Employee engagement has a ring to it

Jan 20 2008 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

The New Year is young and already there is a trend (a lesser man would say fad, but look around these pages, you can't find a lesser man than yours truly) emerging in the management development field.

I've commented on it in The Working Week podcast, as well as the latest Cranky Middle Manager Show. That trend / fad / buzzword / obsession-du-jour is employee engagement.

We've all seen the figures from any number of studies. Less than a third of our employees are "actively engaged" - meaning many things but basically they give a hoot and work hard - about half are "neutrally engaged" - meaning they're slogging through their day getting the job done at an acceptable level but not doing a bit more than they have to.

The rest are "actively disengaged". This could mean anything from bone laziness to active sabotage. Whatever the definition it's a problem for both parties.

The thing that bothers me most, I think, is the word "engagement". My old man used to call it "Honest day's work for an honest day's wage" or on his worst days "Act like you give a damn."

When I think of engagement I think of a smiling couple, shiny rings and promises of a bright future together while everyone smiles and thinks "I'll give it three years". Come to think of it, that's not that different from hiring employees. The parallels are fairly chilling:

Before you find "The One", you have to kiss a lot of frogs: This one is obvious. There isn't a worker not looking for the perfect boss or a hiring manager out there who hasn't despaired of finding the perfect employee, or had to settle for less than ideal until the right one comes along - knowing that it won't work out but it's better than leaving a job unfilled (or without a date for New Year's Eve).

In fact if you hear HR people bemoaning the lack of good applicants, substitute "men" for "candidates" and it sounds like an episode of Sex and the City. The person who gets that first job and stays with that company for their whole career is as rare as - well I won't belabor the point.

There is a significant financial investment up front: DeBeers will tell you a man should spend five month's salary on his beloved's engagement ring. (My wife concurs but she's just bitter. Her engagement ring cost about two shifts worth of wages but that's another story). Most companies are willing to invest in a 90 day "probation" period . By the way, the bigger the ring, the more impressed they'll be.

Nothing happens without that ring: okay that's just what I tell my daughter but the fact is an employer wouldn't expect an employee to work without some kind of commitment on their part and if you accept that ring (or salary) there are expectations on you as an employee. Your mother may have spoken to you about those responsibilities….

We go in thinking it will last forever: yet over half of marriages in Europe and North America end in divorce. (The more cynical among us will say that means the rest end in Death but why spoil the moment)

If it's going to work it will take a lot of commitment on both parts: here's where the gurus, pundits and Cassandras have to take a deep breath. Just as an employee can't expect a company to take care of them if they don't put in a good day's work for a day's pay, or promote them if they don't exert the effort and commitment, the company has a huge role to play.

Expecting employees to "give 110 %" all the time (which is an impossibility which tells me that number comes from the same department that sets sales quotas) often really means "we expect them to work their tails off until we can ship the job to Romania".

By the way, saying "They should be lucky to just have a job" is the equivalent of "Why are you leaving…I've been a good provider"

Even if it starts great, you can't take it for granted: Managers need to keep checking in with their employees… how are things going…. Is this what you expected….. Don't ignore your long-time employees for the newest star you've hired… what can we do to keep things fresh… (the fact that most corporate training involves role plays only solidifies that analogy but we won't go there either).

It's a two-way street: if only one party is working at it, it's doomed

Employees and employers both need to remember something someone told me about engagements - get on one knee to ask and both knees to thank them for staying.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.