• Brenda Moler

    Thank you Theresa for this article. It is so refreshing, I thought I was the only HR person who felt this way.

  • Sean

    Hi Theresa.

    I’m going to have to argue engagement is completely necessary. I agree, there are mythologies around “the right %.”

    However, using the dictionary is often a poor proxy for scientific or let’s call them “really specific” definitions.

    Bottom line though, engagement is a psychological state in which people are much more likely (than the same people in a disengaged state) to achieve “flow”, more easily engage in creative behaviours, and ultimately, not only tend to do more, but tend to do better.

    If you don’t believe engagement is important, I would suggest disengaging the same high performers you speak of, and see if you observe any differences in their performance or desire to perform in the same capacity, or even same company.

    I agree though, there is a lot of fuzz and blur and noise around engagement and this distraction can make engagement hard to grapple with and respond to.

    There may even be some rare cases where you don’t (in a pure economic sense) need to care about engagement. However, I’d argue this would be a humanity risk (i.e., would anyone choose to work for a company which explicitly communicates it doesn’t care how people feel at work only how they perform?).

    However, I’d argue the litmus test is really simple:

    Do you work in an environment which regularly experiences change?
    Do you work in an environment where problems tend to be ambiguous and complex?
    Do you work in an environment where “tradition” and “doing what we always did” seems to be less effective over time?
    Do you work in an environment where non routine problem solving and creative approaches are increasingly necessary?

    If you need resilience, adaptability, and creativity, you need engagement. It’s not about the magically fantasy world of happiness…it’s about the clear linkages between the kinds of outcomes which are business imperatives and the facilitation of psychological states which are most able and likely to attain them.

  • Jacque Vilet

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read on TLNT!!!! I absolutely love it!!! Definitely a keeper!!

    • Crystal Spraggins

      Jacque, agreed! I especially like “Employers want it all: loyalty, love and the ability to lay off (the three L’s).” Honestly, what nerve! Let’s just insist employees do their jobs to standard and leave the rest alone. You can’t expect all kinds of love and loyalty when you aren’t willing to reciprocate. Thanks, Theresa!

  • Terri Kruzan

    Great insights on the difference between org cultures that value employee loyalty vs. employee engagement vs. managing people well and how we got to this challenge in 21st century workplaces. I advocate that the focus should be on managing people well will get you more efficiently to the best business results.

  • Elyssa Thome

    I don’t think it’s a question of engagement vs. performance. We really should be focused on maximizing both together. As you said, Theresa, the workplace looks different these days, with pensions and life-long jobs serving as fascinating relics. Engagement is about getting your employees invested in you, and also themselves. This is not at odds with employees doing their best, but finding the intersection doesn’t necessarily mean bringing in a ping-pong table.

  • Rob Orr

    Theresa, Top notch insight as usual. Thanks very much!

  • sw

    Totally agree, unless the employee has a stake in the company’s future, and vice versa, it may very well be in the employee’s best interest to avoid engagement (e.g., emotional, psychological, etc. commitment to the job).

    I’d be interesting to see how getting laid off affects engagement at an employee’s next job. To go with your romance metaphor, it’s only the ones you love that can really hurt you… so if you’re at a job you love and your really engaged in, and they lay you off, are you actively disengaged when you get the next one?

    I imagine that without extensive proactive measures on the part of employers we’re going to see downward trends in engagement as the current generation comes to terms with the lack of job security and the, mostly correct, view that continuous job hopping is the only way toward real career development.

  • Pete Croshaw

    I find it frustrating as a new deal employee that I have to pretend to be ‘engaged’ to my employer. i.e. Drink the Kool-Aid. The quarterly meetings, award banquets, annual gala’s, and other events try to promote great corporate culture while seemingly avoiding the real binding point, “I will come to work so that I can influence my realm of responsibility, make a difference, and get paid.” It is not lost on me that if I struggle or don’t perform well then I will leave, willingly or otherwise. I’d like a company/manager to have a more straightforward approach to the employee/employer relationship and get rid of the “Employee for Life!” facade.

  • Mentors Guild

    Thanks for the interesting article Dr Welbourne. The mantra of employee engagement has been specially unhelpful to the ‘quiet performer’, when engagement is seen as an end in itself (vs a means to driving performance).

    Incidentally, we had blogged on this topic a few weeks back @ http://bit.ly/1170Ygs

  • Mark Wayland

    Theresa, I share your frustration and disappointment with Engagement as a business concept that somehow leads us into the light.

    I also ask that with all the promotion and with all the money, time, and energy spent on “increasing engagement” that the so-called engagement scores have remained fairly constant over the past 12 years.

    But here’s the thing. The same can be said of “Leadership” as a business concept and its lack of results. It’s the same with EQ, social learning, mobile learning, CRMs, LMS’s, etc

    Maybe this has more to do with the disconnect between what goes on in the boardroom and how the C suite gets “rewarded” and what goes on with employees actually doing the work?

    Geary Rummler said, “if you put a good person against a bad system, the system wins every time.”

  • Greg Basham eeVoices

    While much of what Theresa Welbourne says are characteristics of organizations today is very true, the way in which the dictionary definition of engagement is used is a bit unhelpful in an era where busy people read headlines and not a lot more. The conclusion drawn is wrong. As to the grabby titles, I feel these are unhelpful as I run into many people in business these days who when they know what your firm does – repeat the headlines back to you. These are the same people whose people suggest that such a survey is needed in their firm.

    If a survey is not focused on the right contributory factors to not only business performance but the ability of individuals and groups to achieve their best then it is possibly measuring the wrong things. That is different than saying engagement is not where our focus should be.

    We know that the best managers and leaders focus create performance oriented environments with opportunities to contribute to the organization’s goals and objectives and where the leaders and managers are aware of – and act on – the issues of concerns of their people. These environments create conditions for motivated and engaged performances. Aren’t these the very areas which engagement surveys measure along with the impediments to engagement (pay, benefits, policies, communications)?

    I find a lot to contend with the last sentence: “It’s time to go beyond the fairy tale of employee engagement and move to a
    more rigorous, business-focused approach to managing people at work.” While this sounds nice and makes for a great sound bite it’s the tyrants of business who hide behind statements all the while creating havoc and voluntary departures of good people who have better options.