#WorkTrends: Why Employee Engagement is a Joke

Mark Babbitt, President of WorqIQ, joined #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro on January 10, 2020 to discuss key issues surrounding employee engagement.

Meghan introduced the topic by noting that only half of all employees feel like they have a career. Mark expanded on this fact, suggesting that we’ve turned employee engagement from a good idea into a joke because engagement levels remain the same as they were in the 1980s. “With eight million blog posts and hundreds of experts on this subject, why have we not fixed anything?” he asked.

Mark is a colleague of Meghan’s and a longtime friend of TalentCulture. He’s also the president of WorqIQ, a community and change management consultancy, and CEO and founder of YouTern, a career site for college students and young professionals.

Mark’s upcoming book is Good Comes First: How Companies Can Create an Uncompromising Company Culture in a Confrontational World. And he’s one of Inc.’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers. Which means he’s been tracking the story of employee engagement for a long time.

“The data proves that employee engagement is a myth,” he said. “We have spent 30-plus years discussing this. Organizations and governments have spent billions of dollars on ’employee engagement’ and we have had zero impact. Every poll out there tells us that we haven’t moved the needle one bit. That employees are either disengaged or actively disengaged.” The two set-out to uncover what might actually undo the impasse. What they found is changing the game entirely.

Random Acts of Leadership

The problem is that we can’t manipulate engagement, Mark said, “Engagement is a human process.” Meghan suggested a shift to thinking about experience — so long as it’s really about people. True, Mark noted. Experience has to be a factor from the employee’s perspective. Without being able to determine and report their own experience and weigh-in on the impact of leadership, organizational values, benefits and more, an employee has no voice. This means employee/employer relationship isn’t really a mutually beneficial relationship, it’s really only unilateral management. 

What would shift the balance? “Random Acts of Leadership,” as Mark puts it. In other words, leaders actually need to walk up to employees and ask real questions, like “What are you working on today? How can I help? What resources can I push in your direction? What are your obstacles to success?” Conversations like this move the needle far more than any tools, he said. Also it helps when leaders sit down for a cup of coffee with people in intimate settings. It’s important to be real and be human.

Workplace Intelligence

Beyond simply improving employee experience, it’s important to achieve workplace intelligence, according to Mark. But Meghan cautioned, “Let’s just make sure it’s not just another buzzword.” Mark agreed, and explained that it’s a tangible stack of 5 workplace factors:

  • The most dominant leadership style that people deal with every day
  • The organization’s culture and climate
  • Purpose-driven performance
  • Employee engagement/experience, but entirely redefined
  • A sense of community

All of these define a workplace that attracts people, Mark said. “When I go to work today I feel like this is where I belong.”

Next, Meghan asked Mark to share his predictions on the future of work — a signature question on #WorkTrends — he got serious. He said he things the future depends on a new breed of leader: More compassionate, less command-and-control.

“Leaders will realize that employees recognize the need to take time for ourselves, our children, our elderly parents. It’s going to be so retro that it will almost seem revolutionary.”

Listen to the full conversation. And don’t forget to subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast series so you don’t miss an episode!

Transcript Excerpt:

[04:34} They didn’t have leaders that cared. They didn’t build mutually beneficial relationships with employees. They just started manipulating. They got this little software program that said, “Oh it’s Becky’s five year anniversary. Go say congratulations.”

Mark Babbitt on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Kobu Agency

#WorkTrends Recap: Focus on Workplace Intelligence

While working with organizations over the years, Mark Babbitt and Shawn Murphy of WorkIQ, have repeatedly found there is no connecting element between concepts that are important to organizations like IQ (Intelligence), EQ (emotion), and LQ (leadership).

They returned to the basic research conducted when “employee engagement” was becoming popular and revisited what it is that keeps an employee at an organization (and satisfied with their job).

Based on their research, they designed WQ (Workplace Intelligence), the art of creating a better experience at work that drives tangible business results.

A seven-part model, these seven components are what they recommend organizations assess to figure out what is going well and what needs to improve. They note that every organization is different, but that the model is designed to adapt to those differences.

This #WorkTrends chat introduced the seven components of workplace intelligence and explained how to craft a plan to work toward a happier, more productive organization.

Every organization is dynamic, they noted, explaining that WQ increases when “contagious pockets of excellence” organically grow.

We lost sight of connection when we stopped listening and started relying on human resources tech, they noted. I am confident the seven components of WQ can help organizations get back to prioritizing what matters: their people.

Here are a few key points Mark and Shawn shared:

  • Assessing and improving WQ isn’t “one size fits all”
  • It isn’t the CEO that influences an employee the most, but the direct supervisor
  • Middle managers are absolutely essential to improving workplace intelligence
  • Community building is critical to create resilience and a strong organizational brand

Did you miss the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here:

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT).

Remember, the TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following our #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

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#WorkTrends Preview: Focus on Workplace Intelligence

Even if you are new to HR, you are probably dealing with an alphabet soup swirl of terms in your head, especially the ones involving “Q.” There’s IQ (intelligence), EQ (emotional intelligence), and LQ (leadership intelligence).

None of those terms by themselves can capture the qualities that make a workplace functional, productive, and–dare we say it?–happy.

Enter WQ (Workplace Intelligence), the art of creating a better experience at work that drives tangible business results.

Mark Babbitt and Shawn Murphy, today’s guests, analyzed research about human performance and the workplace to define the seven Workplace Intelligence components.

They’ll be the first to tell you that no workplace ever achieves a perfect balance of all seven components at once, but knowing what the goal is helps everyone in an organization, and especially the leadership, have a specific goal to which they can aspire.

This #WorkTrends chat will introduce the seven components of Workplace Intelligence and explain how to craft a plan to work toward a happier, more productive organization.

Since it can be challenging to talk extensively about all seven components in a half hour, we plan to focus a bit more on community building and social intelligence.

Join #WorkTrends host Meghan R. Biro and guests Mark Babbitt, President at WorqIQ and YouTern CIO, and guest Shawn Murphy, also of WorqIQ, on Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at 1 pm ET as they discuss how companies can work toward blending the seven components of workplace intelligence and reap benefits as a result. .

Focus on Workplace Intelligence

WorkTrends Preview: Focus on Workplace IntelligenceJoin Mark and Shawn on our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, October 25, 2017 at 1 pm ET | 10 am PT.

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: How does knowing the current level of Workplace Intelligence build a great culture? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question).

Q2: What initial steps can a company take to improve their WQ?  #WorkTrends (Tweet this question).

Q3: How can employees and managers create a viral and unique WQ?#WorkTrends (Tweet this question).

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. I invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed and our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group. Share your questions, ideas and opinions with our awesome community.

Photo Credit: stevenrindner Flickr via Compfight cc