Being a Libra, it's probably small wonder I love and loathe the term employee engagement in equal measure. Love because as a communications professional I recognise how key it is for personal and business success. Yet I still loathe the phrase itself due to its negative connotations; for me it sounds like a productivity extraction procedure that's manipulative and ends up in a measuring jug!
My distaste for the term may also be related to the fact that we’re woefully inadequate when it comes to actually achieving engagement. A recent report by Engage for Success has shown Engagement in the UK remains low, with only around a third of workers being highly engaged, and productivity continues to lag nearly 20% behind that of other G7 countries. While showing some improvement US employee engagement is at a similar inadequate 33% according to a Gallup Poll in April 2016.
Many are also unhappy with how it’s measured. Chuck Gose in his iCology podcast series regularly says the worst thing we've done to engagement is assign it a score. “We've dumbed it down to a number.”
Christopher Hannegan, Employee Engagement lead at Edelman references the results of their State of Employee Engagement report in 2015 when recommending how we need to measure upwards rather than focusing on average scores, looking at those in the higher boxes of engagement measures - the highly engaged employee - and how we can learn from them.
Others have highlighted how some unscrupulous executives can manipulate engagement scores by ensuring it is measured on a sunny day, which artificially boosts the results.
From Engagement to Experience - a more holistic way
What I’m finding much more intuitive and holistic is the notion of employee experience. This is a blanket term and covers many things you would expect such as culture, employee morale, sense of worth and leadership but also the physical environment and the technical tools you have to do your job. Employee engagement is one of the many by-products of a good employee experience.
Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work has simplified it further in his Employee Experience Equation:
Culture + Technology + Physical Environment = Employee Experience.
The employee experience isn't about a score - it's about treating them right, giving them the tools they need and empowering them to make great decisions and to perform well.
Culture naturally includes the idea of purpose, employees having a sense of worth and feeling that they are being treated fairly and have flexibility in their working lives.
Technology plays an important role in Employee Experience. Jacob sees it as “the central nervous system of an organization” and needs to be as good as the tools you’re happy to use in your personal life. It enables good communications and flexible working amongst other things.
Physical environment includes the space around you, the food you eat, the art on the walls etc and is an often neglected part of the employee experience. Does the environment reflect company values such as collaboration, openness and creativity? As we undertake many different tasks in our jobs, companies need to offer multiple modes of working.
For those interested, The Leesman Index looks at the impact of work spaces on employees and identifies the most effective spaces which are not necessarily pretty or expensive. Rather, work spaces that offer plenty of natural lighting, have informal work areas and offer employees variety are much more effective and productive work environments.
The notion of employee experience is gaining momentum in the business and communications world and underlines the importance of collaboration between HR, IT, Facilities and Communications departments. Indeed roles are even merging and adapting to accommodate it. And for me it resonates deeply as it is something you for employees, rather than something you do to them.
Dare I say it - employee engagement is dead, long live employee experience!
As we shift to the future of work, where organizations are focusing on the reasons why employees want to work versus need to work, it is important to understand employee experience.