Everywhere you look right now, there is an article on employee engagement. The last few years have provided a deluge of them and there is no sign it is going to slow down any time soon.There are forums dedicated to discussing it, experts in speaking about it, organisations promoting it. Companies are primed to help you measure it, improve it, explain it. I guarantee there is usually something in my twitter timeline about it somewhere, every time I look.
The Cult of Employee Engagement
There has been extensive research into the impact employee engagement has on organisational performance. There is strong evidence of a positive link and I don’t seek to dispute it. I simply find the whole argument uncomfortable. What are we trying to prove anyway, and to whom? It feels to me like this is just another way that HR tries to justify the often fabled ‘seat at the table’. A ‘please like me’ approach. Let me wave some evidence under the nose of the C Suite to justify treating people well because there is a financial outcome, a tangible business benefit. Forgive me, but if I have to try and justify the existence of a HR department, a people strategy, or just treating people well, then I am going home.
There is nothing new about employee engagement other than the terminology. Nothing that HR people haven’t known for years. Treat people well, trust them, empower them, reward and recognise them. Communicate well, give feedback, provide development opportunities. This is not rocket science. It is pretty simple stuff. Who has defined engagement anyway? In my experience the survey people do. We reduce how our employees feel, think, believe, appreciate into a single number, a percentage, a line on a chart. I was once told you need a score of 80 out of a 100 and then I would have engaged employees. Really? So you go ahead and strive for that artificial number or a percentage increase – but what does this really tell you anyway? We run the risk of focusing on the wrong thing when we take this approach, losing sight of what really matters.
The biggest problem that the engagement lobby really has, is that you can have do all of that good people stuff I listed above and still have shoddy engagement scores. I know because I have seen it. What it really boils down to is two words: meaningful work. And you’ve either got it or you ain’t. So can someone tell the Emperor that he hasn’t got any clothes on?