I never really accepted the fact that engagement surveys measure my engagement. First, engagement is not clearly defined, so my question is, what are we measuring? I dare you to ask your company to define what engagement is:-)
Second, if you ask me what engages me at work, I would not list anything the surveys ask me. When I started to look at what those questions are related to, I noticed that they are all linked to well-being and today, I am convinced that this is what we are measuring, but we don't know it, therefore, doing it really badly.
Let's take the five pillars of employee well-being (there are different pillars).
Social - Physical - Mental/Emotional - Financial - Intellectual
Working with a framework like this makes it easier to understand what we want and how to achieve and measure it. Instead of a random engagement question, "Do you have a best friend at work?" I would now understand why they are asking me this (social).
It is time to design new questions because "How do you rate the food in the canteen?" is not valuable or relevant. Food comes under nutrition, which is linked to physical health and cognitive ability. The question should be, "How many times have you been sick in the past six months?" If you have an army of people who are malnourished and sick because of the poor quality of food, you are feeding them with causing dissatisfaction, and you try to remedy it with pizza or doughnut Friday because you don't even know the state of your workforce that is not going to do anything, right?
Here are some questions we can consider when redesigning surveys and moving away from wishy-washy engagement to measure something more defined. Well-being is defined; “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” It's a complex combination of a person's physical, mental, emotional and social health factors.
Social: How often do you spend time with friends and family after work? You would be surprised how many people are alone without friends or family. We know the implication of that on the individual. Here in the GCC, when I ask workers what they do during their time off, the answer is almost always "I sleep in my room". I have never seen a more socially isolated workforce than here.
Physical: How often do you exercise? There is no mental health without physical health, yet, we pay no attention to it. Some companies make exercise mandatory, and the result in productivity and well-being is on the rise. I used to run a "Biggest Loser" competition at work, and this is when I learned how hard it is to get people to eat healthy and exercise. Sometimes I would get frustrated by their lack of willpower or after scaling them and seeing someone walking back from the shop with a bag of crisps and chocolate. This was my greatest learning: people don't know what is good for them, and sometimes they need to be told and pushed towards a better life.
Mental/Emotional: Does your workplace stress you out? Do we have a toxic culture? Here I would cut to the chase, as toxic culture caused by poor leadership and management is the direct cause of stress and mental health issues at the workplace with a ripple effect on private life. Why does no engagement survey ever ask about that directly? I know why:-)
Financial: How would you rate your financial situation? Instead of the; Do you think you are being paid fairly? I will say no, lol. This question only helps to identify budgeting requirements but doesn't allow us to understand the person's financial health directly linked to mental health. I can earn the minimum wage, and it could be well managed. I can also earn millions and live beyond my means, causing me stress. Companies should find this out and offer financial planning advice to their employees to remove stress. People are extremely bad with their money, trust me!
Intellectual: Are you intellectually stimulated at work every day? The answer would largely be "no", and that's where your retention and disengagement problem lies. People are bored, and we want to engage them with activities and team outings. Make sure they are intellectually stimulated daily. It could be problem-solving groups (we have plenty of it), learning, participating in cross-functional collaboration, or organising things around these five pillars.
Have you noticed anything about these areas, questions or activities? They all show that you, as an employer, care and want the best for the individuals.
Let's be honest here, the global engagement data hasn't moved for five decades despite billions being pumped into it. Maybe it is time to acknowledge that it doesn't work. Maybe engagement doesn't exist the way we thought. Maybe we are measuring the wrong things. Maybe this is not what employees need from organisations....... We don't know why it doesn't work, it just doesn't.
Maybe it is time to move away from engagement and start thinking more holistically about the individuals in our organisations. If we get these five simple areas right, engagement, whatever it means, may follow. Or, we can forget about it completely because it has never really meant anything to anyone.
If you need help addressing these areas, reach out, and I can connect you with the right people based on your needs.