Saturday, April 27, 2013

“What drives employee engagement?” Asks the wrong question.

Seeking the answer to the wrong question is a pathway to futility.

We keep asking the wrong question “What drives employee engagement?” That is why we continue to struggle with workforce populations where only a small percent of workers are fully engaged. Instead we should turn the question on it’s ear.  “What causes employees to become disengaged?”  Whatever that is, let’s stop doing it.

Here is a consequence of asking the wrong question.  We see a study that says that there is a correlation between low levels of ‘senior management taking a genuine interest in me’ with low employee engagement.  From that (ignoring the fallacy of correlation implying causation), we draw the conclusion that this lack of interest causes employees to become unengaged.  Then, in trying to answer the question “What drives employee engagement” we see someone flip that on it head “The No. 1 driver of employee engagement is when senior management takes a genuine interest in me as an individual.  

When the lack of something causes disengagement, the presence of that something does not necessarily cause engagement.  The lack of oxygen causes a candle to go out.  The presence of oxygen does not light the candle.

What spurred this post was a discussion on LinkedIn which stated that a 2011 Maritz survey of more than 90,000 employees worldwide said that only seven percent of employees say they trust their senior leaders to look out for their best interests, and thus, the no. 1 driver of employee engagement was “when senior management takes a genuine interest in me as an individual." (Actually, I could not find that the Maritz survey said this at all.)

Lets assume that the 7% group consisted entirely of fully engaged employees.  Thus, employees who feel that senior management takes a genuine interest in them as individuals are all fully engaged.  Of course other studies identify the proportion of fully engaged employees to be between 25% and 45% of the workforce.  Lets assume the percent of employees who are fully engaged is 28%.  Therefore a quarter of fully engaged workers trust that senior management takes a genuine interest in them.  That leaves three quarters of full engaged employees, still being fully engaged, but not trusting that senior management takes a genuine interest in them. This would suggest that it probably isn't all that relevant to engagement and almost certainly not the #1 driver.

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