There is a lot of discussion of employee engagement in the media right now due to workforce reductions, concerns with a jobless recovery, and general distrust in major institutions. Generally, when we talk about engagement, the concept refers to the level of commitment an employee has to the ideals, objectives, and performance of an organization. An engaged workforce possesses a sense of ownership in the activities and values of the organization, shares a sense of ownership with coworkers as well as the organization, and links their individual success to the organization’s success. Being engaged requires high levels of energy as well as leveraging available capabilities to ensure that outcomes are accomplished in the best manner possible.
Change is the order of things, but the move to a more “mercenary” workforce has clear and significant implications for engagement. For illustration purposes, I want to draw on the experience of a family friend. A family friend recently became engaged and gave his fiance a beautiful ring. He had spent months looking for the perfect ring and was very excited about presenting the ring to the love of his life. Our friend’s fiance agreed to marry him to his delight and they jointly entered into the pre-marriage period. Like many couples, the ring is symbolic of the commitment they have made to their relationship and being together. It is an outward sign of their exclusivity and the bond between them.
As I talk to various employee groups around the country, most feel that they entered into an agreement similar to our friend’s engagement when they joined their current employer. They relay stories of the hopes they had about joining their current employer and all the opportunities that would be made available to them. However, they say with time the ring was taken away. The reasons for the removal of the ring vary, but it all equates to the same thing: a promise broken and a wish unfulfilled.
How do we counter the feeling of the missing ring?
There are things that employees value in addition to commitment and stability. Some of the big ones include:
- Flexibility to meet or balance work and personal needs
- Positive interaction with coworkers and supervisor
- Feeling of fulfillment related to the work performed