I've recently learned that being invited to join a panel group to share in an open discussion regarding a topic near and dear to you (let alone the other panelists and the attending audience) is a pretty sweet thing. After all, you are being introduced to and joined by -- great minds with a similar affinity to the topic at hand, the heat is on no one in particular, everyone gets to speak his/her mind, and you are actually encouraged to disagree (albeit politely) if you can justify your reasons for doing so. Seriously — what could possibly be the problem?
The problem, as I learned firsthand, is actually having to stop when the allotted time is up and the discussion is scheduled to end. Because let me tell you; the other 2 panelists and I were invited to discuss Employee Voice/Engagement at the recent Allegiance Engage Summit in Park City, UT... and we found it problematic to do just that. In fact, I was so wrapped in conversation that the panel's moderator had to tap me on the shoulder to inform me that the panel members for the next discussion were patiently waiting directly behind us to take their seats, which we were essentially hogging.
And okay, maybe it was far from being "forcibly removed," but you will simply have to forgive this long-time advertiser's penchant for exaggeration just this once.
I share this (hopefully) amusing story to illustrate the point that when you get three people together who know a thing or two about Employee Voice/Engagement, you would be hard pressed to put the brakes on the ensuing conversation within one hour.
Being all too eager to share some of the wealth of knowledge that was on display during this panel discussion, here is a (very) brief synopsis of some of the questions received and answered during the span of the hour that we had (in addition to whatever extra time we inadvertently stole):
What is engagement, especially in regards to employment?
The universally agreed-upon theme is that employee engagement is the connection that exists between employees and their work. Generally speaking, an engaged employee is someone who displays high levels of emotional involvement in relation to their job. They understand not only their role in the organization but also the value of their contributions to the organization, and how the organization benefits as a result.
How then does employee engagement differ from employee satisfaction?
Satisfaction and employment certainly are two different things, despite running down similar avenues and often intersecting. Satisfaction basically measures how happy one is in his/her job, while Engagement measures the degree to which one is connected to their job.
That said, you can have someone who is engaged, but not satisfied. A quick example of this would be someone who clearly understands their value to the company and maintains a strong work ethic as a result, but is not entirely happy with their current situation because of a lack of work/life balance.
Alternatively, you can have someone who is satisfied, but not engaged. A quick example of this would be someone who greatly enjoys the day-to-day camaraderie with their co-workers, but never feels that their job output is making much of a difference to the company since it has never been acknowledged outside of pay and by-the-numbers annual reviews.
Of course, as one declines, the other will be affected. A diminished sense of satisfaction is sure to impact engagement over time, and vise versa, which is why it is important to understand (and measure) the differences between the two.
Is it safe to assume that top performers are engaged employees?
Let's say for example this individual is a salesperson who brings in a great deal of business to the organization and as a result makes a great deal of money. One might assume that because this person is selling the business so well that they are undoubtedly engaged. Additionally, one might also assume high levels of satisfaction as a result of the high pay increase and regularly reinforced sense of success. But that would be assuming an awful lot.
If there is some suspicion that this person is only "in it to win it", then a lack of engagement and/or satisfaction may already be a critical issue. The company may depend on this individual's abilities more than they realize, and if there is no sense of engagement within this individual — no real sense of connection to the company, just motivations sourced entirely by self-serving interests — then there wouldn't be much stopping this person from leaving at the drop of a hat.
This serves as yet another reason why measuring engagement and satisfaction across all levels of employees is so important.
How can an organization successfully integrate engagement into the culture of the organization?
Integrating any sort of culture change can be a very daunting, taxing and challenging endeavor. It is all too easy for things to slip back to "the way they were" if not handled properly, and one could surmise that the former way of doing things was not benefitting the company if a culture change was even brought to the table.
That said, there is no easy answer, but a good place to start is always upper management. The change really needs to begin there. In the case of integrating engagement into the culture, a company's executives and upper management need to truly understand and embrace what this means. Unfortunately there is no turn-key definition — it needs to suit the organization as if custom tailored, and it needs to be viable across all employee levels. But above all else, it needs to be practiced and projected by the high command; otherwise everyone it trickles down to won't be buying it. And if it doesn't successfully permeate those front-line levels, then it won't extend to the customer level, and then it really starts costing you. Likely a topic for another time, believe me when I say that a direct correlation between engaged employees and engaged customers most certainly exists.
Measurement — there's that word again — is once more revealed to be a key factor in the process.
Are my employees engaged?
Good question. Trust me when I say that you want to be sure.