own their career and for managers to take the role of facilitators to help them to develop, while also giving them space to grow and learn. I agree completely with this and it is a big part of engaging employees but I believe there is more to achieving engagement than supporting employees to develop.
Engagement is about individual growth but it’s also about growth of the organisation. This often means long hours and going the extra mile. When people believe in the organisation’s vision, their work becomes something they want to achieve for its own sake, not for external reward or for the good of themselves. Their individual career and the growth of the organisation become intertwined.
The trick is helping employees to feel part of where the organisation is going. This means getting employees involved in co-creating the organisation’s vision and ensuring they understand their role in achieving it, while also giving them space for their own growth.
What about rewards, recognition and feedback?
Of course, to help employees stay on track we need to offer them rewards and recognition for their effort, and comfortable surroundings in which to do their work, otherwise they become despondent and feel as though they are being taken advantage of. The smiles come all round when people begin to achieve the goals that matter to the organisation, but also matter to them personally.
To read more about how to communicate complex business strategy to help employees to be part of the vision – there’s a great post here on the subject from HBR.
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