Why Engagement is Not Something You Do, It’s Something You Are

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Last week we shared our six-factor employee engagement model to leaders at Penn State. This is the result of more than five years of research and development while I was leading human resources at EnergyCAP, consulting with other organizations, studying the experts on engagement, and building a comprehensive employee engagement program.

I believe this work matters greatly because:

  • there is majority disengagement among workers
  • the national engagement rate hasn’t changed much over the last 20 years
  • the cost of disengagement is too large to ignore
  • organizations are lacking vision, habits, and training for a serious employee engagement program to stick

While leaders may have good intentions to work on employee engagement, they often lack the focus or ability to follow through. They may spotlight engagement as they work “on” the business. But then they quickly return to the urgent tasks of working “in” the business, and they abandon their engagement focus because there are too many other things to do.

Thus, not much progress is made on the employee disengagement problem, what we call the permissible disease of the workplace.

But that’s why our company is here. Our goal is to help organizations improve employee engagement by starting small engagement habits that flow from and reinforce an engagement identity. When workplaces see themselves as “engagement-focused” workplaces, then living out “engagement habits” become part of who they are.

The problem is, many workplaces see engagement as something they do, not as something they are. When times get tough or the agenda too busy, it’s easy to drop the “things they do” that appear as not mission critical. No wonder the national engagement score hasn’t improved much over time.

But on the other hand, when adversity and competing priorities come, that is when you must dig deeper into who you are, and that steady compass helps you to stay focused. You keep doing those “engagement habits” because they help you be who you are—an engagement-focused organization.

It takes all members of an organization to improve employee engagement. Individual employees have a part to play, as do teams and organizational leaders. Engagement isn’t up to just one person.

Everyone wins when a workplace is engaged, but engagement doesn’t happen by chance—it takes design and effort. Gone are the days when workplaces can offer perks, rewards, and incentives, and think of them as engagement drivers. Today’s employees are looking for more, and in many hiring environments, it’s the candidates that have the power, not the hiring organizations.

The competitive advantage goes to the engagement-focused organization. Are you one of them?

  • Do you know your employees’ engagement drivers?
  • How are you attending to them?
  • Does your organization have an engagement identity?
  • How are you measuring engagement?

These are some of the questions answered by our six-factor engagement model, which helps leaders think through and attend to the crucial factors in engagement.

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