Does Employee Engagement Have A Pygmalion Effect?

My-Fair-Lady-audrey-hepburn-824866_712_900Here’s a post from Forbes where the author picks a fight with Gallup on the validity of the claims of their latest surveys shrieking that 70% of employees are either unengaged or disengaged. The author reckons from his own surveys and simple personal observation that the number cannot be right.

Stepping to the sidelines and shouting on to both sides of the debate, it might be because of differing definitions of what employee engagement is. I reckon that I don’t care what anybody’s survey says if the survey is getting people to self declare, anonymously or otherwise, how they feel about their job or how they think they feel about anything at all. To me, employee engagement is a quite specific and observable set of behaviours. Quite apart from what people SAY, I think it matters what they DO. And we can observe that.

Employee engagement is people doing more than they have to because they choose to – discretionary effort. We can delve into the whys and the drivers of their choices later but the actual existence and extent of the engagement needs no survey.

If people say they’re thrilled with their jobs, that is not necessarily an engaged employee. There’s plenty of instances where unhappy employees bust their hump and do apply discretionary effort and plenty of instances where delighted employees coast. People’s feelings of delight or disgruntlement are neither here nor there. It is behaviour that matters.

And, ultimately, who cares what the national average engagement levels are? You need to watch and gauge your business’s levels and their trend. Work alongside, observe, interact – you know – people stuff. Not emailing them a link to an online assessment – if that’s all you do. As part of a planned programme, I can live with surveys, but often, surveys are the start and finish of employers’ efforts.

So, I disagree with the blogger about his disagreement with Gallup in that sense. It makes sense for a company to shriek a number like 70% if you’re a company that also sells solutions to that problem. Me, I just sell cynicism.

But I do think his latter point has merit – about survey results colouring management’s perception of, and therefore behaviour towards, their people. Like Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady’ / Pygmalion, if people saw her as an impoverished common seller of matchsticks, they treated her as such, but if they saw her as a refined lady, their reactions altered. If bosses think their staff are disengaged (regardless of whether they are or not) and treat them as such, maybe it does become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Maybe bosses should treat people as individuals, make decisions based on their own specific and direct data and have a healthy cynicism towards any data coming from people with something to sell?

Wouldn’t that be luvverly?

About Terry Williams - The Brain-Based Boss

I'm all about engaging people and helping you engage yours to influence behaviour to improve results - at work and at home. Maybe you're a manager, a salesperson, a leader, a parent, a presenter or an event organiser? You need to grab your people's attention, create some rapport, be memorable and influence behaviour change. How can we do that? I'm originally a trainer by trade, turned manager, turned comedian and partway back again. Author of 'THE GUIDE: How to kiss, get a job & other stuff you need to know', I write and speak about how to engage people, be they employees, family or yourself. How can we connect with people’s own internal motivations and help them use their own inner passions to drive towards productivity, success and happiness? And hopefully have a few laughs along the way... As a trainer facilitating learning and development in others, I find myself drawing on my own extensive business experience. I specialise in the delivery of high impact, customised training solutions for organisations that are serious about improving the performance and lives of their people.

Posted on November 18, 2013, in Behaviour, Employee Engagement, Influence and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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