Incentra Insights

So What Does Employee Engagement Really Mean?

Posted by David Chittock on Apr 29, 2015 10:47:00 AM

Different Definitions?


I just read two articles in Forbes that, at first blush, seemed diametrically opposed. Both authors were pondering the true meaning of “employee engagement.”  It appeared they each had entirely different definitions of the term.  But after rereading both articles, I came to the conclusion that they really were in more agreement than I first thought.  See what you think.

An Insider’s View


The first author is an HR Manager and views the world from her own unique perspective.  She vehemently rejects the idea that employees are engaged because they are passionate about the company’s mission. In fact she thinks the idea of engaged employees is totally meaningless when tied to corporate goals and objectives.  She believes employees are passionate about their careers, their lives outside the workplace and their personal and professional interests.    Her answer to generating true employee engagement?  Sit down with employees, listen to them on a human level, and get their one-on-one feedback to how things are going at your company. 


An Outsider’s View


The second author is an HR Consultant and has his own personal viewpoint.  He concludes that the traditional notion of engagement, as being driven primarily by good or bad management, is outdated. He believes that development opportunities and leadership have three to four times greater impact on retention than the relationship with an immediate manager.  In fact, he feels that peers have a much greater impact on commitment than managers. He urges company leaders to instead think about building the “Irresistible Organization,” where workers feel passionate about their company’s mission and feel supported by an inspiring, humanistic work environment.  Totally opposite from the first author, right?


Not So Fast


Well, maybe they’re not so far apart!  The first author goes on to say that when we take the human element out of employee engagement and give it a measurable number based on a survey, we are not only dehumanizing the employees; we’re revealing the shortsightedness of upper management.  The second author claims that traditional employee engagement surveys, which serve as an annual HR measure, need to be replaced by thinking of engagement as a continuous, holistic part of one’s business strategy.  Now they’re beginning to sound more like each other.


Where They Come Together


Both authors stress the importance of the human element in employee engagement.  The HR Manager wants employers to get to know their employees on a personal level and understand what is most important to them and whether their needs are being met.   The HR Consultant counsels employers to build an organization that is exciting, fulfilling, meaningful, and fun.  He also cites studies that show that organizations that sponsor philanthropic and social causes realize higher employee engagement and significantly improved performance.  Both authors focus on the need to treat employees as human beings, not cogs in a wheel


The Bedrock Truth


The truth of the matter is that employee engagement can be called many things but cannot exist in an environment that ignores any or all aspects of the human condition.  Having a culture that celebrates humanity, offers possibilities for employees to self-actuate, and provides opportunities for giving back will equate to employee engagement by whatever name you give it.  As one of the authors put it, “You can tell if the workforce is engaged as soon as you walk in the door.”  Some things never change.


























Categories: Employee Engagement, Employee Recognition