Employee Engagement is not Enough


Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference in Milan, Italy, organized by Lundquist, a strategic communications consultancy, specializing in online corporate communications and the interface with CSR. The conference was themed "New Frontiers of online corporate communications" with a focus on social media and employer branding. The conference was well attended by CSR and communications professionals, the creme de la creme of the communications world in Italy. The event was a stimulating gathering and many perspectives were shared and discussed. Othjer speakers included Andrew Thomas, publisher of Communicate Magazine, Caterina Rucci, Head of Employment at Bird And Bird Law Firm, Eric Sundstrom, editor in chief of Dagens Arena, a Swedish daily news service, as well as Joakim Lundquist, the mastermind behind the event, and James Osborne, Sara Rusconi and Cristiano Poian of the Lundquist team.

My piece was about, yes, you guessed it, CSR for HR, and I introduced the thought that, when it comes to CSR,

Employee Engagement is Not Enough! 

I thing we are in danger of diluting the "employee engagement" concept to one which is more passive than active. I am not sure who holds the definitive definition of employee engagement these days but generally it tends to refer to "a measurable degree of an employee's positive or negative emotional attachment to their job" on the assumption that emotional attachment will create the desired behaviors.

Kevin Kruse, who wrote a book on the subject offers his definition in a Forbes article:

"Definition: Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.

This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals. When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort. This means the engaged computer programmer works overtime when needed, without being asked. This means the engaged retail clerk picks up the trash on the store floor, even if the boss isn’t watching. This means the TSA agent will pull a bag suspicious bag to be searched, even if it’s the last bag on their shift."

This is good because, in Kevin's definition, engagement leads to action.This is right. Employee engagement in CSR should be more than an emotional commitment, it needs to be proactive action. But I think that the more we talk about engagement, the more we may be focusing on emotional onboarding and less on practical action. We should stop measuring "engagement" and start measuring behaviours. If engagement is the driver, action is the output, and business improvement, employee empowerment and social and environmental benefits are the outcomes. More than understanding that employees are engaged, I would like to know how they act, and how they turn their engagement into real deliverables. Therefore, at the Lundquist conference in Milan, I talked about: 

Employee Activation

Does the CSR-HR Partnership drive employees to action in support of a CSR-oriented business program? Are CSR and HR Managers putting in place the tools that invite, encourage and compel employees to ACT, rather than be emotionally engaged at some sort of philosophical level? Are measures in the business the responses to a survey where we ask employees about their views, or do we ask them about what they actually did to advance CSR? Are rewards processes in place to recognize action rather than engagement?

I think its time for HR to wake up to CSR and for the CSR-HR partnership to work together to drive Employee Activation, and not just employee engagement. Semantics? Maybe. But our choice of words may just influence the way we behave.

And while we are on the subject, you may be interested in two upcoming events on CSR for HR:

A new webinar training series for CSR and HR Managers about "Making the CSR-HR Partnership work." In this initial 2-session series on March 13 and March 20, we will cover:

  • The business case for advancing Sustainable Human Resources Management in your business, large or small.
  • The key issues that form the CSR/HR agenda and ways of addressing these in different organizations.
  • The employee engagement (activation!) aspects of CSR – what works, what doesn’t work and how to leverage engagement through CSR.
  • The measurable business benefits of a CSR-HR approach –quantifying the financial benefit to the organization through implementing CSR-HR tools.
  • The CSR for HR Roadmap and Scorecard - what you can (and should) do next, and in what order.

Check this link if you are interested in participating.

And if you are planning to be in the Barcelona area in June, you might want to register for this event on 11th June in Barcelona themed: "Boosting Employee Engagement in the Digital Era". I will be chairing this conference which will also include a case study from a great former colleague, Geoff McDonald, Global VP HR Marketing, Communications & Sustainability, Water at Unilever, on the role of HR in embedding sustainability in organizations.

\"Boosting Employee Engagement in the Digital Era\".

Check this link if you would like to see the full programme.

As you can see, my mission is about Activating the CSR-HR Partnership. Hopefully, more CSR and HR Managers will engage in activation too!


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