“HR has spent too long focusing on the wrong thing, explains Cooper: “That’s why mental ill health has flourished, because HR has relied too heavily on just that one metric and it’s not the magic bullet that will increase productivity per capita or reduce stress-related illnesses. We haven’t seen the bottom line affected by just dealing with employee engagement so we need to go further.”
Rita Trehan, former CHRO at Honeywell and founder of Dare Worldwide, agrees that engagement has detracted focus away from arguably more important HR disciplines. “Employee engagement was coined as a way to motivate people to come to work and do their best. But the reality is that this is only one layer of what is important to people. Companies need to get deeper and look at the culture as it’s culture that’s important,” she says. “Engagement is just part of the culture, it’s not the full culture.”
Sony Music Entertainment has gone further, dispensing with any type of engagement survey altogether. If an organisation has genuinely engaged its workforce it shouldn’t need a survey or score to tell them this, says Jeffrey. “My team are never at their desks as we’re all just out having conversations with the business,” she says. “You get far richer feedback from having a conversation with people than I think a survey ever delivers”.
“Sometimes there’s an overemphasis on the word engagement and that’s when people start to get a bit exhausted by it,” feels Mitchell. “We don’t want [employees] to get fatigued by constant messages and questions so there should be a timetable for engagement activity,” adds Steel. Language is important. While HR’s understanding and use of the concept may well be sound, the term ‘employee engagement’ might not be the most user-friendly externally with the rest of the business, points out Steel. When HR speaks of engagement to the business, “a lot of managers think ‘oh god, another HR fad’,” she says. “So when I speak to managers about employee engagement I cut out the word ‘engagement’ and change it to communication and involvement.”