Across the globe, businesses are investing millions in employee engagement programmes, but are they actually working?

In a provocative blog for Forbes, author Ann Latham argues that:

“Engagement, as measured by employee surveys, does not cause success. Engagement is, at best, a symptom of success.”

Latham suggest that employees who are successful feel better about their input to the business, and therefore are more likely to be proud to work for the business, and feel valued. This in turn leads to higher levels of engagement when measured by surveys.

Results not surveys

Perhaps the answer is to focus instead on results as a measure of engagement, such as:

  • Projects completed on schedule and on budget
  • Challenges successfully overcome
  • High levels of customer satisfaction
  • Rising productivity
  • Increased talent retention

Despite emotive statements such as “Here are ten reasons why pursuing employee engagement is destructive”, Latham isn’t actually suggesting employee engagement is a totally bad thing. She’s suggesting that the pursuit of engagement for engagement’s sake is not helpful. At best, it’s a token gesture. At worst, it builds expectations amongst employees of a ‘given right’ to treats and bonuses for simply being engaged, rather than for doing a great job.

If employee engagement is purely assessed by survey, managers get obsessed with survey results, and don’t concentrate on what Latham considers the nub of the matter, which is “Ensuring everyone is in a job where they can succeed, if not excel.”

Effective and success

Latham suggest the answer is that businesses should:

“Concentrate instead on helping your employees be effective and more successful. Let their happiness, eagerness, and energy follow of its own accord.”

She suggests this can be achieved by clarity on three key areas:

  • Purpose – what they are trying to do
  • Roles – what their part in that is
  • Process – the rules of engagement

Employee networks for effective engagement

At TalkFreely, we would suggest that an effective employee network achieves all the above with ease, when placed at the heart of any employee engagement programme.

An employee network enables your business to provide both the means and the resources for engagement, so they can be both recipient and participant at any given time. Taking that employee network to the cloud enables everyone to participate wherever they are, whether in the field or at home on mobile devices, or via a desktop app in the office.

Latham sees the ultimate aim as making employees both effective and committed. She suggests that committed employees can “Knock down walls to overcome significant challenges, which in turn increases their pride, confidence, and appetite for another challenge.”

An employee network is precisely the right channel to issue such a challenge, because the network will have the built -in tools to:

  • issue a business-focussed challenge to a select group or the entire workforce
  • enable the challenge to be discussed
  • allow participants to form informal groups to collaborate on ideas
  • facilitate co-creation amongst staff who may be in different locations or even timezones
  • be totally transparent in the process of selecting, rating and commenting on ideas
  • track involvement (engagement) at an individual level without the need for surveys

So, while Latham may say employee engagement itself is at fault, we would suggest it is the methodology of most employee engagement programmes that is at fault by not providing the right tools for the job. An effective, cloud-based employee network provides both the tools and the environment for employee engagement to stop being a buzzword and start being a day to day part of working life, with benefits to everyone involved.