Engagement is Just a Word – It’s the Concept that Matters

Engagement is Just a Word – It’s the Concept that Matters

April 10, 2014

Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte recently wrote an article on LinkedIn, entitled, “Why the Concept of ‘Employee Engagement’ Has to Change.” In the two days after it was published, the article had 11,136 views and was shared 1,645 times on LinkedIn and appeared to have hit a nerve. The trouble is, it seems to be the words “employee engagement” that aren’t working for Mr. Bersin, rather than the concepts behind them…

The language around employee engagement has evolved a great deal over the last few years and has included people performance, performance motivation, performance improvement, internal marketing, and enrichment, among many others.

The related recognition and incentive fields have addressed issues of retention, workplace behaviors and alignment, work-life balance, leadership, and learning. Out of all of these labels and disciplines, the term “engagement” emerged to bring the concepts together into a mutually beneficial set of practices.

Mr. Bersin seems to suggest that engagement is limited to surveys and he is correct that surveys are limited in their usefulness. But there’s a big disconnect here. The term “engagement” is not about surveys, although sometimes they provide us with a starting point or a measurement. It’s about the relationship between a person and an organization and about the programs which serve to strengthen and clarify these relationships. We engage in a dialogue that furthers the interests of both the organization and the individual.

And despite their favorable review in the LinkedIn article, pulse surveys and happiness indexes don’t tell the whole story either. They are a moment in time without a context. It may not even be your best employees who are the happiest. We’ve written on these issues recently on our blog:  “Does it Matter if You’re Happy” and “Why A Pulse Survey Isn’t an Employee Engagement Program.

Perhaps it’s time to get past being hung up on the language. “Engagement” is the preferred label of the moment, because it is able to fit a lot of the concepts of the new workplace under its umbrella. It’s simply a way to talk about the combined efforts and outcomes of the tools used to communicate with people: meetings, events, incentives, recognition programs, milestones programs, surveys, employee development, leadership development, and training.

Call it what you will. We’re working towards a better workplace for employees, as well as towards financial and social health for organizations.