25 Years of This Thing We Call “Employee Engagement” - bettHR

Apparently we are still celebrating the 25th anniversary of the coined term, employee engagement. 25 years, a quarter of a century, HR has been trying to achieve something that is still not quite defined.

When you consider your employee engagement goals, are they concrete? Do you know exactly what “great engagement” looks like for your company?

I have often wondered if we’ve lost sight of why employee engagement was proposed as being so important 25 years ago. In that landscape, HR was still the Personnel department… HRIS systems were rudimentary if in place at all… and the workforce was sitting in the same seat for years on end.

Employee engagement was created because there was a workforce shift coming – the way companies needed to change to speak with their employees, was changing. What employees wanted from a company and a job, was changing.

In other words, lots of big changes were happening.

Just like today’s work environment.

So how does something that was created 25 years ago still fit into our HR culture? How can something that helped companies change their actions and activities in regards to employees, guide what we’re doing today?

Define Engagement for Your Company

There are a ton of debates over the difference between engagement and satisfaction – but pretty much everyone agrees that if an employee is engaged, they are likely more satisfied in their work (aka – “happy”). But there are false positives to why employees are engaged (laziness anyone?).

So when you look at measuring engagement at your company, it’s critical you start at the beginning – even if you’ve been doing engagement surveys for years.

What does engagement mean? What does it look like? Or perhaps approach it by asking, in your perfectly engaged workforce, what does that utopia look and feel like?

Granted, your utopia is likely a bit unrealistic to achieve, but this step can’t be skipped over! You need to fully understand the end goal for your company with an engaged workforce. This is a similar exercise every “business coach” asks their clients to do for their business: what is your customer avatar, what drives them, etc. so they can better sell to the right audience.

And that’s exactly what you need to do with your engagement definition as well.

At your company, with your unique leadership team, goals, values, mission statement, budget, profit, location, and more – what does a properly engaged workforce look like?

You’ll probably find this is harder to do than you thought it would be. And it all goes back to the ambiguous definition of “employee engagement.”

But if you are able to create the desired end state, you will have a better opportunity to getting there. It’s why we create SMART goals so often – we need a road-map to get us to the end result.

The same is true with your engagement goals. When you start small, at the beginning, you will be able to build a survey that reinforces your culture goals. You will be able to create engagement improvement activities that actually matter.

Add this question to your next HR team meeting – spend time brainstorming what engagement means to your company, and then validate it with the business leaders. Not only will this help you achieve your engagement goals, it will also reinforce your expertise as a strategic HR partner – moving you further and further away from the dreaded “personnel” label.