3 Ways to Reframe the Definition of Employee Engagement

So many of the best practices in engaging employees feel like bribery and big promises of never-ending bliss.  It’s a bit like corporate leaders are behaving like our divorced parents – at some point, Dad trumps Mom by putting a pony in the backyard…  But, are any of us really any happier at work, every day?  I would love to believe that every employee at Zappos is happily gliding down the hall on a scooter; that everyone who works with Arianna Huffington feels as if they are thriving, and that every Google employee is a champion ping-pong player.

 

I’d love to believe it, but we all know this isn’t the case.

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I get it.  I do.  These, and many other great ideas, are all wonderfully happy and engaging activities.  But (and this is a big ‘but’), can anyone be sure that – because of these efforts – the right business productivity is happening, now and in the future?  And then continuing as things change or when pressure is rising?  The reality is pretty daunting. Gallup shows that companies will lose more than $300 billion, this year alone, in misguided attempts to engage their employees [in productivity].  Egad.  That’s A LOT of fancy chefs and keg-a-rators in the corporate kitchen.

 

Wasted money is only one problem.  Frustrated employees is another.  Consider what it must be like at the #1 best-place-to-work-in-the-world, when you have a problem with a peer or when your boss doesn’t see things the way you do?  Spoiler alert – yoga and ping-pong can only get you so far.

 

Maybe I ought to explain why I care so much.  I decided, after decades of consulting, to get my Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from UPenn.  I studied happiness – from the perspective of business, precisely because I believe it should be possible to find your own happiness in your work, every day – and simultaneously increase business performance.  After spending the last six years researching the topic, here are three things my research uncovered about the definition of employee engagement:

 

I.  Happiness is too broad.

Do leaders really think they can sustain the cheery disposition of thousands of employees every moment of every day – while getting these happy people to be more productive toward the actual strategic goals of the business?

Happiness is too personal.  Too emotional.  A leader could never make every employee happy. Much less keep them happy over time.  Come on, you know it’s true.  Think about waking up happy, one morning, and finding that you are unhappy that same afternoon. (I guess your boss hopes you answered your engagement survey in the morning…)

II.  There are two perspectives to consider.

In your business, every activity comes from one of two perspectives: the individual or the organization.  One is meant to serve the other, but they are different.  My research validated that your organization needs productivity, and individuals wish for engagement.  These two perspectives can be difficult to balance.  When you seek engagement, you may not get the productivity you seek, and, vice versa.

III.  We can’t forget about productivity.

First, the moose on the table – – The organization is not a human being (despite what the Supreme Court may be arguing…).  It’s a series of processes.  It’s a system with goals that are meant to deliver profits.

Before we define engagement, we have to think about WHY a company needs engagement.  It’s a way to achieve more/inspire better performance and to retain (the right!) talent to continue doing that work.  We have to define engagement in a systems language that is grounded in productivity, or, we will keep losing tons and tons of money in our attempts.


My professor, Barbara Fredrickson, points out in her book, “Positivity”, that engagement is connected to ‘one’s ability to intentionally order his/her own goals [at work]’.  Eureka!  The research validates that employers can achieve meaningful engagement, that leads to productivity, simply by transparently considering how employees choose to do the work – in the context of the organization’s strategic priorities.  This, btw, is the only level of engagement that a company has any direct (and sustainable) connection to.  Anything else – is truly none of their business. (Get it?)

 

So, I call my new definition, “Engaged Productivitytm:

“Engagement in productivity
occurs when employees can intentionally order their goals, including in teams,
within the productivity that defines their unique business performance, every moment.”

Once this foundational level of employee engagement (in productivity) is managed well, then happiness can be attained, in all kinds of ways.  Now, there’s a definition we can all be happy to work with!! (pun, so obviously, intended.)

 

Next up… Engagement is everything, but it can’t solve your problems.
Even if we could get there (and I believe we can!), what do we do with it?

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Engaged Productivity™ encompasses revolutionary new thinking
to solve the employee engagement challenge in quick, precise and predictable ways.

 

Learn more about Engaged Productivity™.
Follow Authentum on Twitter at:  @AuthentumAtWork

About the Author:

Authentum

Pamela Teagarden, Founder of Authentum™, started her career as a banker, before her post-graduate work in corporate behaviors and positive psychology gave her a front-row seat at the intersection of business and behaviors.

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