Employee Engagement up 20% in 2011

Actually, I just made that up based on some inspiration I got from a recent blog post by Aubrey Daniels ("Employee Engagement: Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing"). It's an interesting post. I thought I'd take a closer look at some of the points raised because there does seem to be confusion out there about this 'engagement' concept.
Aubrey draws attention to the fact that only 21% of employees are engaged according to a Tower Watson survey and 31% are engaged according to a BlessingWhite survey. The implication perhaps being that these are very low numbers. However, the specific numbers are simply the result of the manner in which these organisations have decided to classify 'engaged' and each firm will tend to use different questions, different response scales, and different samples in the research that uncovers these figures. One also imagines that making the numbers low provides a good selling point for them.

Aubrey also asks: "With all the work that has been done on this topic during the last 20 years, why have the numbers not moved?"

The problem with this question is that we're only given figures for 2011 so we can't really judge whether they have moved or not. Even so, this would tell us nothing about whether individual organisations or teams had managed to improve or ruin engagement levels during this time.

The important thing for an organisation is to improve their own engagement levels, not the global average in Towers Watson's benchmark database - which will go up or down depending on the mix of companies in it, the state of the economy and numerous other factors. Some of these will relate to you and your organisation, but countless more won't.

Aubrey also brings David Zinger's book on engagement to task and claims that some 300 ideas for improving engagement are presented without any evidence. In stark contrast, Aubrey claims that there is only one way to rapidly improve engagement that is supported by "literally 100's of studies" - positive reinforcement. Now, I'm a big proponent of evidence, but this is a pretty big call - and unfortunately Aubrey hasn't directed to any of these studies.

So what are we to make of all this? I'll hang my hat on these three conclusions:

  1. There is no single definitive measure or benchmark of employee engagement - and there never will be
  2. Engagement benchmarks will differ from each other and go up and down in response to many factors
  3. The most important benchmark is the direction your company is travelling

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