It’s a classic story; as the latest buzzword rises in popularity it becomes perceived as trendy and somewhere along the way we lose sight of the actual value behind the concept. This is exactly what has happened to employee engagement. It rose to popularity throughout the 2000’s and by 2013 there was a tweet every minute about engagement (Halogen, 2013). As a result, engagement has come to be associated with attention on top-tier employers and large investments in ‘cool’ workspaces while its valuable impact on business drivers is left out, causing underlying cynicism that threatens engagement’s credibility altogether.
It’s not surprising stakeholders feel this way. Despite being ranked as HR’s 2nd priority for two years in a row, employee engagement’s effectiveness score remains unchanged from 2015. Although employee engagement is a priority, the impact of current initiatives has petered out – to improve, organizations need to take a different approach (McLean & Company, 2016 Trends & Priorities Survey, 2016). One reason for this may be that engagement metrics are often used to capture employee feedback, but rarely take the next step and link to business performance. Yet, we know executive and management teams are more likely to support, even rally behind, data that shows true value by driving business results and ROI. So why is this link between engagement data and business outcomes not being drawn?
HR often struggles with directing actions toward improving employee happiness or satisfaction rather than engaging employees. There is a big difference between a happy, satisfied or engaged employee, and understanding this difference is key to removing the cynicism. Employee happiness is not linked to quality of work; for example an employee may be happy that their superior has brought in treats for the team, but this does not mean they will work more efficiently. In relation, effort and productivity are not factored into the evaluation of employee satisfaction. An employee may be satisfied their needs have been met through a comprehensive benefits package, but that doesn’t mean they’ll put in more effort. Conversely, engaged employees feel energized, passionate and dedicated to their work. They are excited about the organization’s vision and strive to make a positive impact on the business, thus driving results.
It is also important to realize that engagement is a means to an end, not the end itself. Focus must shift from viewing engagement as an objective to using engagement data as one form of measurement. By assessing engagement in isolation the big picture gets missed. It’s a common mistake to jump from data to action without insight; less than 50% of companies say they effectively measure employee engagement against business performance (HBR, 2013). However, broader insights come from evaluating engagement alongside additional metrics and qualitative data to produce informed actions. Improving engagement efforts through informed action drives valuable outcomes, unlocking engagement ROI.
Engagement efforts often have a hard time gaining stakeholder support due to a lack of tangible progress and measurable impact. Join McLean & Company’s Demystifying Engagement webcast on April 12th at 3pm EDT to learn how to tell the story behind the numbers and identify meaningful action to unlock your engagement ROI.