Buzzword Alert: Employee Engagement


We have a new buzzword, folks. OK so it’s not new, per say, but it is new to all of the trend and prediction articles for 2018. It’s employee engagement. Don’t believe it’s a big deal? Here’s just a sample of articles I’ve seen on the topic:

Let’s not ignore the fact that a simple search for “employee engagement” AND 2018 came up with over 9 million results. Million. People, we’re only a month into the year!

So why the sudden concern with employee engagement? There hasn’t been a major shift in the job market in the last 365 days that would indicate this shift is coming to all these writers and conference organizers. There’s no major piece of research that told them to spend more time on it (yet). I don’t even know that there are a ton of people on the speaker circuit even calling themselves experts on the subject.

But here we are. Everyone is talking about employee engagement. My hypothesis is that this is actually a result of a few trends colliding at once. The first is that we have low unemployment. The best recruiting tactic any company has right now is simply to retain their people. The second is a shifting perception on work. Some would start to generalize and blame this one on the millennials but please don’t go there. Everyone wants to do meaningful work, no matter what generation you’re labeled as. But today, that matters more than it ever has. The third theory is probably a reach but here it goes. We’re having more conversations than ever about what work is like, leaving angry anonymous reviews on websites and ranting on social media. We’re starting to talk about that angry boss or the homophobic co-workers.

As we talk more about our reality, the human tendency to “fix” comes in. HR and recruiting people tend to have an extra scoop of the “help people out” gene; the good ones do, at least. It’s good because when it all boils down – we’re in the people business. Period. This rush to “fix” comes from a good place, but the execution? Typically pretty poor. I mean, does anyone really believe that lunches and forced fun scavenger hunts on a  Wednesday afternoon when you’re on deadline is really going to make people want to stay or feel extra engaged when they’ll be in the office until 8pm? Nope. Yet that’s where half of these strategies begin. With good intent, we borrow from the competition and some rumors we’ve heard during first round interviews. However, I think we can all benefit from taking one big step back to figure out a few things before using “employee engagement” as the title.

So, where do you start? I get this question all the time. Actually, the first question I get is “how do I get more Glassdoor reviews,” to which I respond – we need to take a step back. No one needs reviews if they’re just more forced “fun.” An employee engagement plan starts with a definition of what an engaged employee *is.* I mean, if you don’t know what this person looks like or what they enjoy, how can you even say that you know employees are engaged or ask them to write a review? This definition needs to happen outside of your cubicle silo. It should be collaborative and include inputs from people across different functions and seniority. “Engaged” probably means something different in the C-suite vs the factory floor.

With that very specific definition in hand, you can stack rank the activities you do to drive engagement based on how they facilitate your engagement behaviors. Again, this might be different at every level. Survey people. Ask what they like best. Create a suggestion box. Remember, psychology is your best friend when it comes to getting employees to do what you need them to do. Create the trust, relationships and rewards and the results will come.

Then they say, “but I need more Glassdoor reviews.”

I sigh and grind my teeth.

I take a deep breathe then say, “if you do the right thing, the reviews will come. Good ones, too. If they don’t,  ask people to write them. You’ll have the trust and relationships by then to make it easy.”

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2 thoughts on “Buzzword Alert: Employee Engagement

  1. I am completely on board with your theories on why it’s amassed so much discussion! My question is: how do you get the leadership to understand why it’s important to engage in a conversation breaking down what engagement looks like at their company?

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