Why employee engagement surveys – and solutions – miss the mark

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You know how you have to answer those 5,000 survey questions about how engaged you are with your company? It’s a serious business and the intent is good — you survey to see how well the management is getting across their vision, goals, and objectives.  How much pride you have in your company and other crazy ideas.

It is a way to consistently measure those reactions over the course of time, even if the questions presented suck. You get a trend from the questions, sucky or not.

And while the surveys just don’t do anything for me, the solutions will often drive me crazy. The suggested solutions often come across as Corporate Speak campfires where we’re all singing kumbaya. I could quote a few, but I think you already know what I mean about inventing creative solutions to allow engagement with the company’s vision and mission…

I’d also note that even though I say that “we owe our company our work, but we don’t owe them our loyalty,” I also think that you can be very engaged in your work and still believe that statement. That’s just to ensure some transparency and you don’t think I’m saying “corporations suck” in one article and “engagement is awesome in a corporation” in another.

Instead of the traditional corporate speak platitudes on employee engagement, let’s take a look at what real engagement looks like from someone working at a company…

1. You receive interesting work that hits your job skill sweet spot

Now “interesting work” will vary on the person and the job. But if the manager does a good job, the manager knows the type of work you like to do, knows where your strengths are on the job, and then assigns work to you that matches what you like to do with where you are strong in your skills.

Will that happen all the time? No.

But it will happen more often than not.

When it does happen, it will get you closer to the “flow” experience where you are highly engaged in the work.

2. You will get challenging work that stretches your capabilities

Again, this will vary with the person and the work, but the idea here is that the manager focuses on giving you some work that will stretch your abilities — not so far as causing you to fail, but enough where getting the work done won’t be a walk in the park.

Will that happen all the time? No. Nor should you want it to, because if all your are doing is working close to the edge of your abilities, you’ll get stressed out and burn out.

But enough challenging work that when you are talking with your friends outside of work, you would tell them work is tough, but you are learning a whole bunch of things doing what you do. How many people can say that?

3. You know your unique contribution to the team

You might be the same job title as ten other people on your team, but you know that if X comes up, you’re the person who can do the work, have the knowledge, or can lead the project. That’s because X is your area of expertise and no one else on the team can do that as well as you can.

In other words, everyone is special in at least one area, and that being special in one area means that you are valued. And that’s engaging.

The engagement answer is not corporate — it is about management

In larger companies, engagement isn’t about committees and events, newsletters and team sites. Engagement is simply this: How interesting, challenging, and fulfilling is it to do your work? And if it isn’t, what can be done to make it interesting, challenging and fulfilling by getting tasks that meet that mission?

Sure, there will be a level of BS that one has to put up with working anywhere. And there are some tough times we all have to go through where it will be hard to concentrate on the work.

But is starts with your work: how well you do your work, if you are learning, and knowing you are uniquely contributing to the team.

Start there.

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