Every year—right around the holidays, actually—some HR buzzword starts to irritate me. The rock in my loafer this year is the word “engagement.” This is because so many seem to confuse it with the word “appreciation.” And when you confuse the two, the result is wasted time and money.
Engaging employees is on everyone’s mind these days. But it seems to me no one has stopped to ask themselves what this means in a practical sense. In reality, if I’m engaged in work, it means I am interested in what I’m doing and consider it valuable. So the formula is simple. Give your employees interesting work that’s valuable, and they will be engaged. Unfortunately, some HR departments have decided that what employees really need to be engaged are all sorts of rah-rah events, contests, and give-aways. To me, that’s like paying my daughter to get high marks in school, which I refuse to do because I want her to actually enjoy learning and find it interesting and valuable to her life. That is, I want her to be fully engaged in the work at hand rather than muddling through it in misery in order to get her reward. We’re humans, after all, not animals being trained to do tricks.
Sure, rah-rah events are fun and fantastic for teambuilding, as well as encouraging loyalty. But we cannot expect employee appreciation events to encourage engagement. Engagement involves indentifying skill sets, offering trajectory and movement, and communicating and connecting value in even the most mundane tasks. This takes thought and time, as well as hands-on leadership. It certainly goes beyond a town hall meeting with free hot dogs or lunches with the boss.