Engagement is a three dimensional issue…

Employee engagement means many things to many people. However what I hear people talk about most often is “State Engagement” ie how employees feel in the here and now. This is the foundation of many employee surveys and looks at things like satisfaction, ownership, empowerment and trust. All very important to engagement but a long way from the whole nine yards…

Much less talked about is trait engagement. The reality is that all of us to one degree or another are “hard wired” to be pre-disposed to be engaged at work – or not. It’s about “who I am” and “what I bring” to the world of work.

For example how positively we see the world has a big bearing on how likely we are to be engaged at work. Optimistic people – who see the cup as half full – are far more pre-disposed to be engaged than their pessimistic colleagues.

Autotelic people – those who do a task for the love of it rather than in expectation of a later reward – are also much likelier candidates to be highly engaged. As our own Chiumento research shows, those who are driven primarily by extrinsic reward are frequently the most likely to want to leave and the most outspokenly critical of their employer.

Proactive and conscientious people are also the naturally more likely to be engaged. So why, if we know all this, are we not taking personality traits more seriously in our selection processes? If we hire the right people in the first place then getting great state engagement scores becomes oh so much easier. Most of the things mentioned above are easily spotted through personality questionnaires such as OPQ 32 yet many organisations still only use interviews to assess potential joiners…

What fascinates me most though is the inter-play between trait and state engagement. For example if you have a workforce with high trait engagement but low state engagement it says some pretty damning things about your organisation’s approach to engagement. You take all that positivity and strangle it through poor leadership, management, environments and cultures.

On the other hand if you start with low trait engagement and get steadily improving, but on the surface less impressive state scores, you are quite possibly doing a tremendous job working from a low base. It is the sum difference between trait and state engagement that really measures the effectiveness of your engagement strategy.

Here at Chiumento we’re researching a new kind of employee engagement survey that blends measures of trait and state engagement in a single tool. Watch this space…

For now here’s the real killer: behavioural engagement. Having loads of people feeling great about your business is lovely. But unless all that positivity results in some measurable or observable improvement in performance all it adds up to is being a nice, not a successful, employer. There are many examples of companies with impeccable state engagement scores that have foundered. Employee happiness on its own is not a measure of corporate health.

So next time you do your organisation’s “state” engagement survey ask yourself this: “are the improvements in your wider business metrics in line with the improvement in your engagement scores?” Do you even compare them?

Ian Gooden
Chief Executive