Employee Engagement: What’s in a Word?
The words “employee engagement” are being used (or possibly over-used) in recent discussions in the business community regarding employee attitudes and performance in the workplace. A word or phrase repeated often enough becomes the “ buzz word” of the moment. What happens next is that the word or phrase loses value and we feel justified in ignoring it. In fact, we may even feel that we should ignore it on principal. This phenomenon interests me because if there is something that is being constantly repeated there just may be a problem or concern that needs our attention.
In business we have discussions on topics like productivity, efficiency, workflow, and incentives. Are these now going to be called buzz words that no longer need attention? Of course not, because we all recognize that these elements are an important part of doing business and need to be talked about. Exactly. We need to give our attention to correcting problems along the way and keeping things on track.
So we get to the words” employee engagement” that are being used to describe a very real and current business concern and incredibly it’s labeled as a buzz word enabling us all to just move on by. Nothing needs to be addressed here. I say call it anything you want, decreased employee involvement, or decreased discretionary effort, maybe lack of motivation, employees acting like they don’t care, dissatisfied employees, employees wanting to leave for a new job, feeling like they don’t matter to the company, employees tolerating their circumstances, or whatever you want to think up. Did the underlying concept change? No. We still have a problem.
It is clear that when a situation, term, concern, or problem is talked about repeatedly in different industries and countries, there is an issue that needs attention. There are many that have discussed this subject both positively and negatively. Business forums like Gallop, Forbes, and others have brought attention to employee engagement. Why? Because we are losing millions. Many, but not enough, realize that the front line is the key to change but haven’t yet figured out what to do. And then there are those who still think we don’t need to do anything. After all, if the front line employees are disengaged they need to fix themselves, right?
Something just doesn’t make sense, as in BIG PROBLEM, no ready solution; it’s a buzz word anyway so let’s ignore it.
When an issue is getting so much attention the logical response in my mind is to go after solutions immediately. But if we keep doing the same things we have been doing to address this we all know the outcome we can expect. Perhaps it’s time to get back to basics, to the critical but unquantifiable elements in the relationship between management and employees. Graphs, statistics, metrics and all that stuff are not going to get it done this time. We need to look at the human factor. This is the area that can cause upper management to tremble, but the company that has the courage and foresight to understand that we can’t create exceptional human performance by deleting the humanity from the workforce is a company that will overcome this problem and reap the rewards.
How can this get done? Recognize and acknowledge that the frontline employees are the prime movers. Unless they feel (human factor) energized (engaged) the business can expect to be, at best, mediocre. The frontline manager gets this done, but not any frontline manager. It takes a frontline manager trained in the coaching aspects that empower this manager. Only the empowered frontline manager will get exceptional results. Empowered to do what? Empowered to give attention to the frontline employees in meaningful ways (human) that energize and engage them. It takes a manager that is supported while supporting the employees. And a manager empowered to put emphasis on the relationship between manager and employee. This starts the critical energy exchange that some are referring to as “employee engagement”. Another word for this is “success”.