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Jasmine Gartner

Jasmine Gartner Consulting

Training consultant

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Engagement myth #3: it’s solely about the individual’s link with the company


Do you work in the voluntary sector? In conjunction with LVSC and Business Unusual, I’ll be running a free surgery where we look at engagement in the five spheres specifically in terms of dealing with internal change and engaging the private sector. Register here for this event on 27th November.

The term “employee engagement” is misleading – it suggests that having a culture of engagement is simply about the connection between worker and workplace: what will get them to that sweet spot where they are engaged and therefore more productive?

And this leads to an approach to engagement that is very much focused upon how the employee is feeling. Are they happy? Are they satisfied? What can we do to make them happy or satisfied? Companies organise surveys and away-days and CSR all with the goal of engaging employees.

The good news is that employee engagement is actually not solely about the individual’s link with the company. That’s the bad news too, though.

It’s good news because it means that there are other ways to embed engagement. It’s bad news because it means engagement might be a much bigger project than it first appears.

First of all, it’s important to remember that there are different kinds of workers, and, logically enough, the way you need to engage them might be different too. You can read what I’ve written about it here.

When I first started thinking about employee engagement, I had this realisation: engagement isn’t one monolithic block. Being at work means engaging with different levels, or as I like to call them, different spheres. I’ve identified five.

So where does engagement – or disengagement – happen? Employee engagement takes place through relationships between the worker and:

  • The company – in terms of organisational culture and values, and its organisational strategy for success
  • The work itself – how an employee sees the work that needs to be done – is it valued and necessary? The work itself includes knowledge, skills and aptitudes, but also takes into account personalities and connections needed to get the job done
  • The team – people may work with the same team or be a member of different teams. This includes what configurations work best for people to help them to achieve company goals; it also includes how people ask for and give help to each other
  • The network – how people interact with different teams or companies, as well as the people they are networked with outside work. Workers are at the nexus of a network of people at work and beyond work, professional and social. The network also includes clients or customers.
  • Society (or the social environment) – we are affected by the outside world in terms of culture, but also in terms of the major and minor events that take place which may influence our lives and business. This includes politics, legislation, and general cultural values.

I call these the Five Spheres of Employee Engagement.

A worker can be engaged (or disengaged) with any combination of these spheres. I often hear about how frontline workers at the NHS, for example, are fully engaged with sphere two – the work itself – they are dedicated to their patients. But, they are actively disengaged in the first sphere – with the organisation.

I’m suggesting that we have to move towards a more nuanced and complex understanding of employee engagement. By breaking engagement down into these categories, it becomes easier to come up with strategies for implementing engagement.

It also becomes easier to identify the benefits of engagement.

For example, in the first sphere – the company – the benefits are:

  • Lower employee turnover and lower recruitment costs
  • People understand how strategy affects them and can engage with it
  • Belief in organisation

The benefits for the second sphere – the work itself – include:

  • Higher knowledge retention, leading to better work decisions
  • More purposeful goal-setting, as work goals are integrated with strategy
  • Continuous improvement is embedded in culture

In terms of the team, the third sphere, the benefits include:

  • Development of team / personal goals linked to corporate goals
  • Teams more effective at setting goals

The benefits of an engaged network include:

  • Self-nominated opt-in to strategy and culture, on the part of all staff
  • Access to more information / knowledge from a broad range of participants

And finally, organisations which engage on the fifth sphere – society – not only benefit themselves, but contribute to a better world:

  • Slowly changing the way society works – for the better – changing the culture of how we live:
  • Creativity and critical thinking are encouraged and flourish
  • Diversity and inclusivity are reinforced and advanced
  • As the workplace improves, those mores are translated outside work and slowly are embedded within the culture at large

Perhaps this complicates things a bit – but breaking engagement down into bite-size pieces also means that we can come to a more concrete understanding of what engagement actually means and therefore we’ll be more likely to do something about it.

Do you think I’ve covered all the possible areas where engagement – or disengagement – happen? Or have I missed some? Let me know what you think.

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Jasmine Gartner

Training consultant

Read more from Jasmine Gartner

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