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My friend Paul Hebert is writing all across the internet about why employee engagement might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.

First of all, let’s define employee engagement. Employees are engaged when they give their best each day through intrinsic effort, are committed to organizational goals and values, demonstrate extrinsic efforts beyond their immediate job, and have pride in their work.

Or something like that. I think there’s an element of loyalty that I’m missing in the definition, but it’s been a long time since I’ve done a webinar on the topic.

So here’s what Paul has written about employee engagement, lately.

Why Employee Engagement Needs to Be Re-Thought (Warning: It’s a Rant) wphebert.com/07/02/2018/why-employee-engagement-needs-to-be-re-thought-warning-its-a-rant/

IS EMPLOYER BRANDING KILLING CORPORATE CULTURE AND EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT? (ALL CAPS.) fistfuloftalent.com/2018/06/employer-branding-killing-corporate-culture-employee-engagement.html

Employee Engagement Isn’t an Employee Engagement Problem wphebert.com/04/24/2018/employee-engagement-isnt-an-employee-engagement-problem/

Why I can’t write another post about the importance of employee engagement. wphebert.com/02/27/2018/why-i-cant-write-another-post-about-the-importance-of-employee-engagement/

(Note, he wrote like five more posts and about a thousand tweets after that last one.)

One of Paul’s most significant ideas, IMHO, is that if we want to impact employee engagement we need to influence the manager. I’ll butcher the concept, but it goes something like this: Managers are in charge of an employee’s individual experience at work. Want better engagement scores? Help managers create a better experience at work.

I love it.

Paul goes further. What if employee engagement doesn’t matter like we think it matters? What if a disengaged worker isn’t as dangerous as we believe? What if engagement can only optimally follow a bell curve? Or what if it only matters if our top workers are engaged? And what if that doesn’t even matter?

The thriving contrarian in me loves the way his brain works, which is why Paul and I are friends. Let’s take this a step further and ask a fundamental question: What if none of this matters?

• Can you give your best each day but not really give a rip about goals and values? Yes.
• Is it possible to go above and beyond in your job without being loyal to the company? Sure you can.
• Are you able to have pride in your work without loving what you do, where you do it, or who you do it for? Absolutely.

You can do good work but have emotional distance from your job if you’re a healthy adult who is the CEO of your life. You can be a great employee on paper who doesn’t really care about being an employee if you have a work ethic and have your eyes on a bigger prize. And you can be engaged if you’re a craftsperson who takes pride in results but doesn’t get caught up in corporate interests.

But many of us struggle to be the CEOs of our lives, which is why I think we have low engagement scores.

Most jobs barely provide for food and housing. We’re always told that the gig economy is here, which means that — if we are FTEs — we’re one step away from losing the safety and security of our healthcare and retirement benefits. Or we have those benefits, but they’re so expensive that they threaten other basic needs.

Also, most jobs are done in isolation. Whether it’s the social isolation of an open office environment where everybody is wearing headphones and communicating via Slack — or the isolation from not having a union, guild or even an HR department that has your back — we’re all teams of one that are pitted against one another and forced ranked into a system that rewards the wrong types of social behaviors.

Work is broken. But I’m at the place in my life where I don’t give a shit if work is broken, or, more accurately, I think you can fix yourself and work won’t be so bad.

If you bet on yourself and invest in skills, you’ll always have options because you’ll never stop learning and growing. Prioritize your happiness — which means doing the work and acquiring life skills to overcome some of the sadness in your life — and be more resilient and have a better response when times are tough at work.

I also believe you can’t walk away from a crappy job unless you fix your money. Fix your money, fix your life. And get the life you want by creating a community — building a better personal brand based on kindness, networking with the right people, being helpful to others — and you’ll be much more engaged in real life.

Finally, prioritize your physical and emotional wellbeing so that your body isn’t a victim of the emotional firestorm in your brain. Nobody can treat you better than you treat you. While you can be healthy at any size, you can’t be emotionally or physically healthy if your wellbeing comes second to everything else in this world.

We fix work by fixing ourselves, and, also, by fixing ourselves, we render constructs like “employee engagement” worthless. If we’re going to measure something, let’s stop measuring employee engagement and start measuring how much we love and cherish our lives. All of it, by the way, not just the part that delivers a paycheck.

2 Responses to Improving Employee Engagement Won’t Fix Work
  1. Nancy

    Love this post Laurie! The number of times an employee left my organation because of the manager they reported into is in the hundreds. We lost great talent because managers were unwilling to look in the mirror and make some changes or their managers didn’t hold them accountable for good leadership.

    That’s how we fix work!

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Nancy. Appreciate your smart insights.