Why you should never ask if your employees are engaged

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Do you know how engaged your employees are? If not, you definitely shouldn’t start by asking them – that’s the assertion from one global HR expert who says there’s a far more effective way to find out.

“I understand that companies will talk internally about employee engagement as part of their strategy,” says Rodd Wagner, VP of employee engagement strategy at BI WORLDWIDE.

“It’s in my job title, I’ve used it for a long time, I’ve written books about it, I’ve written white papers about it – it’s been around for 25 years and the term will probably be with us for quite a while,” he continues.

“That having been said, I’ve also observed that still – 25 years after it entered the corporate lexicon – that’s not how employees talk about their day. They don’t go home and say; ‘Wow, I felt really engaged today,’ or ‘I felt kind of disengaged today.’”

Wagner – who penned the New York Times best-selling business book “Widgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They're Real People” – says the term is too mechanical to make an impact with actual employees.

“If I ask; ‘Are you an engaged employee?’ to someone just off the street, they might say; ‘What do you mean by engaged?’ Wagner told HRM.

“If I ask; ‘Are you happy at work?’ Nobody asks; ‘What do you mean by happy?’ They have a definition, they understand it and at the same time it can be studied robustly through surveys to understand what it is to make someone happy on the job.”

According to Wagner, the same elements that contribute to a person’s engagement at work are the same elements that define happiness.

“When you ask those questions about transparency, about a sense of meaning, about a sense of achievement and recognition – when you put them all together they correlate exceptionally strongly with that overall question – how happy are you at work?” he told HRM. “So you’re really asking about happiness as much as you are about engagement.”

The Minnesota-based expert says if HR would shift their focus to creating happy employees, rather than productive or engaged employees, then the benefits would be significant.

“Companies have to let go and recognize that, at the heart of it, when you’re talking about employee reciprocity, the thing that an employee will reciprocate most strongly is a company that is endeavouring to make him or her happy on the job,” he stressed.

“If you want engagement from your employees that ultimately leads to performance then go ahead and make them happy,” he added.

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  • Bill Fotsch on 2016-08-06 8:18:19 AM

    Odd that my work with Southwest Airlines, likely the most engaged workers anywhere, suggest just the opposite. Southwest focuses on ways to directly engage their employees in driving the profitable growth of the company, including stock and profit sharing. They treat their employees like trusted business partners, enabling them to make more money for their company and themselves. They consistently see both profits and morale / happiness. Their happiness comes from accomplishment, and increased compensation. This Forbes article provides more background: http://www.forbes.com/sites/fotschcase/2016/05/31/engage-your-employees-in-making-money/
    Minneapolis based Carlson Travel is a great example, as can be seen in their 3 minute call center video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RJAEHPOxPQ

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