The Universal Themes of Engagement (i.e. the stuff we agree on!)

In case you haven’t noticed it’s getting very close to election day in the UK. Don’t worry,  I’m not going to get into a big political debate here but… what I have noticed in the run up to 8th of June (being a positive psychologist) is the way we often focus on the differences in our views, policies etc.   We focus on proving that our side is right and the other side is wrong, rather than looking at the shared outcomes many of us desire and how we can work together to achieve them.

It’s the same with employee engagement: as a profession we spend so much time arguing about definitions, and strategies, how to measure and improve engagement. My social media feeds are clogged up with articles and blogs talking about why engagement is over, or why it’s a waste of money, or how we should be focusing on employee experience instead.

What’s interesting is that when you read past the sensational headlines, you find that actually, a lot of the time we’re in agreement.  So I thought I’d pick out key points that we seem to agree upon rather than focusing on all the stuff I disagree with!

I’m calling these the universal themes of engagement:

  1. Focusing on people’s lives at work, and how we can improve them is a good idea.

At People Lab we talk about our desire to improve peoples lives at work, helping them and their organisations to flourish. I’m not sure many, if any, folks would think this is a bad idea. We talk about this within the context of employee engagement because it’s a term that is now largely understood and recognized, but does it really matter whether we talk about engagement or experience?

  1. Transformational engagement is where it’s at

I don’t want to get too technical here, but most of us agree that an approach which is designed to create a workplace where people want to join, stay, and give their best, is way more effective than taking the bottom 5 scoring questions from your annual survey and trying to fix them. It sounds really obvious, so why are so many companies stuck in the transactional approach? I’ll save my answer to that for another day! If you want to find out whether your approach is more transformational or transactional feel free to download our complimentary diagnostic tool here – it’ll get you thinking!

  1. Perks based on extrinsic motivation don’t work for any length of time

Wouldn’t it be great if this engagement stuff was as simple as giving people free breakfast, a bonus, or decent coffee?? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, given that we are complex beings.  Companies need to take the time to understand what matters to us, rather than making assumptions.

  1. If there’s only one thing you do, focus on line managers

We can debate the different ways to improve engagement all night long, but the fact remains that if all else is equal, it’s line managers that have the power to make of break people’s lives at work, so make sure they “making” it not “breaking” it

  1. The survey is not the be all and end all

The engagement survey is only one part of the jigsaw: useful insight but not the whole story. We need to understand how our people are feeling day to day, not just once a year at survey time. And crucially, any insight harnessed must be acted upon.  So where do you focus your energy? If you’re in any doubt just compare your budget for the survey with the spend on what happens afterwards.


I’d love to know what you think about these universal themes – what else would you add to the list? Get in touch and let us know, we’d love to hear from you…


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