Employee Engagement: The Myths and Mistakes.
Updated: May 22
Employee motivation, performance and productivity at work is a critical factor in your organisation’s success. We all know that employee engagement is a significant issue; only 15% of employees are engaged at work, with the remainder either not engaged, or (more worryingly) actively disengaged *1. The data emerging from the UK suggests that the levels of employee disengagement are amongst some of the highest globally.
At an individual level, it is closely linked to measures of productivity, satisfaction and expenditure of effort. At the organisational level, it’s correlated with sustained organisational success and growth. Poor engagement scores will likely indicate high staff turnover, absenteeism, recruitment challenges, a culture of siloed thinking, resistance to change and low levels of collaboration and innovation.
At a more human level, a culture where there is low engagement will likely mean a workplace where people lack passion, pride and purpose, have less connection to their work and each other, and are missing a sense that they’re meaningfully growing and developing – none of which bode well for their mental, physical and emotional health.
"With an estimated £300bn lost annually through lack of employee engagement in the UK alone, it is a challenge that organisations cannot afford to ignore."
But despite the considerable investment that’s gone in to addressing the ‘problem’ of engagement, the dial isn’t shifting - in fact, it seems to be getting worse. Which begs the question - are we thinking about – and approaching - engagement in the wrong way?
We’d suggest there are 3 things that we should be challenging ourselves on.
1. Do we truly understand engagement?
Evidence would suggest we don’t! Too often, it appears that the belief is that engagement equates to happy employees – which stems from rewarding them well, providing them with a great work-space and having opportunities to celebrate and build ‘a fantastic team culture’. Those are all good things to do but are they strictly engagement?!
If we ask people about the times where they were doing their best work, and most connected with their work, none of those things appear in their list.
"High engagement occurs when people are doing meaningful work, are part of a high performing, collaborative team that is working towards clear goals, and when they feel challenged and empowered to do high quality work that is making a valued contribution."
We don’t see enough organisations focused on creating the conditions for people to feel optimally motivated and performing (aka ‘engaged’), equipping their leaders with the skills to enable this, or supporting the development of high performing teams.
2. Is everyone being heard?
In cultures where there is high engagement (and high performance), there is a continual loop of listening, understanding and acting.
Feedback - the process by which we share information with each other to improve- is constant and in the moment.
Yet too many organisations set up processes which control and limit the frequency, and depth, of the feedback shared, resulting in those processes alienating employees.
If you want engaged employees, you want live, in the moment, sharing of information – ideally that is not just a hierarchical process (i.e. manager who gives feedback/judgement/criticism to an employee) but also valued and trusted peer to peer feedback.
It’s not just the process of having a voice and being heard that is of value here – it’s the collaborative pursuit of improvement that really gets people excited.
3. Are we measuring the right stuff?
We’ve got so hell-bent on engagement, engagement scores and engagement tools that perhaps we’re missing the point.
Engagement has become a desired outcome in itself – and the engagement survey and results have become ‘event-ised’. Typically, organisations measure it once or twice a year. It’s a big deal.
Leaders (and organisations) know they’re being judged on their engagement scores, which results in a big push to get people to complete the survey positively. Surveys can drift towards asking about happiness, the workplace culture, or even friendships at work – so may not be measuring entirely the right thing. Post-survey, leaders typically need to report back on what they’ll do to address engagement scores over the next year (and then everyone relaxes until the next survey).
Engagement has become this ‘thing’, supported by an event-ised process – we’ve started obsessing about the outcome, rather than thinking about the inputs and about people.
Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing our insight – and continuing to challenge the status quo around employee engagement. It’s a topic that we are hugely passionate about and was the reason we developed our tool, Pulse 360, which aims to support real employee engagement and performance.
At an individual level, it supports people to take charge of their own performance, and for real-time feedback to be requested and shared within teams.
Organisationally, it allows the organisation to collate information on key issues and provides an opportunity for the employee voice to be heard. Used across an organisation, it can lead to a shift to a high-performance feedback culture.
Pulse 360 has been developed and created by Foundation SP - a two-time winner of Great Place to Work® and a thought leader in employee engagement and workplace culture.
We are passionate evangelists for modern ways of working that support organisational growth and employee impact. Pulse 360 is a fresh approach to feedback and employee development from an award-winning employer.
*1 - Gallup, State of the Global Workplace, 2017