I’ve been searching the web for a good definition of employee engagement, and I have to say, I’m disappointed. There are a LOT out there, though I think that is fine. It doesn’t need to be oversimplified into a single definition. And given the amount of money we spend trying to fix employee engagement every year, it doesn’t surprise me that everyone and their brother are trying to define it.

But maybe that’s the problem. I feel like many people end up defining employee engagement in a way that helps them to employ the solution to the engagement problem that they have already developed. I get that, but it can be dangerously circular. Most of the definitions that I see revolve around the level of emotional connection or commitment an employee has to the organization and its goals. This matches our collective experience, of course. Those engaged employees really do seem committed and connected, where their disengaged counterparts do not.

But here’s the problem: the level of commitment and connection your employees feel is simply outside of your control (and probably should be). You may be able to see high levels of commitment or connection in engaged employees, but there aren’t a whole lot of levers you can pull or interventions you can make that will change that. It’s internal to them. So it’s great that you’ve developed a survey that will give you detailed metrics about that level of commitment through a mysterious set of questions about whether you have a best friend at work, but I’m really not sure the value of knowing that. And given that we’re not moving the collective needle on engagement, there might not be much value there.  We need to define engagement in a way that will help us actually improve it.

Sorry to be a tease here, but Maddie and I are developing such a definition in our next book, coming out in September. Obviously there will be more to come announced here (and everywhere else we post), so stay tuned!

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Jamie Notter