Getting Passionate: Employee Engagement

Employee engagement was one of the most discussed topics of 2014 and the first half of 2015, as leaders looked for ways to get the most out of their employees. Engagement was discussed so much that it risked becoming just one more hollow buzzword, trotted out to justify whatever the speaker was looking to do. But the year ahead will force us to treat engagement seriously, to get to grips ever more deeply with what employees want and what makes them passionate about their work.

The Economic Challenge

After years of slow recovery, the economy finally started to take off in 2014, and this looks set not only to continue but to accelerate, with a predicted 3% growth in the US economy and related increases in both employment and wage levels.

While this is great news, it also creates a challenge for those responsible for employee engagement. As long as the economy remained stalled, a larger proportion of employees remained in their jobs. There were less jobs to apply for, and a greater sense of fear about the consequences of rocking the boat and being left jobless.

As the job market picks up, more employees will look to move on, or to ask for more from their employers in return for staying in place. Engagement, that elusive emotional attachment to the job and passion for getting it done, is a great way to keep employees happy and in place, and even more important in 2015.

The Personal Challenge

The growth of social media has led to a transformation in the way that we view marketing, making it a much more personal activity focused on the desires of an individual consumer. And as I discussed in my book Nothing Short of a Necessity, there is much from marketing that can be applied to employee engagement.

Much as personalizing marketing messages and interacting personally with customers helps to market a product, so personalizing employee interactions helps to engage people in the organization and its work. If employees feel a personal bond with management, feel that they know and have access to the people at the top, then they will feel a greater commitment to the company – they will be more engaged. The same applies to personalized interactions. The more that the processes an employee goes through feel tailored to them, the more they will value those experiences.

Part of this is about overcoming personal biases. But it’s about more than that too. It’s about seeing the work from the point of view of your employees, thinking about how that makes them feel, and taking account of it.

The Impact Challenge

Perhaps the biggest challenge in tackling engagement in the coming 12 months will be demonstrating its value. Shareholders and CEOs want to see results from the activities a company undertakes, and that can be hard to measure where employee engagement is concerned. It’s a challenge to which we have to rise if our work is to be both accountable and enduring.

Arnaud Henneville has begun a discussion on this topic, suggesting that we need to move past employee engagement and towards looking at employee commitment, using work as the ultimate measure of whether it is effective. It’s certainly a powerful argument, and aligning engagement measures with wider business measures would be of value in integrating engagement with other work. But there’s a risk in this too, that by putting the focus onto business results we may forget to look at the experience from the employee’s point of view, resulting in worse impact, whether you call it engagement or commitment. I look forward to seeing where this debate takes us.

2015 and 2016 should be an exciting time for employee engagement. Here’s hoping that it lives up to that promise.