TSI Blog

You can’t have employee engagement all of the time…

April 14th, 2011 by Gary Cattermole

To expect all of your employees to be highly engaged all the time is folly – heading down this path could lead to future motivational issues. I get the feeling some would like to bottle employee engagement and instil it permanently.

Expecting an employee to go above and beyond (the ‘extra mile’) all or even most of the time is unsustainable. An employee cannot be in this state long term, quite simply, the employee will suffer from physical or psychological burnout.

The approach that appears to have the best results (based on our experience) is one where organisations work towards creating the right environment for engagement to take place. Levels of engagement will naturally ebb and flow and be subject to forces outside of the organisations control. But at least the organisation has created an environment were on the right day at the right time an employee may choose to put in that extra effort.

Regular feedback on the key organisational drivers behind engagement helps these organisations ensure that engagement remains a priority.  However, engagement is not mandated, it doesn’t become a KPI – it truly becomes part and parcel of the culture.  It just happens.

Many of our clients use pulse surveys to track and monitor issues connected with engagement.  It is not seen as an onerous exercise. Employees value an opportunity to provide feedback as they have seen the organisation take heed of the feedback and act upon it.

“…people clearly like the fact that their opinions count and that they’re listened to in terms of shaping policy. People often tell me that they’re looking forward to the next survey!”

Barbara Anne Nimmo, Head of Communications at THUS plc

Don’t look for permanent high levels of engagement.  Your employees will soon resent the fact that it has become the ‘norm’ to go that extra mile – storing up problems for the future. In fact, you may already be aware of your or other organisations where working late, evenings and weekends is expected – do you think employee engagement levels would be high here?

Written by Gary Cattermole
Gary Cattermole is a Director at The Survey Initiative, a dedicated employee research organisation devoted to helping its clients gain insight and understanding into what drives employee engagement in their business. Gary has extensive expertise and experience in a range of employee research techniques from employees surveys and 360 degree feedback to workshop facilitation and action planning sessions, working with a diverse range of clients such as EPSON, Telegraph Media Group, Natural History Museum, AVEVA and Accor. Gary is an avid sports fan, in particular table tennis and football. Visit http://www.surveyinitiative.co.uk for more information.

1 response

Posted by: Bay
April 14, 2011

Of course this makes sense. However, the issue here is the definition of employee engagement. You will NEVER get employee engagement if you see it as “getting the employee to go the extra mile.” It is about mutual respect; creating a win-win situation or a “we mentality” rather than a “me mentality.” The underlying approach to the kind of engagement you are describing here is old management school: “let me engage my employees and it will be better for business!” No it won’t! Not in the long term!

I think you are confusing energy and enthusiasm with engagement. Just as you don’t wake up with the same level of excitement for the day ahead, you won’t always meet any challenge you encounter with a consistent relish. And what your manager sees as the extra mile may be an extra three for you and may not be practical given your situation at the time.

Engagement means recognising that you are responsible for everything you encounter and doing the best you can under the circumstances. No more or no less.

For example, if there is a pressing need but you have a commitment to attend your your child’s school play, you have to judge the relative importance of the two issues. It does not make you unengaged if you explain that you cannot do it then but you will either find a colleague who can or else do it first thing in the morning. But, if anyone tries to compel you, either directly or implicitly by challenging your level of engagement, then they will make you disengaged. You can demonstrate your engagement just as well, by following up the next morning to see that the need was met and doing anything you can to ensure the quality was what you would have expected and what is required.

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