I am reading more and more articles beginning to debate the value of employee engagement initiatives, and more recently, the wasted money, time and effort that companies spend on trying to improve employee engagement.
It is an interesting conundrum that a company will get better results from engaged employees, and in seeking better results, companies will try to control and enhance engagement levels of employees; but engagement is an EMPLOYEE thing, not a company thing. But its a “thing” with commercial value, so companies believe it is worth spending time and money to figure it out.
The trouble is, I think it is vastly overcomplicated by consultants and authors alike. Sometimes, simple is best, and easiest to work with. I like simple.
It helps to start with an understanding of what employee engagement is. But its important to realise that nobody really “knows” what it is. It’s a feeling. A commitment, a synergy. A connection, a values fit. A symbiosis. Its the desire of an employee to spend themselves for some reason. And in the dreamy world of corporate strategies, all of these ideas coalesce into high volumes of high quality output.
I think the reality is that when we simplify it as much as possible, we can grab hold of some key understandings. It is easy, after that, to figure out HOW to influence engagement, but keeping things simple is key to not getting horribly confused and wasting a lot of time and energy.
Example. A man builds model aeroplanes. He starts with nothing but an idea, and he learns. He takes precious time and allocates it to this. Takes precious money and spends it. He learns how to build one. He learns aerodynamics. He learns balance. He learns precision. He learns electronics, and engines. He learns about wind, and weather. He spends hundreds, if not thousands of hours and hard earned dollars. He crashes his beautiful creation, and rebuilds it carefully. And then, now that he has mastered take offs, he has to figure out how to land. So he crashes again and rebuilds carefully all over again. And after many weeks and months, he can fly his beautiful model aeroplane safely.
All this, why?
It is so simple. Too simple, I fear, to make a lot of money from, which is why the consultants have to complicate it all up. A person does this, for pretty much one thing only.
For joy. For sheer, uncomplicated joy.
I believe that the pursuit of joy is what drives all of us. Let’s be clear though – Joy is not “happiness”. Joy is not “jollies” or “good times”. Joy is not a feeling. Its easy to misunderstand joy and call it something ephemeral, and light. Real “joy” is so much deeper than that.
Joy is a state of being, a deep sense of fulfilment, a contentment. Contentment that “who I am”, “what I am doing” and “what I want to become” are in harmony. But let’s not confuse contentment with satisfaction. Personally, I would MUCH rather be content, than satisfied. A content person is at peace, but not at rest. A content person is never satisfied. A satisfied person is at rest. They have achieved. They are done. But a contented person has not achieved, is not done. They are simply in harmony, at peace, and without internal dissonance.
Imagine a sailor. The sails are set, the wind is blowing, the sky is blue, the water is wide, and the vessel is underway. Everything is just as it should be. But the journey has only just begun. Is the sailor at peace? Of course. Is he there yet? No. Content, but not satisfied.
So in pursuit of joy, a person will spend themselves happily, feeling and knowing deep down, that their effort will be rewarded with contentment. Peace. Fulfilment. Resonance. Joy.
Companies focus on a few standard things. Money. Recognition. Reward. Environment. Flexibility. Etcetera.
I believe what they really need to realise, is that people want to find joy. People want to find harmonic resonance between what they do and who they deep down, really, really believe they are.
We choose our vocations, our careers, our skills based on a connection between our identity and the contentment that that vocation beings us. Somewhere, deep down, what we do is who we are (remember my earlier post on values?), and who we are becomes what we do. An engineer, a journalist, a lawyer, a doctor, a mechanic, a sailor, a pilot, an accountant. No matter what we do, we do it because of a connection with our deeply held identity and sense of who we are.
So the connection is there already; the capacity for resonance and joy is always there in the workplace. An employee chooses to do what they do, in a particular company, because of a few important things. And a company that understands this, and realises that it is simply a means for an employee to find joy, can influence engagement positively:
- A connection between the perceived corporate values and personal values. (Who I am and who I work for are sufficiently aligned that it feels good associating myself with them)
- A belief that the results they achieve (not the work they do) will bring them a sense of joy, of fulfilment, and a belief that efforts are not wasted.
So what a company needs to do, is, I believe, remarkably simple. Three things:
- Live its values, and
- Connect a person’s expected results, with their deeply held beliefs about who they are.
- Get out of the way.