Is Employee Engagement the Right Thing?

Paul Hebert Employee Communications, Employee Relations, Engagement and Satisfaction, Paul Hebert

Noahwebster The cartoon at the right ran in the paper recently.  

‘Cuz I’m weird the first thing that went through my mind was – “wow – if that really is the definition of engage then maybe we need to revisit this whole ‘employee engagement’ thing.”  Maybe we should be looking for a new “catch phrase.”  

Not being one to take a cartoon at face value I checked it out.  Wadda ya know…Here are some definitions from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (highlights mine):

Engage:  transitive verb

  1. to offer (as one's word) as security for a debt or cause
  2. a: obsolete : to entangle or entrap in or as if in a snare or bog b: to attract and hold by influence or power c: to interlock with : mesh; also : to cause (mechanical parts) to mesh
  3. to bind (as oneself) to do something; especially : to bind by a pledge to marry
  4. a: to provide occupation for : involve b: to arrange to obtain the use or services of : hire
  5. a: to hold the attention of : engross <her work engages her completely> b: to induce to participate
  6. a: to enter into contest or battle with b: to bring together or interlock (weapons)
  7. to deal with especially at length

intransitive verb

  1. a: to pledge oneself : promise b: guarantee
  2. a: to begin and carry on an enterprise or activity <engaged in trade for a number of years> b: to take part : participate c: to give attention to something : deal
  3. to enter into conflict or battle
  4. to come together and interlock (as of machinery parts) : be or become in gear

Let’s look at the word engagement in case there is some changes in the way it’s interpreted when it moves from a verb to an noun:

Engagement: noun

  1. a: an arrangement to meet or be present at a specified time and place b: a job or period of employment especially as a performer
  2. something that engages : pledge
  3. a: the act of engaging : the state of being engaged b: emotional involvement or commitment c: betrothal
  4. the state of being in gear
  5. a hostile encounter between military forces

Is it just me or do those definitions paint an entirely different picture of what we really want when we talk of engagement?  The cartoon was pretty much on target – engage, and its big brother/sister engagement – has some pretty heavy baggage associated with it.  

Don’t get me wrong – I do think in normal usage it is much less inflammatory but it does may you think.  Don’t we want our interactions with employees to be positive and uplifting – not “binding” or “ in conflict.”  

What about Employee Participation?

Thinking through all the possible words we could substitute for engagement I came up with:  Participate.

We want participation – we want participants – we want involvement.  Look at these definitions:

Participate: intransitive verb

  1. to possess some of the attributes of a person, thing, or quality
  2. a: to take part b: to have a part or share in something

Participation: noun

  1. the act of participating
  2. the state of being related to a larger whole

Doesn't that sound a bit more like what we want?  

We want people to be a part of and share the culture and to be part of a related larger whole.  To me – I like the idea of participating in a company rather than being “engaged” by the company or with the company.  My post the other day on Fistful talked about the employee's responsibility – does the word participation communicate that better?

Kicking it up a notch – should we call it "Company Participation" – that way we also communicate it's not a one-sided, employee thing but that every one is involved.

What do you think- Engage or Participate?

Please participate in the comments – I’m not up for a big engagement.