Spoiler alert: Not really.
Engagement is an individualized equation, reflecting an employee’s personal relationship with work. There will never be one set of concepts or actions that can solve every equation. And as we know from our research and own experience as employees, a host of factors can influence someone’s engagement at work. Some are within a person’s control; many are not.
The good news: You can provide learning experiences that combine the education, insights, and tools employees need to take greater control of their engagement. Here’s what those experiences need to include:
Definitions Everyone Can Understand
If you measure engagement regularly, your organization may track and talk about data. What is our engagement “score”? What are the “drivers” of engagement for the enterprise or department? Those metrics and discussions are important for shaping action, but more often than not, individual employees wonder, “What does this have to do with me?”
In our work with clients, we talk about how great days at work feel. On great days, people give as much as the organization needs, and they get whatever it is that they want from a job (meaning, impact, camaraderie, recognition, etc.). It is easy for people to dissect what made their days great and understand how engagement is a personalized blend of maximum contribution and maximum satisfaction. This helps people to keep their eye on the prize: their engagement.
It’s also important to define roles and responsibilities. Employees may look to managers and executives to do something about their engagement—a reaction, perhaps, to well-intentioned but misguided top-down action plans after surveys. So, any attempt to just flip accountability to employees to manage their own engagement might be met with resistance if you aren’t clear on how individuals’ responsibilities complement what managers and senior leaders should be doing.
Exercises that Provide Individualized Insights
Engagement equations look different, depending on employees’ personal values, career aspirations, work-life situation, interests, and talents. Those equations are also shaped by the requirements and conditions of employees’ specific departments and jobs. Therefore, people need to be clear on what they want from work as well as what they need to deliver. Free lunches, the most inspiring leaders, or the most meaningful mission won’t make up for a bad job fit and ambiguous goals.
You need to give employees the tools to drive personal reflection because many won’t do it on their own. And if they don’t know what’s important to them, they won’t find “it” in their current role, another department, or in the company down the street. (Yes, I did just imply they may be doomed to perpetual disengagement.)
An Environment that Encourages Peer Consulting and Shared Accountability
A shared understanding of engagement and the personal insights described above can be acquired effectively through self-directed learning and tools. It’s often hard, however, for people to turn insights into action on their own. That’s where strategy sessions and peer consulting come into play. Although everyone has a unique engagement equation, peer consulting provides a sounding board for ideas, feedback on plans, and additional insights.
Coming together, whether in person or virtually, also creates a sense of community and opportunities for people to be inspired by their peers, hold each other accountable, and dare to take risks to increase their contribution and satisfaction.
Your team’s bandwidth and your organization’s culture may shape your options for keeping engagement on everyone’s radar. Can you leverage technology to push regular, inspiring reminders to reflect, plan, and act? Will people participate in chat rooms or coaching circles? Does your team have the time to curate “my great day at work” blog posts?
And what is the role of the manager? That’s fodder for another blog post. Can you train managers to “engage” their people? Spoiler Alert: Not really. Just as no one can “motivate” someone. You can, however, equip managers with the ability to create an environment that fuels engagement and the coaching skills necessary to help their people solve those very personal engagement equations.
When she joined GP Strategies’ BlessingWhite division in 2000, Mary Ann began to explore worlds beyond skills: The internal workings of individual learners – expressed as personal values and goals, the puzzling workings of organizational culture, and the often complicated dynamics of trust and relationships at work. She quickly realized there was no going back.
As Lead Consultant for BlessingWhite’s Engagement Practice, Mary Ann creates practical tools and strategies that clients worldwide apply to create successful businesses and thriving workplaces. Think of her approach as "research meets real world." She is passionate about great days at work – where individuals experience the highest levels of personal satisfaction, apply their skills to what matters most, and deliver their best work to drive their employers’ strategies. As lead consultant, she also works with senior HR and business leaders on how to take meaningful action on engagement survey results to drive organizational performance.
She is co-author of The Engagement Equation: Leadership Strategies for an Inspired Workforce (Wiley, Oct 2012), has written numerous research reports and articles, and is a well-regarded speaker on the leader’s role in engagement and building a culture of engagement.
Mary Ann's commitment to meaningful lives and meaningful work extends beyond her day job. She is a founding member of the Norma Pfriem Urban Outreach Initiatives, a not-for-profit that addresses food insecurity (serving 10,000 meals a year) and education of underserved adults and children. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University.
She enjoys her mostly-empty nest with her husband, 2 cats and a dog, cooking, reading and running (not simultaneously) in her spare time.