The Astoundingly Simple Truth About Employee Engagement

Illustration by istockphoto.com
Illustration by istockphoto.com

There have been more articles written about how to engage workers than you can shake a stick at, and yet the sad reality remains — most people hate their jobs.

On the one hand then, all the talk of engagement makes sense. Employers need help devising ways to get workers plugged into their workplaces. I get it.

On the other hand, all this talk doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t employers have more of a clue by now? Shouldn’t we have — I don’t know — outgrown this topic?

Apparently not.

What’s so mysterious about employee engagement?

“Employee engagement” means different things to different people, with some suggest-ing that it needs to be redefined, and others suggesting that “employee engagement” is simply passé and something else, like “passion,” should take its place.

Dear me.

Granted, it’s not always apparent why one employee:

  • Wakes up wanting to go to work;
  • Is willing to do a good job; and,
  • Actually does a good job (as measured by the standards set by management).

… while another employee doesn’t/isn’t/doesn’t (or does/isn’t/doesn’t, or whatever), but it’s not exactly like trying to figure out what happened to Amelia Earhart, or where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, or whether aliens built the ancient pyramids.

Call me naïve, but I just don’t think it’s that deep.

Lack of knowledge is not our problem

When I think about employee engagement, I think about the weight I haven’t lost.

Those pounds aren’t budging for lack of head knowledge, okay? Eat less and move more. Works every time.

So when the pounds stay packed, it’s not because I’m befuddled on how to lose weight, it’s because I won’t act on what I know. I won’t eat less and move more.

Employee engagement is like that. Employers know what to do, they just won’t do it.

We all want the same things

With the exception of a few outliers (e.g., the tremendously lazy and/or unmotivated or the downright evil), I’m certain people come to work wanting the same things — interesting assignments, decent relationships, and decent pay.

And when employees become disengaged (or fail to engage in the first place), something on that list is missing.

Maybe the work has become boring, or the manager is an ass, or the pay isn’t enough for the employee to comfortably meet his living expenses. Whatever the case, at some point the employee decides his effort isn’t worth the return, and he begins to disengage.

And I know management is hard, but it’s not that hard, in the sense that managers can’t fathom what to do to prevent more employees from checking out.

Why do I say that? Because, again, we all want the same things.

Hey manager, do you want someone breathing down your neck, asking you every other damn day when that thingamabob will be finished? I didn’t think so.

Boss man! How much fun would it be to have your boss take your talent and time for granted, as though you were no more than an appendage to him or her? Not much fun? Gee, how did I know?

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Mr./Ms. VP — to what degree would you love your employer if you were overworked yet still underpaid, able to pay your bills but unable to save, buy a house, or pay your child’s tuition for the school you’d like her to attend instead of your crappy neighbor-hood one?

True, we can all want the same things and still be different enough to confound our managers about our specific motivations, but good bosses will actually spend the time to know their people, which cuts down significantly on the confusion.

The simple truth

And so, in a nutshell, here is the astoundingly simple truth about employee engagement —

If work meets an employee’s intellectual, social, and financial needs he’ll be engaged. If it doesn’t, he won’t.

And if employers care anything about that, they’ll reward managers who spend quality time with staff and then use that knowledge to provide the things their employees need and want, which will 99.9999 percent of the time motivate employees to return the favor.

Taking pains to pay reasonable wages, rewarding people for good performance, getting rid of jerk bosses, and dealing with organizational conflict productively would also be a huge step in the right direction.

You say all that sounds like too much trouble and you wish employees would just do the jobs they’re being paid to do without all the gimme gimme?

You gotta engage with them

Hmmm … it sounds like you’d do better with robots than people for employees.

Because people have needs, and when those needs go unmet, you employer, are going to have a problem on your hands.

And, how realistic is it to expect that employees will be engaged when you’re so unwilling to engage with them?

My pounds aren’t going to drop without effort, and your employees aren’t going to become/stay engaged without your effort.

It’s astoundingly simple.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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