Employee engagement: time to think about what employees want

In the three or so years since the launch of Engage for Success, the issue of employee engagement has been a mainstay of HR debate.

We are reminded frequently by surveys that there is an engagement deficit and by research which suggests that fixing it will improve the performance for organisations who take on the task.

We can visit the Engage for Success website which is crammed full of evidence which suggest employee engagement is ‘a good thing’ which delivers real commercial impact.

We are told that by better aligning employees to an organisation’s goals, vision and values they can get more motivated and productive people.

From an employer’s perspective, the case for focusing on employee engagement as a driver of better performance looks like a compelling one. 

But the employer isn’t the only one that matters in this debate. It is vital to look at employee engagement through the lens of the employee too.

If we do this in a truly honest way we would accept some of the significant obstacles which continue to stand in the way of the employee engagement agenda.

For a start we would see that being engaged isn’t part of anyone’s job description nor their reason for going to work.

Even among those who are prepared to accept the benefits of employee engagement, we would also recognise their willingness to engage is far more likely to be defined by the extent to which they are getting a fair deal from their employer than a conversation about how they can play a fuller role in delivering on the organisation’s vision, mission and values.

We would also see that at a time when pay for those at the top is spiralling to ever higher multiples of those at the bottom, zero hours contracts are booming and wages remain lower in real terms than five years ago, asking employees to be more closely engaged looks very much like a one-sided deal which involves being asked to work harder, for free.

This doesn’t mean that improving employee engagement shouldn’t be a valid goal for an organisation.

It just means that we need to recognise that a pre-requisite to successfully renegotiating the psychological contract with our employees is likely to involve serious investment in pay, benefits, reward and working conditions to catch up with what their employees expect of them.

It also means accepting that if we don’t do this employers undermine the already fragile trust which exists in many organisations as just another initiative which is all words and no action.

If we do this we will start to tackle the most dangerous perception around employee engagement which is that it is something you can get for free. 

The truth is it doesn’t and the more we start to talk about the real costs and real investment needed from organisations the sooner we will get to a point where more employers close the much talked about engagement gap.

This article was written by Andy Philpott.

Author: Andy Philpott | Category: Blog | 01/04/2015 | 0

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