What Employee Engagement Isn’t

Culture isn’t about bringing your dogs to work or providing a nap room for your people.

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It occurred to me recently that the term “employee engagement” is being used a lot more now than it was just a few short years ago. Out of curiosity, I checked Google’s Ngram Viewer to see, historically, how far back that term goes. The result surprised me. First, let’s look at the results for the two terms on their own: 

While the term “employee” appears over the last five centuries, it showed a sharp rise in the last 100 years before apparently falling out of fashion in a dramatic way since 2000.  Interesting. 

I expected “engagement” would have higher rankings than “employee,” but not so. It peaked in the late 1700s followed by a 200 year decline and then, in a tenth of that time, in the year 2000, it skyrocketed back to late 1700s levels.  

When searching the term “employee engagement,” it was non-existent 20 years ago. With this term still in its infancy, it is not surprising that there are differing views about what it is and what it isn’t. My personal belief is that employee engagement refers to how involved, passionate, and committed an individual is about their employment. This lines up with Gallup’s definition. “Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” This is the definition that you should embrace as you look to improve your workplace.

This is an important distinction. I’ve seen many articles in the last few weeks that confuse employee engagement with perks and give aways for their employees. That’s not it, and going down that road does a disservice to everyone. Keith Cunningham was talking about culture when he said this, but it applies equally to employee engagement: “Culture isn’t about bringing your dogs to work or providing a nap room for your people.” He’s so right. Don’t pollute your engagement efforts with privileges and trinkets. I’m not saying to avoid providing things for your … (what do I call them now?) … team, but be clear that none of those things actually change the commitment and enthusiasm that your people have for your business and your mission. 

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