The employee engagement crisis is well documented. Just look at Gallup – their extensive research on the subject found that, depending on industry, engagement levels within the U.S. workforce vary between 25 and 38 percent<. These levels also differ among genders, generations and career levels - men, boomers and executives are more engaged than women, millennials and managers, the company's research showed.
With news like this, it’s no wonder businesses across the country are scrambling to increase engagement levels among their workforce. Luckily, there’s tons of advice available. The Society for Human Resource Management recommended giving employees better tools and increased support, allowing them to successfully complete their jobs and, therefore, have a stronger sense of accomplishment regarding work. Meanwhile, Entrepreneur advised increasing transparency and team-building activities to encourage feelings of honesty and community in the office.
These two approaches have drastically different outcomes, but do they both really increase engagement? The answer to that question isn’t as easy as it appears. Before businesses can start engaging their employees, they need to clearly define what engagement is. Only then can they create an office culture that gets their workforce invested in the success of the company.
What Does Engagement Mean?
Engagement, satisfaction and happiness are all three different things, but it’s common for business leaders to equate them. A person can be happy without being engaged, however, just as another can be satisfied without being happy.
As the Harvard Business Review pointed out, not having a clear understanding of what constitutes engagement can lead a company to survey the wrong information when evaluating the state of its workforce. For example, many business leaders assume that high productivity is always a sign of high engagement. However, as a survey of one Fortune 100 company pointed out, the amount of work a person achieves doesn’t always reflect their engagement. Across 3,000 employees at the company, 22 percent worked long hours but were barely engaged at work. Meanwhile, 25 percent worked a short workweek but considered themselves highly engaged. In this example, the employees with the highest engagement were possibly underperforming, while those with the least were likely going above and beyond.
Engagement shouldn’t be defined by productivity or levels of happiness. Rather, it should be a reflection of a business’ mission and objectives. For example, a company that prioritizes innovation in measuring employee engagement not by a person’s ability to create a new product but by how excited they are about the idea. In this example, a manager will recognize that a certain employee is still engaged despite failing to meet a particular OKR. The manager can then work on acquiring tools to help the employee in question succeed.
Ultimately, engagement means different things to different businesses. Business leaders can best determine what this concept means by reflecting on their company goals. Only after defining this term can a company accurately judge whether or not its employees are engaged.