“But you can’t please all the people all the time”  

I’m currently reading Jon Ronson‘s most recent book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. My title from today’s post made me think of Chapter Two and his description of everything that went down with an author who’d made up some song lyrics.

I’m going to come clean. The lyric above is not from Mr. Marley - I changed 'fool’ to ‘please’. There, I said it … Phew, weight loaded.

What am I going on about I hear you toot? I don’t write for weeks, and then all of a sudden I start talking about plagiarism. What’s up with that?

Let me elaborate dear reader.

I attended Day One of The Conference Board’s Digital Workplace Seminar event yesterday. It was a good time, and I enjoyed speaking about data and change (slides can be found here).

The topic of Employee Engagement came up a number of times, and was mentioned very early. As my one regular reader knows this is a favorite topic of mine.

As you may know, ‘engagement’ levels are lower than leadership within organizations would like. When measured, on average, you can expect about 30-40% of your organization to be ‘engaged’. This big annual reveal seemingly sends ‘leaders’ into paroxysm’s of angsty hand-wringing. What to do, what to do?

The question I asked yesterday as we began to go through this again was simply Why? Why are we so upset that only 30-40% of our colleagues are ‘engaged’? If you think about work as a rational service-based contract between employer and employee, unless ‘turning up engaged’ is something you’re compensating me for (and have previously clearly articulated as something you are expecting from me), why are you then beating yourself up that more people are not doing the seemingly irrational thing of turning up ‘engaged’?

Another way to look at this is to congratulate yourself that you’ve got a 60-70% rational workforce all of whom are (hopefully somewhat) focused on doing what you paid them to do.

I don’t think we really care about ‘engagement’ at all. I think this has become a proxy catch-all term that poorly captures some of the things we expect to be useful in the workplace but haven’t developed a sophisticated enough way of thinking about, measuring, or operationalizing at scale (I say this without having done any real research. Feel free to correct me on this as I expect there are some amazing organizations doing awesomesauce stuff on this, and I’d love to learn more).

So, my advice? If we are going to continue to measure this stuff – and we will – can we stop starting at 100 and working our way down? Can we stop beating ourselves up for every missed percentage point of the employee base that’s not ‘engaged’? Why don’t we start from 0 and thoroughly enjoy those wonderful colleagues who are doing the irrational and turning up ‘engaged’.

Thanks for listening,


PS. As I write this, I wonder if I’m going to hear more about this topic next week as I learn about ‘[The Happiness Industry]’(http://www.versobooks.com/events/1118-the-happiness-industry-book-discussion-with-will-davies-greg-lindsay-and-melissa-aronczyk)


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