Defining Employee Engagement #SHRM19

The term ‘employee engagement’ is used widely, but very rarely do two companies have the same definition of it. At SHRM, if you were to ask the person next to you to define it, I bet their version will be different from yours.

In the past, leaders approached engagement as if it was just a concrete number, measuring its changes and nodding their heads if it went up a few points. But what good is that if other related measures like retention, and employee tenure are performing poorly? Or more objectively, if people just hated being at work?

By just trying to view engagement as a number or metric, it actually limits your approach. This is why certain initiatives fall flat or stave off after a few months. Leaders are so focused on short-term wins, but the long-term payoff from creating a highly effective, sustainably engaged workforce becomes out of reach.

After years in the culture space and reflecting on research from positive psychology and the science of happiness, this is how I’ve come to define employee engagement.

Employee engagement is the lifecycle employees experience physically, emotionally, psychologically and behaviorally with their organization. Highly engaged employees feel safe and supported in these different states and as a result, behave in ways that are more productive for the organization. Which is why at DH, we focus on employee happiness since engagement is the intersection where the elements of happiness are aligned, and embedded in the everyday work culture.

I like this definition for two reasons: 1. it supports a scientific approach to happiness and engagement (the WHAT) and 2. it’s relational; owned by the individual but affects and is affected by others e.g. the team, customers, community (the WHO).

Pictured from left to right: the “WHAT”  and the “WHO” parts of the DH model


As for the scientific approach (the WHAT), happiness isn’t about rainbows and unicorns. Through applied research in organizational culture, we’ve seen how pain points like productivity, burnout, and retention can improve by creating more happiness at work. Which is when higher engagement more naturally follows.

Going back to the relational aspect of happiness (the WHO), it’s really unique in that happiness is one of the few things that can grow by sharing it with others (as opposed to time or energy). Your happiness grows as it is shared with people you are close to (e.g. your team), then from those people your happiness can extend into the community (e.g. customers, partners).

We’ve seen how teams that adopt sustainable happiness -- with a sense of self, purpose and values -- produce amazing results and inspire other teams to “have what they’re having”.

In other words, happiness is contagious after all. To discover more about HOW to integrate the elements of happiness into creating a happier, more productive, and more engaged workplace, you can join me at SHRM’s Change-Makers series at 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 23 at the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas.



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: