HRM exclusive: Widgets author tells all

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HRM: Is employee engagement really on the brink of extinction? Why?

RW: I’ve created some controversy with that assertion, but all the rebuttals have, if disentangled, agreed with my key points. The underlying phenomenon – that people work hardest for those who best look out for them – has been part of human nature for tens of thousands of years. It will never go away. So if you want to say that’s employee engagement, it’s quite safe from extinction and worth making one of the top priorities in any organization.

But the term “employee engagement” is just 20 years old. In those two decades, we’ve managed to take it from intriguing science to cliché. Tell an employee that the company is launching an engagement initiative and you’ll likely get either a yawn or a little bit of fear. The traditional surveys field questions from the 1990s, followed by a furious hunt for the “disengaged” workers who, when asked to be candid on the survey, responded that, no, they had not been recognized, had regular conversations with their manager, or felt a sense of progress or accomplishment at their companies.

With social media like Glassdoor and the job assessment we opened to individual employees on WidgetsTheBook.com, people are becoming more strategic in directing their own careers, seeking happiness on the job rather than “engagement,” and sometimes telling their employers what they want to hear on those stuffy surveys.

HRM: What’s the greatest misconception surrounding employee engagement or human resources?

RW: The greatest misconception about employee engagement is that employees want to be engaged.

Engagement is the goal of the business. Happiness is the goal of the employee. There’s a good bargain to be had in those overlapping objectives. A company that seeks to make its employees happier on the job will discover it gets engagement in the process. (Continued...)

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