Holistic Thinking Around Employee Engagement

Terry Williams seriouscomedy laffic-graphic MATE www.terrywilliams.info

This is a great post in Forbes by Josh Bersin. I’m always flapping my gums about the futility of ‘tick-box’ engagement efforts like annual culture surveys and such. He’s actually distilled into a useful and succinct summary some practical holistic strategies.

I especially like and agree with his thinking on building an engaging environment.

On survey efforts etc, he writes:

“While this is a good thing to do, most companies now tell us that this process is not keeping up. It’s not detailed enough, it isn’t real-time, and it doesn’t consider  all the work related issues which drive employee commitment. A new breed of engagement tools vendors, models, books, and workshops has emerged – all focused on building what we call today’s  ‘Irresistible Organization.’ “

There’s some links to interesting new research on how the old axiom that ‘people leave bosses, not organisations’ may no longer be the case.

Survey results can be misleading. And funny:

  • The apocalypse – favoured by 4 out of 5 horsemen.
  • Research shows six out of seven dwarves aren’t Happy.

Employee Engagement No Silver Bullet


This article in the UK’s HR Magazine makes the great, obvious and yet sadly-ignored-for-convenience’s sake point that having engaged employees won’t magically solve all your people problems. They are people after all. It’s human nature, I suppose, to look for that one thing. Eat the superfood blueberries and you’ll live forever. You won’t, but if you live on blueberries, it might seem like forever.

I was a teenager when the teenage mutant ninja turtles were teenagers. They are my age. They’re not teenagers anymore. They’re no longer fighting crime and living in a sewer. They’re mortgaged in the suburbs, fighting their own teenage kids and teaching Splinter their sensei rat a lesson of his own about how to adapt to living in a retirement community not of his choosing.
“We first started getting into trouble in this country when we started seeing engagement as a box ticking exercise,” he said. “Managers had all these targets to meet that on paper looked impressive, but in reality did nothing to change the workplace. We have made a mistake in HR of seeing engagement as a silver bullet that fixes everything else.”
And, whilst employee engagement might not be a magic bullet, as long as you specifically define it as the observation of discretionary effort, it does have a proven return on investment with greater productivity, revenue and profitability. And whilst blueberries aren’t magical, if you eat them instead of gulping sodas, maybe you’ll delay diabetes and that retirement community a while longer.

Workplace Gossip Impacts Employee Engagement


This blog post outlines some recent downslides in various generalised engagement survey results. It goes on to specify the negative impact and effects of workplace gossip.

Buzzwords & Employee Engagement


Here’s an entertaining and illuminating interview transcription with a chap who has become a ‘Buzzword’ guru, or perhaps more accurately, an anti-buzzword guru. He moots an inverse relationship between the volume of buzzwords in a workplace and it being conducive to employee engagement. His name is Steele Champion. Awesome.

Lies, Damned Lies & Employee Engagement Statistics


Here’s a kiwi snapshot on employee engagement with some illustrative case studies. Similar surveys have numbers fluctuating in similar proportions. They do vary from year to year, location to location and from industry to industry. The ratios are similar too in other nations. There always seems to be a small group of highly engaged, a small group of highly disengaged and a large chunk of people who show up and do what they have to and no more. What would be more useful to you than averaged figures across New Zealand as a whole would be information specific to your workplace. And even more useful would be some analysis and understanding on what you need versus what you’ve got.  Having an army of 100% engaged people sounds like it would be a great idea until they discover the only work you have is routine and repetitive. Maybe, just maybe, having half to two-thirds of your people neutrally engaged is OK? Maybe it only takes a few hyper-engaged superstars to generate the productivity and the revenue and the profits? Where and upon whom do you focus your limited attention? (Maybe I should have used the word “finite” instead of “limited” in that last sentence?)

It’s a good article and a great advert for Gallup with some genuine success stories. And I am a fan of the power of engaged people and workplaces. BUT….

…I disagree with what I think is a really critical point – their very definition of what employee engagement and disengagement are”

“the engaged…they’re excited about work, feel connected to their company and want to actively drive innovation and move the organisation forward.”

“the disengaged - their unhappiness infuses everything they do at work.”

Happiness and excitement per se have nothing to do with it. Hey, it might be a wonderful and amped up world if everyone was happy and excited all the time but that is not what engagement is. Engagement is someone choosing to do more than they have to because they want to. It is an observable behaviour. They may or not be happy or excited. We’re not psychic and even they may not know specifically why they do go above and beyond. It might be guilt or a sense of obligation.

It really confuses things for people who lead people at work to read an article espousing examples of drivers of engagement as:

“- free health checks for staff,
- nutritional seminars,
- subsidised gym memberships
- complimentary health insurance, including for employees’ children aged under 21
- funding for cervical smears for all female employees”

Again, I’m not knocking the article or the companies that provide the benefits above. If it’s affordable, then they’re no doubt an attractor to potential employees and of great benefit to existing ones. I’m self employed and I’d love those benefits. But the primary drivers of employee engagement, which is the very specific application of discretionery effort, are far more effortful practices that aren’t just throwing money at people in different form. Frankly, people might prefer more money and be left alone to look after their own nutrition, fitness and health. They probably wouldn’t admittedly and the employers may well benefit from a healthier and less absent workforce.

Employee engagement is about connecting to people’s minds not their muscles or digestive systems. Develop their skills, give them some influence and demonstrate that they’re part of something bigger than themselves and their effort (and extra effort) makes a real difference.

There are definite benefits to your bottom line in enhancing your employees’ engagement levels (whatever they are) and maybe a survey is a good starting point but if that’s all you’re doing, that’s like suspecting you need to get a hair cut and all you to do is buy a mirror.

Blaming The Media

blame the media

Hey people who blame the media for whatever current controversy, you’re probably partly right. However, the only reason they do that stuff is get get viewers / readers / listeners and increasingly, clicks and likes. If you have EVER viewed / read / listened or clicked a salacious / bullying / distorted story, you’re part of the problem. Stop contributing to the financial incentives that encourage sensationalism, bullying etc. That is all that will influence them, not your (or my) online externalising of responsibility. Society blaming the media is akin to society blaming a mirror.

Stop Start Continue: Thinking Creatively & Provocatively About The Past, Present & Future Of Workplaces

cover stop start continue

I have a new Kindle eBook out now on Amazon. It extrapolates a few workplace trends. Sometimes facetiously. Sometimes hopefully. Always provocatively and creatively. Laugh and learn. Learn ideas on being a better boss. Laugh at what else you might spent the $3.58 on.

Love To Work?


Valentine’s Day has been and gone and the word “love”has been tossed around frivolously, commercially, curiously and genuinely. This article refers to the benefits of having workers who “love” to work at your workplace.

They do stretch the meaning of the term ‘love’ to a broad definition. By the time they’ve qualified it, we’ve reached the levels of emotion I express when I declare that, “I love pizza!”

Pizza is awesome, I do spend a lot of time with it and I genuinely intend to commit to it for the rest of my life. (Albeit a life possibly shortened by pizza consumption.) Would that level of commitment and emotional connection make me a more productive worker?

There’s certainly lots of research and common sense indicating that people with high levels of emotional connection to their work do make more effort and get more out of what they do. This creates a virtuous circle as that feedback stimulates more effort and so forth. This is where I would make a distinction between people loving their work versus those who love their workplaces. There’s a difference. People who love their work for its own sake, get into that virtuous circle and score that productivity boost for themselves and their employers. People who love their workplaces may or may not. Their connection is with showing up to a place or a group of people. It’s better than hating your workplace but I haven’t seen any substance backing up that loving your workplace makes for significantly greater productivity.

I do love pizza but I’ve been seeing felafels. It’s not pizza, it’s me.

Not The Best Of Times In Toronto

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Toronto’s crack-smoking Mayor Rob Ford may seem to have nothing to do with a blog about employee engagement. Although, getting your employees addicted to crack might engage them in the sort term? I caught a passing headline about Toronto’s city government ceasing to survey how engaged their employees were. Government workers are infamously and probably unfairly disproportionately disengaged at the best of times, so it seems a shame that the bosses no longer seem interested in knowing how disengaged they are in times that can best be described as “not the best of times.”

“The City of Toronto passed a $9.6 billion operating budget for 2014 on Thursday, but one item that got slashed at the last minute would certainly catch the attention of HR professionals.

Mayor Rob Ford introduced some last-minute spending cuts to trim the budget by $60 million, but councillors only agreed to two of them: Cutting a print issue of a city magazine, and eliminating the employee engagement survey.

The engagement survey was expected to cost $250,000 this year, but councillors voted 24-21 to axe it.

“That’s 250 man, I’ll take anything right now,” Ford said after the vote.”

Back To The Future Of Employee Engagement


I write the funny last page ‘Last Laugh’ in the magazine ‘Employment Today.’ I try and keep well ahead of deadline so my articles are usually written a couple of months ahead of when they actually get published. The one I’m currently writing is for an edition where the theme will be the future of the workplace. There’s predicting the future and there’s making the future and there’s guessing and there’s not bothering. I think those are the options. People try to predict trends, fashions, sales targets, market forces, lotto numbers, weather, earthquakes. There are winners and losers. Experts are routinely wrong and even more routinely remiss at noticing their errors. Reporters cite the expert de jour ad infinitum on whatever their topic is regardless of whatever their track record was.

I do own the ‘Back To The Future’ DVD box set so I could look it up but I’m not going to. I think that 2015 might be the year that Marty McFly and Doc went to from 1985? Might have been August? They made some real efforts at guesstimating a vision of a future – a future which is about to hit us smack in the face. Again, we’re probably going to be missing our flying cars but I think the ‘backward pants’ thing is depressingly close to the mark. Bieber may already be doing that.

So, as I write my article in the present about the future for a magazine that exists in the future, there are a fair few predictable types out there with their own predictions for 2014 and employee engagement. Some are tossing around new buzzphrases like ‘Engagement 2.0. Yuk yuk. Here’s one set of predictions I find quite sensible. Here’s another which might be right(ish) but I find a little worrisome. (Is that how you spell “worrisome”? I’m not sure which… concerns me.)

I might see if the kids want to watch ‘Back To The Future.’ Some great quotes, “Roads! Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”

Yes you will Doc, yes you will. Sorry.


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