Why Employee Engagement Alone is Not Enough

Employee Engagement Importance

Our mission is to help organizations succeed. This, we believe, can only happen when organizations put their people first. And, we believe, employee engagement is the primary driver of an organization’s success.

You might be surprised, then, to read this: Employee engagement cannot be the sole focus for achieving organizational excellence.

Don’t panic and throw in the towel now. Engagement is critical. However, relying solely on employee engagement can inadvertently overlook vital elements necessary for fostering a healthy and productive work environment.

The good news? People want to contribute, feel part of something, and feel like their work matters. They want to be empowered and give their best. Though the headlines scream, “Quiet quitting! Engagement down! US engagement levels dropped!”, they’re not telling the whole story. Most disengagement doesn’t come from malice.

So, if people want to contribute, what’s stopping them?

Organzations need to focus on developing structures, processes, and procedures that support engagement.

Here's why employee engagement, alone, may not suffice:

Engagement Isn't Always Linked to Skills and Competencies:

High levels of employee engagement do not necessarily equate to high job performance. An engaged employee may exhibit enthusiasm and commitment but could lack the essential skills or resources to excel in their role.

What do your employees need to be able to do to get the job done? Every single task, job, process requires skills. Have clarity on what needs to be done and the skills and competencies required to do those jobs.

Do a skills assessment of your people. This could include technical skills test, cognitive ability, behavioral skills and more. Then, develop your people, giving them a chance to grow to meet these skill needs.

Engagement Can Mask Burnout:

Beware of those who burn the midnight oil. An excessive focus on engagement may inadvertently encourage employees to overexert themselves to meet high expectations. This can lead to burnout, where employees experience physical and mental exhaustion.

Set clear work-life boundaries. Establish clear communication rules for after hours and stick to them (especially senior leaders).

Make sure employees take their vacation leave. Vacation is vital to rebooting and feeling energized.

High workload moments should be accompanied with active breaks, time for employees to go for walks, to meditate, even to nap. Provide spaces that allow employees to decompress so they can do their best work.

Engagement Alone May Not Encourage Innovation:

Engaged employees may be passionate about their work, but they may not necessarily be encouraged to think creatively or drive innovation within the organization. If the status quo is working, why fix it?

Make innovation a core value in your organization.

Innovation comes from diversity, which should be an integral value of your organization as well. People with different backgrounds, religions, education levels, ages, abilities bring different perspectives to the table.

Develop critical thinking skills with your teams.

Engagement Doesn't Resolve All Organizational Issues:

While engaged employees are more likely to contribute positively, engagement alone cannot resolve all organizational challenges such as ineffective leadership, resource deficiencies, or flawed processes. Again, employees want to contribute, but when they actually try and can’t because they can’t find information they need, don’t have resources they need, don’t know who to talk to, don’t have autonomy to do the jobs they’re hired to do, or are buried in paperwork and outdated platforms, they will quickly check out.

Over time ineffective leadership, resource deficiencies, and flawed processes will kill engagement.

Improve organization leadership. Ineffective managers are the top cause of disengagement.

Provide your employees with the resources they need to do to get the job done. This includes updated software, good lighting, access to the information they need to get their work done.

Improve processes with employees. They are on the frontlines, and oftentimes process “improvement” comes from the top. Take the steps to do it right: identify the process you want to improve; map the process; analyze it (identifying bottlenecks, obstacles, dependencies); redesign it; test it; analyze it; test it; then communicate changes. This should involve employees who are integral to processes.

Engagement May Not Address External Factors:

Two words: the pandemic. Nobody could have predicted the effects a pandemic would have on organizations around the world. External factors like market dynamics, economic fluctuations, or industry disruptions can significantly impact an organization's performance.

Many organizations are facing radical changes today because of AI. Even with highly engaged employees, an organization may struggle to navigate these external challenges.

Agile organizations are survivors. Build an agile organization where teams are empowered and collaborative, decision-making processes are fast and effective, tech is up to date, and people are aligned with the organization’s mission and vision.

Talk to your people. When things are rough, be honest and transparent about the challenges the organization is facing. This builds trust in the organization and confidence in company leaders.

Engagement Alone Isn't a Guarantee of Employee Retention:

Turnover is the new black. And this can be rough. Young workers look for opportunities to grow, meaning at work, and, honestly, they’re simply less likely to stick around.

Certainly engaged employees are more likely to stay with an organization, but they may still opt to leave if they perceive limited growth opportunities, feel undervalued, or encounter unaddressed workplace issues.

Growth and development should be core organization values. As Richard Branson said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

A healthy work environment of belongingness is vital. Employees will pack their bags when they encounter toxic work cultures, constant interpersonal conflicts, and more.

Corporate Social Responsibility programs are huge attractors to young workers. What is your organization doing to improve the community?

Engagement Shouldn't Replace Holistic Metrics:

Engagement isn’t a linear solution, in which you focus on engagement, then agility, then development. Employee engagement should be part of a broader set of metrics used to assess an organization's overall health. Solely relying on engagement data without considering other factors can lead to an imbalanced view.

The employee experience begins way before they walk in your doors. Create meaning from first contact and throughout the employee lifecycle.
Conduct an employee engagement survey.

Backed by years of experience working with companies and industry research, we know that the primary factors that drive employee engagement are “engagement with my manager” and “engagement with my organization.” Dig deep and understand what drives your people as well as what disengages them. Taking a holistic approach, as to chipping away at things in isolation, to the survey results will result in meaningful actions.

Operational challenges can wear people down. Upgrade your internet speed. Get your copy machine fixed. Keep things working so your people can work.

Employee engagement is undeniably essential for fostering a productive and positive work environment. However, it is not an island. Organizations should adopt a comprehensive approach that encompasses performance management, skills development, employee well-being, innovation, culture, and consideration of external factors. Engagement is just one facet of the equation. Create a more holistic strategy to ensure long-term success and resilience.

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