Want Better Engagement? It Helps if Employees Know What It Is

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At this stage, I think we can all agree that employee engagement is critical to organizational success. We can also agree that employees are responsible for engagement just as much as management or leadership.

Yet, what if you don’t know what engagement is? Can you be held responsible for that which you don’t understand?

Gallup recently shared a case study of Nationwide, which started in 2008 with an employee engagement ratio of 2:1 (engaged to actively disengaged) before improving by 2012 to ratio of 10:1. Here’s how Nationwide CEO Steve Rasmussen explains this growth:

We had been down the engagement path before, and it was “top of the house” — metrics at the very top of the organization and nothing that was actionable. But engagement is a people-to-people issue, and the Gallup process, which begins at the individual manager level, creates an outlook of personal accountability from top to bottom in the organization.

How people think, act, and feel in the workplace is influenced by every manager, supervisor, and ultimately all associates.”

Do employees know what engagement is?

I agree with this statement. “How people think, act and feel in the workplace” is a good working definition of your company culture in action. And yes, every employee is responsible. But how that relates to engagement requires education.

Don MacPherson, president and co-founder of Modern Survey, explained why in a recent Monster Thinking blog post:

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The vast majority of employees don’t even know what the concept of engagement is. In the Fall 2012 study of U.S. Workforce Engagement, Modern Survey found that only 42 percent of all employees understand the concept of employee engagement. It’s a massive challenge for people to own their own engagement when they don’t understand the concept. The more depressing statistic is that only 55 percent of managers of employees responded that they understood the concept of engagement.

Yes, organizations need to create and maintain the framework for making engagement possible. However, if our organizations are to aspire to fully engage the majority of their employees, a huge educational initiative needs to occur. Every manager needs to understand what engagement is, why it is important, what the drivers are and how to have conversations with employees about it.

If employers are to hold the individual employee accountable for their own engagement, the educational initiative needs to extend down to each and every employee. It would be unfair to attempt to hold people accountable for something nearly 60 percent of them don’t understand.”

The change management process around company culture is a question I’m often asked about. This idea of training on what employee engagement is – what it looks like in action every day from every employee at every level – is foundational to engagement.

Is improving employee engagement a top goal for your organization? Do you train all employees on what engagement looks like every day?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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