Employee engagement is big business. Entire consulting industries are devoted to measuring and tracking the levels of engagement that are displayed by a company’s staff, and implementing programmes of work to try to nudge the scores upwards. An engaged workforce is a productive workforce, so the correlations tell us.
But correlations and causality are two very separate things, something that is often overlooked in these Big Data times. Is the engaged employee that way so because they’re being productive?
It’s been occurring to me over the past few days as I’ve started my investigations into the future of careers that the concept of employee engagement also demonstrates the patriarchal culture that is still so strong in our large organisations – borne of a time when the social contract was of a job for life. The corporation offers security, the employee engagement and loyalty in return. Those days are long gone, but the corporate expectations of the employee remain.
I spend some of my time needing to engage audiences. Whilst I can tell the signs of engagement (people looking at me, nodding, occasionally laughing at my sense of humour), and of disengagement (doing email, snoring, leaving the room), if there is assessment at the end of the event then it’s not the audiences engagement that is being measured – it’s how engaging I have been. Because, ultimately, it’s up to me to be engaging.
Why does the corporate world spend it’s time only measuring the employees side of the equation? Why are there no measures of employer engagement?
This might sound like a merely semantic point, and to an extent it is. But semantics are important. An employer can’t control employee engagement, but it can change how engaging it is being to its employees. Too often, though, focusing on the employee reaction is by definition reactive. Employee engagement is something that you try to fix, not something that you feeds into business decisions in the first place.
Take for example the trends amongst most organisations in the past 20 years moving away from defined benefit pension schemes. How much was “employer engagement” seen as a factor in removing these obvious indications of long-term commitment from employer to employee away?
In a world of radical transparency, measures of employer engagement will arise – to an extent, services like Glassdoor are doing it in a way already. Maybe employers need to start measuring their actions, not just the outcomes of their actions, if they are serious about becoming a more engaging place to work?