As recruiting remains a challenge, I believe organizations should be focusing their resources toward making sure that they can keep the employees they have (i.e., employee retention). Just like it’s easier to retain a customer versus getting a new one, organizations are realizing the same about employees.
So, employee retention will be a priority for organizations, which means employee engagement will be a priority as well. Because organizations cannot keep employees who are not engaged. Please note: I said engaged, not committed. As I spend more time thinking about it, employee engagement and commitment are two different things.
I know, I’m guilty of using the terms interchangeably. But I think it’s time we examine the distinction. As a starting point, I looked up both definitions.
I can see how an employee could feel a positive connection to the organization but not necessarily be engaged. I think about some of my former employers with great fondness. Keyword there being “former” employers. Even though I enjoyed working there, it wasn’t enough to retain me. That’s where I think companies could get lulled into a false sense of “we have a highly engaged workforce, so we don’t need to worry about retention” when the reality is, the company has a lot of people who are proud of their affiliation with the company.
In thinking about the definitions, it seems to me that employee engagement comes from a different place. Employees do work that they know has value or meaning. It’s satisfying work. In addition, the company acknowledges the employee’s contribution as being valuable. Both pieces need to exist. Have you ever worked someplace where you knew that you were doing great work, but no one else seemed to notice? I have and that’s not engaging (at least to me it wasn’t). It’s not enough just for the employee to know they’re doing good work. The company needs to acknowledge it as well.
Now, if my logic makes sense, then it’s possible that organizational commitment can lead to employee engagement. But I’m not sure it works the other way around. Which is why organizational efforts to improve culture with bean bag chairs, open office environments, free food, and bring your pet to work day are great for building commitment but not necessarily engagement. Let me say, this doesn’t mean any of these things are bad or wrong. They can build a great foundation for employee engagement – which needs to happen.
But to truly build employee engagement, companies need to make the investment in activities that create the win-win. Employees need the tools and resources to do their jobs well. Or they won’t be satisfied with their work. Managers need the tools and resources to communicate and coach employees. Both need to know that the work they do brings value. “No news is good news” isn’t how people learn the value they bring to the company.
Regardless of what you think of the term employee engagement, it’s an important concept and it’s an essential ingredient for employee retention. Companies cannot afford to ignore it. Too much talent will leave the organization.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Fort Lauderdale, FL14