"Employee engagement" is a popular buzz word lately that I keep seeing in articles and blogs. It refers to how committed individuals are to the their work and organization. Researchers have often shown that engagement is related to productivity and quality of work. As a result, there is a big push for organizations to measure group engagement and seek to increase it through a variety of actions.
I think this is misguided advice.
I suggest that "engagement" stems from individual passion and optimism and drive. These come from within an individual. Yes, an organization can encourage engagement by having opportunities for individual involvement and decision-making. It can fuel and focus existing passion; it can reward performance. But I seriously doubt any company can create engagement and work-related passion within any individual.
I suggest, instead, that passion, optimism, work engagement or drive must be assessed in the hiring process. Listen for it in what the candidates say about past jobs. Engagement is something the candidate brings to the job. It is not something the job should be expected to give to the candidate.
What is the person's passion? Purpose? What is important to this person? Does this person truly believe that problems can be solved and setbacks are external and temporary? Is there a history of achievement? How has the person worked in the past? Was there passion and a sense of accomplishment, regardless of how menial or narrowly-defined the actual job might have been? What was the individual able to add to the job (rather than vice-versa)?
The right person will feel engaged at any job, at least for a while, whether working as a short-order cook, a bundler in a box factory, or a pizza delivery driver. Someone who has passion for work will find a way to feel engaged in whatever he or she is doing. That is the kind of person you want in any job. Engagement--hire it; do not try to create it.
Duane Lakin, Ph.D.