There is so much discussion on employee engagement at the moment. David Zinger's Employee Engagement Network now has 1507 members, having just passed the 1000 mark a few short months ago. Clearly this is a hot issue right now.
However, rather than going over all the reasons why this is so, I thought we should look at it from a different perspective today and ask whether, like motivation and happiness, it is another one of those no-win causes that 'humanitarians' foist upon management?
Now, that might be a pretty controversial question, but if it has made you feel somewhat aggrieved, that is most likely because you are taking exception to the implicit assumption that motivation and happiness are no-win challenges for management. Many of you may dismiss the idea and stop reading while others will cite research that 'proves' happy motivated people are more engaged, and that businesses with high-levels of employee engagement outperform the competition. So you would argue that it is imperative that management makes more effort to look after their people and ensure that they are happy, motivated and engaged.
Of course you would be right. The fact is the two positions are not actually contradictory.
"Being miserable is a habit. Being happy is a habit. The choice is yours." (Tom Hopkins)
There are possibly hundreds of similar statements that allude to the fact that we are all ultimately responsible for our own experience, and that it is the way we respond to things that differentiates us. Whether or not you accept this, or the extent to which you do may vary, but I am sure most will concur that happiness is personal, and thus largely innate. Well the same is true for motivation and thus must also be true for engagement. Consequently, any effort to stimulate it from the outside or from the top down, can at best only be transitory and have little lasting effect.
So, while it may be possible to stimulate bouts of enthusiasm, efforts by management to do it on a long-term basis are ultimately doomed to failure, hence my 'no-win' claim. Indeed I would go so far as to suggest that the extent to which management has been encouraged to introduce such initiatives and failed to see the promised benefits is probably one of the biggest management divides, and the single biggest reason why the HR is neither as well respected as it would like to be nor more widely represented at board level.
Be that as it may (and I would welcome your thoughts on the subject) the fact is motivation, happiness and engagement do have an important effect on business performance. They therefore have to be a management issue, but cannot be implemented in a traditional top-down manner. It boils down to management's responsibility being simply to create the appropriate environment; something that can only be done through values and cultural transformation.