Employee Engagement vs. Happiness


The term ‘employee engagement’ is getting a lot of airtime these days. Social media feeds are bombarded with articles (‘6 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement’) expressing the importance of engaging our employees. But something is missing, and that is clarity of definition.

Unlike common belief, engagement is not employee happiness, or satisfaction. Neither of these signifies that the employer is working productively or will go the extra mile on behalf of the organization – it just means they won’t complain. Real engagement is where the employee cares. By definition, it’s an emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals, a motivation to contribute to the success of the organization meanwhile enhancing their own sense of well-being. This definition implies that the onus is on the employee – it’s not. Employee engagement is in fact a workplace approach whereby Management enables this emotional commitment through a number of strategic actions.

We have outlined three effective strategic actions that will drive employee engagement. These 3 A’s are not quick fixes, nor are they easy. But they will provide you with an understanding of what employees need to be emotionally committed to their work and their organization.

  1. Affinity: We all want to believe in something. Affinity is where our heart and mind become involved in our work, rather than just our hands and feet. For your employees, this means unveiling the heart beyond your business. Put faces to the names, identify the clients and share stories of how your work has made a difference for people. In a nutshell, you want to humanise your work. For many non-profits, this comes easily, with employees being able to witness the positive effect of the organization first hand.

Take action: Create a poster board in the office with photos of buildings or projects that your product or services are being used for. Show pictures of the end results, and quotes from the consumer about how the product/service has positively affected them. Seeing the end result, and seeing its effect on real people, plays a huge part in engaging your employees.

  1. Affiliation: We all want to belong – to something. This drives our involvement in churches, charities, communities and sports teams. When your employees feel affiliated with the organisation they will go above and beyond to appease this drive. How do you provide a sense of affiliation in the workplace? Use your marketing to market your business to those inside the company.

Take action: Offer more than participation. If your organization is looking at implementing an audit team or a safety committee, allow employees to head it up and take charge. The next step, is getting the marketing team involved. Allow the marketing/communications team to take part in communicating the new team or committee to the wider workplace. Adding some flair, like a committee name and perhaps a logo or sticker can add to the value of the group and create buy-in.

  1. Autonomy: Once affinity and affiliation have been established, autonomy comes naturally. This is where employees have decision making abilities – they can innovate, create, suggest and act without always feeling like they are under strict control. Of course this is not complete freedom to act as one wills. Often times it is necessary to have a strategic framework or to provide a number of pre-determined choices.

Take action: Once a task has been assigned, allow employees the freedom to decide how the work will be done. Although you might believe a certain method is the most efficient, the method your employee chooses will be the most efficient for them. Sometimes it is more about creating a feeling of choice more so than actually giving free rein.

True autonomy is the ultimate utilization of hearts and minds – it allows affinity and affiliation to be put into action. A wise businessman once said: “Control leads to compliance, whereas autonomy leads to engagement.”

If you, like all leaders, want to improve your workplace culture through engagement you will want to throw away that carrot and stick and instead activate some basic human needs. By giving your employees a cause to believe in, an affiliation to belong to, and the autonomy to do their work you can begin to nurture the competitive advantage that employee engagement provides.

If your organization is looking for support in driving employee engagement contact Salopek & Associates. Partnering with companies across Canada, with HR consultants in Alberta and Ontario, we work with your management team to develop strategies that build employee engagement and support you in taking action through implementation.

(These three strategies were suggested by Terry Mathis. Read more about his view on affinity, affiliation and autonomy here)

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