The idea of employee "engagement" remains a corporate buzzword. I find it interesting that the term "engagement" implies only a willingness to commit, without consummating this commitment. Webster's defines "engage" as:
  1. Involved an activity
  2. Pledged to be married
  3. Greatly interested
  4. Involved especially in a hostile encounter

None of the above has anything to do with productivity. For example, you can be involved in your work without being motivated to do anything about it! Likewise, you can be greatly interested but inept. Interestingly, the word derives from the French word "gage," which means something thrown down by a knight as a token of challenge to combat. Historically "engagement" means to be in the process of battle. True to the "at will" nature of employment, it seems that we'd rather have engagement than true commitment.

My diatribe on word choice aside, the 50 Most Engaged Workplaces Award identifies these eight criteria as the foundation for generating employee engagement:

  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Culture
  • Rewards and recognition
  • Professional and personal growth
  • Accountability in performance
  • Vision and values
  • Corporate social responsibility

Essentially, this is a checklist of good management practices. You might as well cross out the word "engaged" and substitute "profitable."

Noticeably absent from that list is any mention of compensation. I continue to believe that pay is the No. 1 reason why people go to work every day. However, once employees earn what they perceive to be a fair day's wage, then these other factors come into play. Of course, another way is to look at what drives "engagement," or its older equivalent, "motivation," in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which focuses on the need for survival, security, belonging, ego gratification, and self-actualization.

After surveying numerous organizations and speaking in confidence with thousands of business owners and employees, I can tell you that the No. 2 concern at work is also the No. 2 concern at home: The quality of communication. Ultimately, we're looking for some financial security at work and at home and then communication that's clear, caring, and allows a safe place for dialogue. When you do a good job of communication, you support all the other factors mentioned.

Although all of the award criteria mentioned are great, your primary concern should be what matters most to your company and its employees. One way to learn this is to ask questions. Of course, unless you're deaf, dumb, blind, or uncaring, you usually realize the major concerns. The question is, do you really want to do anything about it?

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