Many of us are puzzled trying to solve this engagement equation:
What variable must we add to work to increase engagement?
The puzzle has offered a vast and confusing array of suggestions and solutions.
I'd like to guide you through some of the proposed solutions, and encourage you at the end of this post to write your own equation to solve employee engagement.
Why we need to solve the equation
The reason for the extensive work on the employee engagement equation can be found in a rearrangement of the variables from the equation to:
- Work + Engagement = Increased Revenue
- Work + Engagement = Better Safety
- Work + Engagement = Higher Profits
- Work + Engagement = Improved Performance
- Work + Engagement = Enhanced Employee Wellbeing
- Work + Engagement = Retention
- Work + Engagement = Innovation
- Work + Engagement = Customer Service
A few variables that support employee engagement
This has led to a plethora of solutions to answer the original employee engagement equation offered at the start of this post: Engagement = Work + ?
Some of the solutions suggested are:
- Engagement = Work + Energy
- Engagement = Work + Pizza Parties
- Engagement = Work + Good Leadership
- Engagement = Work + Effective Management
- Engagement = Work + A Fun Organization
One equation, many solutions for how to engage employees at work
Just as the results and outcomes from engagement are diverse, I believe the pairing of work plus something else to create engagement is quite variable too. I would love to offer you the definitive equation for how to engage employees at work— such as Einstein’s E = MC2 in physics —but there are many nuances to engagement and we lack a simple equation that will solve engagement for everyone, everywhere.
I encourage you to customize the addition to work that will create engagement for yourself and the people you work with.
Here are 8 general equations to guide your unique employee engagement formulation
Employee Engagement + Employee = Jargon
I believe engagement is complicated but not complex. Employees themselves tend to hear the word as management gobbledygook or a manipulative way to get more work out of exhausted employees. To counter the jargon, I simply define employee engagement as: good work done well with others every day.
Employee Engagement ≠ Survey
A survey is not employee engagement; it is only a tool to measure engagement. Yet many organizations seem to confuse a survey with being an engagement initiative or program. In fact, if you have more than one survey in a row without taking massive action to improve engagement you can probably rewrite the equation as Employee Engagement Survey + No Response by Organization = Disengagement.
Bell Curve ≥ Survey Results
The survey industry around engagement is huge yet the findings are not vastly superior to assuming engagement resembles the classic bell curve of statistics with about 20% of your employees very engaged, 60% somewhat engaged and 20% disengaged. Leadership loves data but without any significant actions after the data is collected, all you have are fancy reports. Be careful of where you invest your limited time, money, and energy on ways to measure employee engagement.
Life > Work
We need to abandon the notion of work/life balance. Life is, and always will be, greater than work. There can be life without work but you cannot work if you are not alive. Stop the focus on work/life balance and never put work before life in any of your equations.
Relationships > Results
I believe we achieve results through relationships. I strongly advocate for meaningful results, yet I think we fail when we focus only on results. George Valliant who worked on a massive longitudinal study of men from Harvard University for 75 years concluded his work stating, “the only thing that mattered were relationships.”
Employee Engagement Questions > Employee Engagement Answers
Questions engage. Sometimes in our pursuit of solutions or answers, we fail to ask compelling questions of ourselves and the people we work with. One of my favorite questions is to ask myself many times a day: What can I do right now to improve my own engagement or contribute to the engagement of someone I work with?
Employee Engagement – Daily Actions = Wishful Thinking
I think too much of engagement focuses on attitudes and emotions or major initiatives and programs. We may wish for engagement but it remains a wish when little or no action is taken to ensure it occurs. Ensure your approach embraces daily actions for how to engage employees, managers, and leaders at work.
Caring × (Results + Relationships) = Authentic Engagement
A key for engagement is real and authentic caring. We need to care for both results and relationships. Our caring is not a warm fuzzy feeling; it's showing up fully to the work we do each day and ensuring the work we do is not just activity but contributes to meaningful results. It's also showing up fully to the people we work with and offering them support, tools, and recognition, while also holding them accountable. When we care, we must sometimes take tough actions to achieve and maintain engagement.
What’s your equation for engagement?
Consider the key variable of engagement and formulate those variables into a significant equation that can guide your efforts. Once you determine your equation for how to engage employees at work, make sure it leaps off of the page and into a daily practice for yourself and the people you work with.