Impact of Employee Engagement: Leadership Myth or Misnomer?

We keep hearing about this wonderful thing we should strive for… this holy grail for employee contentment. This thing called Employee Engagement.

Personally, as a specific goal, I think it’s a crock of crap.

First, get the academics out of the way; the only part of any definition that matters for employee engagement is “increased productivity.” Everything else is eyewash, and confuses engagement with contentment. Not that there’s anything wrong with happy, contented employees (there isn’t), there’s just no credible evidence that they’re more productive. Using that as a backdrop, answering any “impact” question becomes easier:

1. Use existing productivity measures to measure productivity changes. Some organizations use revenue per employee; others cost per pound; still others may use unit costs or revenue. The specific measurement isn’t as important as the fact that it directly measures productivity, not engagement per se, since engagement is only worth an investment if it leads to discretionary effort; discretionary effort, by definition, increases productivity.

This measure is the gold standard – the litmus test for employee engagement. There are some other, less direct but viable measures:

2. Active participation in development. Engaged employees want their skills developed and improved to do more, to become more valuable, to offer even more significant discretionary effort. Metrics here like voluntary enrollments into training, requests for development, decline in PiPs, requests for upward transfers and promotions, and available bench-strength for succession effort.

3. Less problematic. Engaged employees create fewer problems for managers. Internal complaints, managerial time spent on interpersonal conflicts, less follow-up (more time for other duties), and so on are all indicative of an engaged workforce.

Bottom line – it’s not engagement, specifically, we’re measuring here. To be at all useful, it’s the impact of that engagement that matters. And frankly, that’s all that matters.

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann


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