Engagement without the Ring

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

How to Create Engagement in Trying Times?

As the recession continues, many organizations are considering how to increase employee engagement to meet current needs with fewer resources. Research has repeatedly shown that an engaged employee is more productive, motivated, and satisfied. For example, the Hay Group in 2002 in “Engage Employees and Boost Performance” found that engaged employees were 49 percent more productive than those that were not. The dilemma arises from how to create stability and certainty in very unstable and uncertain times.
An economic downturn causes a number of challenges to engagement: greater uncertainty, workplace instability, and personal life difficulties. How often have employees come to you in the last year or two and expressed their fear and frustration with not knowing what will happen next in their work or personal lives? What assurances were you able to give them?
As managers and employees are being asked to do more with fewer resources, there is less time to participate in activities that actually reduce the impact of uncertainty and anxiety while improving engagement. With the limited time we do have, it is critical that we invest in people during a time when people need support the most. What can we do?

• strengthen relationships;
• show empathy and support;
• increase communication;
• exercise flexible;
• instill a positive outlook; and
• acknowledge their commitment.

Start with one or two things a day from this list and help engage the workforce when they need it most.


Welcome to the Human Capital Adviser. The goal of our blog is to offer timely, interesting, and practical discussion on innovations and best practices in human capital management. Please make suggestions, add comments, or recommend topics and join us in exploring how we can improve our organizations as well as the lives of those that work with us each day.