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Driving Employee Engagement

You can drive a car.  You can drive a nail into a board with one swing. You can drive a point home in a conversation.  But can you drive engagement? 

People say “How do I drive engagement?” or “How do I get people to be more engaged?”

Here’s the answer:  You can’t. 

Driving implies force.  You make the car go by stepping on the gas and steering.  You make the nail go down with the force of your swing.  You cannot force an employee to be engaged.  Engagement is an intrinsic quality. It comes from within.

And it’s not the same as happiness, or satisfaction. This is a common misconception.

We’ve all heard about big companies with their free gourmet meals, nap pods, concierge service, on-site gyms, and more.  Employees who get those perks are often very happy with them; but that doesn’t lead to engagement.  You can be very happy with all the love and perks that your employer showers upon you, and still be a lousy and unproductive employee. 

So what is the key to engagement?  Let’s look at volunteers. Some people are willing to work in horrible conditions: heat, filth, little food, no pay, and unsafe environments - all for something they believe in.  They are fully engaged in their work, without any perks or even basic needs being met.  Why?  Because they have purpose.  Because they are doing something that has meaning to them.  Simon Sinek (in his book Start With Why) would say they have found their “why.”

But your company isn’t saving the whales, finding a solution to global poverty, or even pulling weeds for little old ladies.  Your company builds an ordinary widget.  Can that be a “why?”

People do their jobs for a variety of reasons.  Some people work only for the pay, so they can support their families, and nothing else about work matters.  Money gets people to show up. But to get beyond presenteeism, we need to look for other motivations.  Some people want to work for a company that shares their values, supports the community, is gentle on the local environment, or delivers exceptional service.  It’s about finding something to care about.  

I worked for a shoe retailer years ago, in the corporate office.  I didn’t really care about shoes, but it was easy to get pulled into the passion that everyone had for the company, the stores we supported, and most of all, our customers.  It was never really about shoes. It was about the customer experience.  It was about supporting our stores, and helping them be successful. It was about supporting our thriving family, also known as the company.

The perks are important for recruiting and retention. Recruiting is a challenge for every HR person I know, so we need to be sure our benefits and perks are competitive to attract talent. But to raise engagement, help people find their purpose.  Help them find something to care about.  Show them how their job, their little piece of the organization, matters in the bigger picture.  How does their job impact the work team, the customer, the company, or the community?

Be a company that inspires trust and loyalty.  A person will do a job for the money. They will go above and beyond for a manager or a company that they trust and believe in.  (See my earlier blogs to learn more about trust and respect.)

Engagement is intrinsic.  It’s not the same thing as happiness.  It’s not the same thing as morale, even.  It’s about purpose, and internal motivation, and caring.  Help your employees find their purpose, their “why.”  That’s the key to engagement.


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About the Author

Amy Esry, PHR, SHRM-CP

Posted in: Human Resources, Great Place to Work

Posted by Amy Esry, PHR, SHRM-CP

Amy believes that a company will be successful when the employees are successful, and she values being a contributor to that success at Hausmann-Johnson Insurance. She uses over 20 years of Human Resources experience to oversee the agency’s internal HR management while also serving as a HR consultant for clients. Amy recognizes that running a business is complicated enough without having to understand employment law, so she does the leg work by continually researching and determining how the law applies to specific situations. She enjoys simplifying a complex employment issue to ensure that a client is considering all options and is aware of all ramifications. Amy holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Truman University, as well as an MBA from the University of Missouri – Columbia. In her free time, she loves gardening and sinking her hands into a bag of fresh potting soil. During the winter, she hibernates with books, craft projects, jigsaw puzzles or board games with her family.