Measuring and trying to increase “Employee Engagement” is all the rage these days.  And with good reason.  Organizations whose employees measure higher on engagement scores outperform their lower scoring peers on virtually every business metric. 

Executives and HR use the term “Engagement” every day, discussing how engaged they think everyone in the organization is, how they can measure engagement on increasingly smaller timescales, and what can be done to increase those engagement scores.  In many cases, high engagement is viewed and discussed by HR and execs as an emotional state, like happiness or satisfaction, not an outcome of the right environment, for the right people, with the right mission and support.  I suppose it’s both at the same time.  But here is one question – how do the people in your organization (not just managers and up) view the use of the term “engagement”?  I am willing to bet that most people aren’t thinking about their own personal engagement level.  They are not showing up at work consciously thinking to themselves, “how can I increase my engagement levels today?”  Most people just don’t think of the term “engagement” in the same way they might of, say, “happiness” or “satisfaction”.  So that poses a problem – the language used by management has different context and meaning to everyone else in the organization. 

Think of it this way – can you imagine an employee coming to you and saying “I’m not happy here.  I’d like to discuss some options?”  Sure.  This isn’t uncommon – even if that level of honesty isn’t as common as it should be.  On the other hand, can you imagine an employee coming to you and saying, “My engagement level is low, can we discuss some options?”  Probably not so much.  People think about happiness, satisfaction, etc.  Management thinks about productivity and engagement.

What to do?  Consider some basic first steps.  For starters, try putting yourself in the shoes of the typical person in your organization and imagining how they might perceive the use of the word “engagement” and how it applies to them.  People don’t usually think of their productivity in terms of “I am productive” or “I am not productive”, yet management still has to get them to be productive.  It is the same with engagement.  So consider their perception and pay attention to how you use the term.

Next, help them understand that engagement isn’t just a management buzz-word, but a competitively advantageous concept that each person has a responsibility to understand, monitor and improve.  Provide people with their own individual engagement scores and feedback, the same way you would for a 360 or Leadership Development assessment.  Make it obvious where they fit, why it’s so important and what steps they can take.  Chances are, they are not aware of the direct benefits of high engagement to themselves.  Engaged employees tend to be happier, more energized, more productive and experience better health and wellbeing overall.  Help everyone understand that engagement isn’t just for the benefit of the organization.  It benefits everyone.

These are not difficult steps to take, but they require a bit of thought.  Start by understanding how employees are likely to think of engagement.  Educate them on the competitive advantages and higher satisfaction experienced by highly engaged teams and organizations.  Provide people with personal feedback on their own, personal engagement levels to show where they fit in the puzzle and how they have personal responsibility, too.  Encourage them to discuss their results with their manager and others.  As a bonus, a combination of these simple considerations will help bring “engagement” from a management-buzz-word to the daily lexicon that everyone is familiar and comfortable with.  Don’t skip these basic steps.  Otherwise, you risk gathering the type of buy-in required for long-term, sustainable, engagement success.