Are We Suffering From "Engagement Fatigue?"

If you’ve been a part of the business world in the last few years, you’d have to have gone to fairly extreme lengths to avoid hearing the term “employee engagement.” It’s everywhere: in books and magazines, in tech and HR blogs, in advertisements and speeches from profound business leaders. Should companies be tired of hearing about it? Is the term destined to become just another buzzword that eventually falls out of favor? The short answer is “no.” The long answer is considerably more detailed and requires us to take a look at both the misconceptions about engagement that currently persist in the corporate world, as well as the different types of engagement that contribute to employee motivation and performance. A simple truth is that employee engagement is undeniably important to today’s business leaders—study after study confirms the value of treating employees in ways that make work more satisfying and meaningful. This is already considered common knowledge by many, and yet confusion remains about what employee engagement really is as well as how to influence and maximize it in the workplace. Let’s take a look at how employee engagement fits into the bigger picture—the employee experience.


How to Engage Employees


Genuine engagement begins with an innate desire—even a need—for self-direction: ownership, responsibility and pride in one's work.


There are a lot of myths surrounding employee engagement that managers take as fact. These myths include:


A lot has gone wrong over the years due to these misunderstandings, but here’s a start: the use of short-term incentivization, pay-for-performance programs, and just about any other “one-size-fits-all,” extrinsic reward-based approach is out the window. They’re simply not effective. Even if these initiatives appear to show short-term success, they are ineffective at bringing about lasting, motivated behaviors in your workforce. Uncovering what does foster this sort of genuine engagement begins with two separate drivers: organizational and managerial.

Organizational Drivers

Organizational drivers include having a clear, compelling direction that empowers employees, maintaining focus on career growth and development, and recognizing and rewarding high performance.

Managerial Drivers

Managerial drivers include fostering positive relationships between employees and their managers, entrusting teams and individuals with the authority to accomplish their jobs, and granting enough freedom to employees to make meaningful decisions.1


Knowing what drives your employees is necessary, because each employee is unique and will respond to different motivators. It’s also important to have a wide range of incentives and motivators for your employees to drive engagement.


The Three Types of Employee Engagement

What is Employee Engagement? Employee engagement is complex, and very difficult to fully grasp even after years of growing an organization. Many companies unwittingly put on “engagement blinders,” and focus intently on one aspect of the employee experience to the exclusion of all others, investing plenty of time and resources only to see frustrating or inconclusive results. This is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with two-thirds of the pieces missing; no matter the effort put in, you’ll need to recover what’s lost in order to move forward.


No Type of Engagement Can Be Safely Ignored Without Risking Disengaged Employees.


Our research uncovered three distinct types of employee engagement, which impact the overall employee experience. These are:

Job Engagement:
  • Fostered by providing employees with the challenging tasks that they are best suited to solve. When done well, and especially when expectations are surpassed, these employees should be recognized in a visible way.
  • Creates a passion for work, and this passion is intrinsically tied to engagement.
  • Questions that help determine job engagement:
    • Are you challenged by your work?
    • Do you feel the impact of your contributions?
    • Are these contributions recognized?
Relationship Engagement:
  • Translates to a supportive and collaborative enviroment.
  • This is found when employees can honestly say, "I like the people I work with"—not with regard to personal interests, but a sense of working together towared a common goal and playing fro the same team.
  • Questions that help determine peer relationship engagement:
    • Do you have a good fit with your coworkers and peers?
    • Is open and honest feedback with your supervisor/leader welcomed?
    • Do you feel supported in your work?
    • Are top executives approachable?
Cultural Engagement:
  • Stems from a strong corporate culture that echoes throughout every aspect of your organization.
  • Every employee should understand how and why their individual actions relate to what your company does as a whole.
  • Questions that help determine cultural engagement:
    • Do you have believe in your organizational culture?
    • Are you emotionally invested in doing your job well?
    • Do your values align with the strategic goals or your company?

All too often, the phrase “employee engagement” is misunderstood to mean only job engagement. In reality, job engagement is neither more nor less important than the other types, but one piece of a crucial whole. Furthermore, any one type of engagement may activate the instinct for self-motivation and self-direction in certain employees, while others crave different motivational factors. No one type can be ignored without risking disengaged employees.

Renowned behavioral researcher Edward Deci puts it, “motivation is something that gets done to people rather than something that people do.” Factoring in every aspect of the employee experience—and giving each one equal attention in your workplace—is the only way to bring about the purposeful self-direction that drives engagement.


Strategies for Employee Engagement: Measure and Act


"You can't fix something that you can't measure, and you can't measure something that you can't define."

-Cecile Alper-Leroux, VP of HCM Innovation at Ultimate Software

By now we’ve established that engagement is often poorly understood. Another challenge to overcome is that this poor understanding often leads to similarly problematic measurement as well. If your methods for measuring engagement are inadequate or incomplete, your resulting actions may have only a mild effect, no effect, or even a negative impact on your workforce.

Cecile Alper-Leroux, vice president of human capital management innovation at Ultimate Software, notes that, “you can’t fix something that you can’t measure, and you can’t measure something that you can’t define.” A holistic understanding of engagement is absolutely critical when it comes to delivering actionable intelligence through any measurement method. At the same time, companies aiming for a maximally engaged workforce need to employ as many methods of measurement as possible.


Surveys are the most common approach to measuring engagement, and for good reason. Research shows that regular surveys of a full workforce are a significant driver of employee engagement. In many ways, a tailored survey is the best way to identify the aspects of engagement that are most important to your unique workforce, especially when results can be compared to additional surveys over time.

Questions should be frank, direct, and transparent—even if that means the answers can be hard to digest. Remember to encourage employees to be completely honest and emphasize the value of their responses to making your company a better place to work.

Some employers shy away from including open-ended survey questions, or they simply don’t know where to start when it comes to making sense of the free-form feedback received. Fortunately, best-in-class human capital management (HCM) solutions can help with advanced sentiment analysis tools that give managers an edge in interpreting open-ended employee survey responses. Harnessing natural language processing technology, these tools go beyond the surface to help you gauge how your employees are truly feeling, identify key recurring themes in the language they use, and estimate their engagement levels.

It’s also important to keep in mind that surveys are one tool in your arsenal and are just a first step in the process of measuring the employee experience. A survey’s real value comes from the actions you take in response to its findings. Don’t ask employees how they feel without being prepared to act.


Another way to measure engagement harnesses recent advances in predictive analytics technology to draw from more data factors than a human manager ever could. By using an algorithm that incorporates a wide variety of sources from salary and tenure to hierarchical position and career development milestones, among many others, these impressive tools can deliver managers and executives an “engagement score” for each employee, and leverage this information to identify their specific motivating factors.

Initial Engagement Index

Today's best-in-class people management solutions can even realize this data in the form of a comprehensive engagement index, comparing an individual employee to others in his or her department and the workforce at large. Exciting advances of this nature make it more possible than ever to employ the holistic view of engagement we’ve described.


Focus on the Employee Experience

Remember: fostering engagement at your company is a continuous effort. It’s not a one-time project that you can pour money into to achieve a desired outcome—it is the outcome. It’s an ongoing, iterative evaluation of your overall employee experience and it depends most of all on looking ahead toward tomorrow.

Research from Bersin by Deloitte proves beyond any doubt that this challenge is here to stay. 87% of today’s businesses express serious worries about engagement, and 66% of respondents are looking to revamp their entire strategy to measure and improve engagement at their organizations.2 While it’s not an easy task, this kind of full-scale remodel of the employee experience may be the most rewarding endeavor your business can undertake. Engaged employees aren’t just happier: they’re more productive, more likely to stay with you for the long haul, and far more likely to share their positive experiences, opening the door to recruiting more top performers in the future.

Through the use of sentiment analysis, you can hone in on your employees’ true feelings within the workplace and discover what will work best for each of them. Truly listening and responding to what your employees are saying will help you increase employee engagement. Embrace solutions that put your employees at the center of every step of the work life cycle. Consider how every aspect of engagement described above applies to your workforce, and give your managers the tools they need to unlock the potential in their employees. If you dedicate the necessary resources to create the sense of purpose and autonomy that employees crave in their work, lasting engagement will be the result.