Why is engagement  so disengaging?          www.chandlermacleod.com
Why is engagement so disengaging?       “Engagement or disengagement?! I spent hours filling out the form and never heard ...
ProCess: is your engAgement ProCess engAging?Despite organisations seeking to measure and enhance engagement, most process...
There is a better way...       Engagement is important, but organisations need to develop a more engaging and influential ...
ProCess: mAke the ProCess engAging.■   interactive and fun – If you want to measure and ultimately enhance engagement, why...
Conclusion       Much of current ‘engagement practice’ in industry is paradoxically disengaging. Organisations stand to ga...
Why is engagement so disengaging?
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Why is engagement so disengaging?

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Why is engagement so disengaging?

  1. 1. Why is engagement so disengaging? www.chandlermacleod.com
  2. 2. Why is engagement so disengaging? “Engagement or disengagement?! I spent hours filling out the form and never heard anything back. Nothing changed...” Anonymous employee – ASX listed Company Organisations invest heavily in engagement, but what are they really getting in return? There is no denying that engagement has a positive effect on the individuals that experience it as well as the organisation more broadly. Organisations with high levels of engagement subsequently have increased levels of: ■ Performance: e.g. Companies with highly engaged employees experienced 26% higher employee productivity (Irvin, 2009). Organisations with higher engagement levels on average outperformed other organisations by 17% in terms of operating margin (Stairs, 2005). ■ Employee well-being: positive health outcomes as well as lower depressive symptoms, somatic complaints and sleep disturbances (Saks, 2006). Whereas disengaged employees are more prone to negative health outcomes and burnout (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001). This in turn reduces the likelihood of absenteeism or presenteeism (employees that are at work but are not focused). ■ Retention: e.g. High engagement levels lead to an 87% decrease in stated desire to leave (Stairs, 2005). Turnover, particularly in a tight labour market, costs organisations significantly. Clearly, engagement has significant benefits to both the individual and organisation, and it is therefore understandable why organisations want to enhance engagement. The paradox of engagement tools however, is that they are actually disengaging and fail to identify the drivers that actually influence engagement. The common issues with engagement surveys fall in to three areas: Content, Process and Actions. Issues with current engagement surveys: Content: WhAt Are you reAlly meAsuring? Many engagement tools fail to establish a clear definition of what they are supposed to be measuring, which begs the question – what are you really measuring? ■ measurement paradox – Most engagement surveys measure ■ Personal discretion: having the autonomy to determine how to the outcome of engagement, rather than the precursors of perform one’s tasks engagement. Engagement is a result of contributing factors ■ role clarity: having a clear understanding of the scope of the role such as personal discretion, role clarity, organisational and expectations support, person-job fit and organisation specific factors. Each ■ organisational support: the belief that the organisation cares about organisation is different, as are the sources of engagement an individual and values their contribution and disengagement. Your measures should clearly identify these to allow focused actions. In order to make a difference ■ Person-Job fit: congruence between a person and the level of skill their job demands to engagement levels you need to measure and influence the causes of engagement. ■ rating confusion – The design of engagement surveys can blur results and lead to inaccurate conclusions. Most rating scales provide response options from ‘disagree to agree’ or ‘very often to not very often’. The issue is that these rating scales are subjective. ‘Sometimes’ will mean something different to every employee depending on their past experiences and work environments. Measures should compare ‘apples with apples’. When an employee doesn’t feel they receive ‘sufficient’ feedback, it should be clear how much feedback they perceive as being ‘sufficient’ e.g. once a week or once a quarter. Rating confusion fails to identify, and therefore understand, the critical data points that influence engagement. ■ relevance of questions – Some of the most widely used engagement surveys ask employees about work factors that cannot be directly influenced. For example, survey items such as “do you have a best friend at work” and “sometimes I am so into my job that I lose track of time”. Whether the response is negative or positive, organisations cannot intervene to influence these factors. Therefore the result has no meaningful application. ■ the ‘so What?’ factor – Many engagement surveys are not run with the ultimate end in mind – resulting in presentation of key findings being met by an executive team who simply think ‘so what?’ or even ‘how much did this pointless exercise cost us?’2 | CHANDLER MACLEOD
  3. 3. ProCess: is your engAgement ProCess engAging?Despite organisations seeking to measure and enhance engagement, most processes are paradoxically disengaging.■ Disengaging process – Trying to enhance engagement by focusing on what is wrong with the workplace is a flawed process. This leads people to think negatively about their workplace. When you ask people what is wrong with their workplace, they will always find an issue whether it is a problem or not. This shifts respondents into a negative mindset. Focusing on issues also amplifies them and makes them seem worse than they are.■ Past focused – “Running an engagement survey to create a forward thinking people strategy is like steering a car by looking in the rear view mirror at road kill” Anonymous Executive – Banking and Finance How can you move forward as an organisation if you are constantly addressing issues from the past? Engagement surveys measure the organisation at one point in time, but engagement levels are constantly shifting. By the time many interventions are developed, the issues often have changed significantly, or in some cases are no longer relevant to the direction of the organisation.■ expensive and slow – It can take a significant investment of time and resources to run surveys, analyse the results and develop recommendations. With problem-focused engagement surveys, after the issues have been identified, the solutions must be generated. This process often involves senior management and consultants prioritising issues, problem solving and generating solutions to implement. While there is a lot of action going on behind the scenes, employees do not see any progress. As a result, employees feel disappointed and not listened to - enhancing disengagement.■ low touch – Simply filling out a standard set of items in a survey does not make employees feel as though they’ve been listened to. Many surveys occur because organisations want to give people a say and find out how they feel about their work. It is then frustrating for employees who want to share their opinions to have to fill out a form to send to a HR department, often in another state. Responses received are often automated, as a result employees don’t feel that they have been heard or that anybody is really listening.ACtions: ACtions sPeAk louDer thAn WorDsA lack of visible action from the organisation creates cynicism.■ missed opportunity – The process of surveying employees only involves employees for the minutes that it takes them to answer the questions. Following that, they do not play an active role or hear about the survey until the results are released. This misses an opportunity to get innovative and creative ideas from employees about how to improve the organisation and leverage strengths. In addition, it takes away any ownership or accountability for employees to take an active role in creating solutions and changing their own behaviours. Instead it creates a passive ‘sit and wait’ mindset.■ external Benchmarking: relevance – External benchmarking results reveal little of practical value about an organisation. Engagement results are usually benchmarked against industry standards or similar organisations. The fact that engagement levels are 54% or 3% higher than industry standards does not divulge anything meaningful about how people are relating, communicating or performing within their own unique workplace.■ external Benchmarking: complacency – External benchmarking results often impedes action and can lead to poorer longer-term outcomes. If the result is positive, leaders can get complacent by thinking that they do not need to make any changes or can see it as an opportunity to reduce the level of investment in people-focused initiatives. Conversely, if the results are negative, senior leaders can become defensive about the results. Commonly, negative results come at a time when the organisation is struggling in other areas. As such, leaders can quickly become dismissive of the ‘people issues’ to focus on the more ‘practical’ cost control issues.■ nothing happens – Commonly, following engagement surveys, employees do not hear anything about the results for months, and actual action can take even longer. This delay causes unnecessary turnover with frustrated employees.■ neglects the fact that engagement is personal – Each individual is different and will be engaged by different factors. Organisational interventions often attempt to enhance engagement levels from an organisation-wide perspective – unless this explicitly addresses the needs of individuals, it may miss the mark. WHY IS ENGAGEMENT SO DISENGAGING | 3
  4. 4. There is a better way... Engagement is important, but organisations need to develop a more engaging and influential process. There are a number of simple ways in which this can be achieved; through focusing on getting the content right, using an engaging process, and developing targeted actions. All three areas must be addressed in order to positively influence employee engagement. Content: get the Content right. ■ start with the end in mind – Measure the things that are important to your organisation, are relevant to its future direction, are important for your executive team to know, and take into account the breadth of research on this topic. ■ measure the drivers – Engagement is an output of a number of factors. It is these that need to be measured. Furthermore, all elements should be actionable otherwise the data is only academic. Aligning research with relevant organisational factors enables organisations to measure important factors that they can influence. ■ rating clarity – Items open to interpretation have no place in a robust engagement measurement tool. For example, consider a question about the frequency of communication. Instead of using the rating ‘very frequent’ to ‘very infrequent’, using more specific ratings of ‘less than once a week’ to ‘4 or more times a week’ ensures consistency in respondent interpretation to the items, thereby creating a clearer understanding of employee perceptions. This in turn aides the development of interventions by providing a clear picture of current practices. ■ include qualitative questions – Often the open-ended responses provide the greatest insights into the state of engagement, and certainly capture the attention of key decision makers. ■ identify what is working well – Identifying key positives allows strengths to be leveraged, focused upon and further enhanced.4 | CHANDLER MACLEOD
  5. 5. ProCess: mAke the ProCess engAging.■ interactive and fun – If you want to measure and ultimately enhance engagement, why not make the tool itself engaging? Well placed humour can break barriers, relieve tension and open up creative channels (Stairs, 2005). Asking questions in a fun and interactive way can also make the process itself more enjoyable for respondents. This creates a more positive perception of the survey process and in turn increases the response rate.■ solution focused – In the same way that asking about problems can exacerbate issues, focusing on the positives in the organisation creates a more solution-focused mindset. Solution-focused approaches enhance a person’s self belief that they can influence their environment by enhancing their internal locus of control. Internal focus of control is a person’s belief that they are in control of their future and what happens to them. The engagement process is a perfect opportunity to seek solutions from those that it is intended to help. Those who create solutions own them and are more committed to seeing them succeed.■ Create momentum and accountability – The process should get employees thinking about what they can do to enhance their own engagement and also make the environment around them better. Any organisation is merely a collection of people and if they are all doing something small to make the place better, it becomes a self-propagating process.ACtions: DeveloP tArgeteD AnD visiBle ACtions.■ Act quickly – The engagement process should create positive momentum. It is critical to support this momentum with timely action. Before initiating an engagement process the organisation must be prepared and committed to act quickly. Quick action builds trust and connectedness between employees and employers.■ Act visibly – Many organisations do extensive work on engagement, but ‘behind the scenes’. To create a positive change in engagement, employees need to see and know what is going on. Strong communication combined with action, which affects people’s working life, is vital.■ maintain momentum – Engagement is an ongoing process. Actions and conversations should continue throughout the year. WHY IS ENGAGEMENT SO DISENGAGING | 5
  6. 6. Conclusion Much of current ‘engagement practice’ in industry is paradoxically disengaging. Organisations stand to gain significantly by incorporating and embedding more effective engagement interventions. Organisations that ensure appropriate Content, Process and Actions in the engagement practice will move ahead of their peers in terms of results and compete more effectively for limited talent resources. About the Authors: Kate Breheny is a Consultant Psychologist for Chandler Macleod based in Melbourne. She has strong experience in psychometric assessment for selection, development and career transition, as well as organisational development. She has well developed skills in quantitative and qualitative analysis, project management, and survey design. Contact her at kate.breheny@chandlermacleod.com. Julian Tatton is a Psychologist and Principal Consultant for Chandler Macleod based in Melbourne. He has over 10 years internal and external Organisational Development experience working with clients to design and implement business relevant and effective people systems. He has extensive experience in assessment, Executive and Management development/coaching, talent management, succession management and organisational change to support achievement of measurable results. Contact him at julian.tatton@chandlermacleod.com research & Contributions: Laura Enger, Senior Consultant Psychologist, Chandler Macleod. References Bakker, A.B. & Demerouti, E. (2008). Towards a model of work engagement. Career Development International, 13(3), 209-223. Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W.B. & Leiter, M.P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422. Irvine, D. (2009). Employee engagement: What it is and why you need it. http://www.businessweek.com Saks, A.M. (2006). Antecedents and consequences or employee engagement. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21 (7), 600-619. Stairs, M. (2005). Work happy: Developing employee engagement to deliver competitive advantage. Selection and Development Review, 21(5), 7-11.6 | CHANDLER MACLEOD

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