Not just staring out of the window – What does employee engagement really mean?
Recently I had cause to be on a train. It was a reasonably long journey, but the seats were comfortable, and there was room to work, so I was, in all fairness, enjoying the trip. I caught up on my business reading and emails and even had time for a little reflection time while I was staring out of the window at the passing landscape. Across the way from me, there was a mother and her daughter. The little girl was clearly on a train for the first time and was interested in every little aspect. A plug socket in her chair was a delight. She gasped in pleasure at the announcement of the first station, and read every station sign, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when she declared some sheep in a field to be ‘amazeballs’. Our different experience of the train journey was a perfect analogy for employee engagement. I didn’t dislike the train, I worked, I got where I needed to go, and the train journey ‘happened’. The little girl engaged with the train. We both got the same outcome, but the girl was enthusing about the ride, and I was simply along for it. Of the two of us, she had the better journey.
What is engagement?
It is important to separate engagement from other methods of assessing an employee’s relationship with the workplace. We tend to quite naturally focus on job satisfaction and employee happiness when we consider the workforce. As we all know, a happy employee is unlikely to want to move jobs or become a toxic element in the workplace. While we don’t expect employees to bounce through the door like overexcited Labradors every morning, we hope that they are happy with the workplace and their role within it.
Job satisfaction is also a particularly useful thing to measure. How satisfied the employee is with the job is again a good indicator of how likely they are to stay loyal to the company and how well they are being managed, amongst other things.
Neither of these is engagement, however. I was happy with the train journey and satisfied with the work I did on it, but I did not engage with it. The same is true of the workplace, where it is possible for an employee to arrive at 9 am, be perfectly happy coasting along not being particularly productive until 5 pm, and then go home. Similarly, the same worker will probably do an adequate job and report themselves to have job satisfaction. Happy, satisfied, but not engaged. Engagement is about buying into the job as a challenge, a lifestyle, an ethos and a motivator. An engaged employee is emotionally invested in the business goals, not just the job they perform.
Some areas that generate engagement are very similar to those we measure for job satisfaction, such as the degree to which the employee trusts the management, or the level of benefits they receive from their workplace, but while something like a good social club may well create satisfaction and is important to that, it does not automatically create engagement.
An engaged worker will push boundaries and suggest changes and improvements. They will strive harder not just to hit targets but to achieve company goals. They will work to achieve those company goals, not for financial gain but because they believe in them. In short, an engaged worker will go one step further.
It starts with ‘Why’
Engagement starts with the ‘why’ of the candidate when it comes to the recruitment process. Why the candidate wants to join your business is important for their continued level of interaction with the wider goals of the organisation. Your employee brand, your ethos and your workplace expectations, for example, all form part of the initial attraction for a potential employee. Which is why we work so hard to understand our clients’ businesses. When we recruit for you, we are looking to recruit candidates who not only meet your skills needs but will also engage with your workplace for years to come.