Guest contributions:

04.22.13  Uncommon Leadership 

04.02.15  Switch and Shift  

05.13.15  Better Practice Team Performance

05.29.15  Better Practice Team Performance

07.08.15  Switch and Shift 

07.14.15  Better Practice Team Performance

10.05.15  Switch and Shift 

Stacey's Reading List...


"Tribe of Mentors" by Timothy Ferriss

"Shortcut" by John Pollack 

"Seeing What Others Don't" by Gary Klein

"Several Short Sentences About Writing" by Verlyn Klinkenborg

"The Birkman Method - Your Personality at Work" by Sharon Birkman Fink and Stephanie Capparell

"Creative Intelligence" by Bruce Nussbaum 

"Improv Wisdom" by Patricia Ryan Madson

"Training To Imagine" by Kat Koppett

"Quiet" by Susan Cain

"Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson

"A Whole New Mind" by Daniel H. Pink

"Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman 

"Rework" by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson  

"The Leadership Pipeline" by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, James Noel  

"Life:  Selected Quotations" by Paulo Coelho 

"Deep Change" by Robert Quinn

"The Power of Full Engagement" by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz  

"The Way of the Shepherd" by Dr. Kevin Leman and William Pentak  

"Developing the Leader Within You" by John Maxwell  

"Mr. Peabody's Apples" by Madonna

"Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by Gordon MacKenzie




blog archive

Employee Engagement is the Wrong Question

Original publication at Switch and Shift (July 08, 2015)

I never expected I’d write about employee engagement.  Fundamentally, I dislike the discussion for one simple reason:  I think it’s the wrong question to be asking the workforce. 

Gallup, with extensive research dating back to the late 1990’s, is regarded as the authority on the topic and created the Q12 survey.  Annual statistics report employee engagement percentages across three spectrums: actively disengaged, not engaged, and engaged. The 2014 Gallup numbers came in at 17.5%, 51.0%, and 31.5% respectively.  I find that the numbers fluctuate only a couple of percentage points from year to year.  So for all the talk on the topic, not much changes. 

From my perspective, here’s the miss. “I” am the fundamental equation in the question, and yet no one is asking me about “me”.  Engagement surveys don’t inquire about personal well-being or my individual level of happiness.  Shouldn’t the individual be the primary conversation…?  I think so. 

Generally speaking, engagement discussions tend to get lumped into a couple of buckets.  All worthy conversations, but secondary ones. 

The role of the organization

Engagement commentary overwhelmingly implies that the organization is at fault for poor results.  Apparently the organization must bear the burden.  That seems unbalanced.  Does the organization play a role…?  I believe it does.  Is the role that it plays primary to a more engaged workforce…?  I believe it isn’t.  I want to see organizations excel in all the ways that matter to its particular workforce*, but I find it unlikely that individual engagement will be solved by the collective actions of the entity.  Engagement is an individual decision that I make, or don’t make.

The influence of leadership

After pointing to organizational gaps, another common thread is the overarching statement of, “leaders hold the key to employee engagement”.  I could go along with that statement if “leader” meant “self”, as in self-leader(ship).  But that’s not what it means.  The statement suggests that I’ve acquiesced control of my personal engagement to another party. If I were genuinely happy, would I send in my vote by proxy…?  I don’t think I would. 

The financial impact

Studies are quick to point out the negative financial impacts resulting from the nearly 70% of the workforce that is categorized at actively disengaged or not engaged, targeting front-line productivity to bottom-line profitability – and everything in between.  Yet there is wealth beyond the P&L statement.  There is untold wealth that happiness has the potential to create for mankind.  The quest for individual happiness has far greater staying power.  Organizations will continue to come and go over time, but humanity endures. 

For me, in the end, what is missing is all this cacophonous conversation on employee engagement is the truest, deepest, most basic human question of all:  Am I happy? 

And please don’t dilute that question.  It’s not “am I happy at work”, it’s not “am I happy with my boss”, it’s not “am I happy with the vision of the organization”, but – as a human being – am I happy with myself, am I happy with who I am, am I happy with the life that I lead…?  Happiness is the driver to a life that contains engagement.  Happiness begets engagement, not the other way around.  

Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky is the author of The How of Happiness:  A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.  Her book analyzed studies and reported that nearly half of our happiness is set by genes and life circumstances beyond our control; the other half by our own actions and choices.  So even though genetics and life experiences influence my happiness, there are still actions and choices that I can choose to make to cultivate greater happiness over the course of my lifetime.  Am I doing those things…?  Making those choices…?  That’s the fundamental question.  

And maybe, just maybe, we’re starting to make progress on the happiness front.  Greater numbers of people are embracing contemplative practices (mindfulness, meditation, centering) and creating simplified lives (less stuff, more experiences).  There is a deep yearning to understand what truly brings joy and how that joy can be central to a life. I have to believe that once we get a real sense of what makes us happy, we gravitate toward work that matters, in organizations where we flourish, along side people we are genuinely excited to see every day.  Once I’ve made those decisions, then ask me if I’m engaged.  Actually no, don’t ask me that.  Ask me if I’ve come alive.  Because what we need is people who have come alive. 

Happiness is an individual decision; a choice I make.  And happiness begets engagement.  Let’s get to the root of the discussion.  What we need is for the human race to discover happiness. 

“Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.” (Rumi)


*  Reputation, safety, diversity, pay and benefits, valuing people/customers/co-workers, work tasks and processes, resources, recognition, performance management, training and development, innovation, communication, and leadership.  Source Gallup. 


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