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Why is it so difficult to understand what employee engagement is all about?
I recently saw a note from a reporter with a reputable online publication asking for sources who had used company perks, as well as apps to track rewards and perks in the workplace, noting that he was writing an article about employee engagement.
It’s great that there’s an ongoing spotlight on employee engagement because it’s still at an all-time low.
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But let’s just all say it in unison one last time:
Perks and employee engagement should not be used in the same sentence. One has nothing to do with the other.
I’ve written about this topic many times, but I feel it warrants repeating on a regular basis, especially when unknowing reporters want to write articles that continue to misinform.
What is Employee Engagement?
Here’s what employee engagement looks like, according to Gallup.
Engaged workers stand apart from their not-engaged and actively disengaged counterparts because of the discretionary effort they consistently bring to their roles. These employees willingly go the extra mile, work with passion, and feel a profound connection to their company. They are the people who will drive innovation and move your business forward.
What is Employee Engagement Not?
Employee Engagement is not…
- a strategy
- a mandate
- employee motivation
- employee recognition
- something that is “done” (I read an article once that included a note about “if employee engagement is done properly.”)
- an organizational competence
- a morale booster
- a performance booster
- performance goals
- a reward program
- an investment
- an incentive
- a survey
- a training program
- a management style
- a party every Friday afternoon
- unlimited free food and similar perks
- a plaque on the wall
- a shirt with your logo on it
- education reimbursement
- employee satisfaction
- employee happiness
The list goes on. I’m not making this stuff up! These examples all come from well-meaning bloggers and reporters over the years who want to create a quick fix to engage employees. There is no quick fix! On top of that, a lot of what is written about what employee engagement often defines the “employee experience” in general.
A Confluence of Passion and Purpose
No one can make an employee engaged. Perks and rewards do not drive employee engagement. That engagement comes from within the employee, and yet the company has a role in it, as well. When there’s some confluence of: (1) emotions, commitment, passion, sense of ownership, etc. on the part of the employee about the brand and (2) what the organization does (mission, purpose, brand promise, etc.) to facilitate and enhance those emotions or that commitment – then we have employee engagement.
…you have to want to be engaged. There has to be deep-seated desire in your heart and mind to participate, to be involved, and to make a difference. If the desire isn’t there, no person or book can plant it within you. -Tim Clark
What Can Employers Do?
Employee engagement involves two parties, the employee and the employer. What’s the employer’s part in this equation? It’s all about creating the right conditions to allow employees to become engaged. Those conditions include:
- Hiring the right people for the right roles
- Clearly communicating the mission, vision, purpose, and values of the organization
- Communicating openly and being transparent about company performance and how employees’ contributions matter
- Setting expectations and providing the right tools and resources for employees to meet those expectations
- Creating a culture where employees come first
- Ensuring employees are well taken care of, which includes tools, training, coaching, development, feedback, recognition, respect, appreciation, trust, balance, and more
What Can Employees Do?
Employees obviously have ownership in this thing called engagement: it comes from within them. Their role in becoming engaged includes:
- Accepting a position for the right role in the right company
- Being passionate about what they do and for whom they do it
- Taking ownership, thinking and acting like they own the business
- Understanding the mission, vision, purpose, and values of the organization and ensuring alignment with all of them
- Providing feedback to drive business success
- Working day in and day out toward the goals of the business
- Understanding how their work ties to business outcomes
I’m sure there are more conditions for both sides of the house, but as you can see, neither side lists anything about perks!
Engaged employees are not just committed. They are not just passionate or proud. They have a line-of-sight on their own future and on the organization’s mission and goals. They are ‘enthused’ and ‘in gear’ using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success. I’ve never had control and I never wanted it. If you create an environment where people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. –Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines