Engagement requires happiness

I reported on a Silk Road survey on employee engagement this past week, which showed a stark reality: employees are disengaged at work, and companies aren’t doing much about it (see New survey on employee engagement finds Millennials least engaged).

[from the Silk Road web site]

A full 86 percent of employers are feeling the negative effects of disengagement, including: unmotivated employees (66 percent); low morale (67 percent); employees who feel unappreciated (64 percent); and the inability to retain employees (48 percent).  SilkRoad surveyed 781 HR professionals in February of 2013 to reveal what happens behind the scenes in their companies as it relates to employee engagement. (see report).


  • Formal employee engagement programs are the exception, not the rule: A majority (54 percent) of companies do not have formal employee engagement programs in place, as compared to 38 percent that do.  However, 73 percent reported participating in engagement programs on some level.
  • Measurement is a weakness of employee engagement programs: A majority of employers  (59 percent) only measure employee engagement once per year.  Few companies employ mid-year “pulse” surveys (17 percent) and use social media (16 percent) to measure workforce engagement on an ongoing basis.

The numbers should be shocking, but they line up with my perceptions about the state of work today. And note that nowhere in the discussion does the idea of happiness come up.

A second post last week I talked about happiness (see The pragmatics of happiness at work: It’s just good business). It should be obvious that happier employees — meaning both happier about the work and about everything else — will be more productive and more engaged. But there is a strange disconnect in the business world: it’s fine to measure ‘engagement’ — although few do so systematically — but companies seldom measure happiness. And they may put an HR-led engagement program in place, but they are much less likely to create a ‘happiness’ program.

What would be involved in such a program? Here’s a few key ideas from what we know about happiness:

  1. Reduce stress in the workplace, especially the kind that causes people to worry about the security of their jobs, such as threats about being fired if certain work isn’t accomplished on time, for example. Bullying in general raises stress, as do activities that induce fear. Company leaders should work hard to reduce these factors.
  2. Increase the number of connections that people have in the workplace. Some companies are instituting programs to have employees casually meet others one-on-one, with the goal of making new contacts, and perhaps some serendipitous idea creation as well. A lot of research shows that people are happier at work when they have friends and trusted colleagues in the office.
  3. It’s been shown that simply having team members share their progress toward goals — like posting tasks that have been accomplished on a work media solution like Yammer, Podio, or Jive — will significantly increase happiness, even of those merely observing.

There are a broad spectrum of solutions available. Employee recognition programs can be iffy, if there are ways to game the programs. That can lead to higher dissatisfaction.

I recently reviewed Tell Your Boss Anything, which is an anonymous way for employees to provide negative feedback to their management. Just as I think that there may be a business model in employees (and freelancers) hiring agents to represent them in compensation and employment negotiations, there is a place for trusted anonymous brokers in the workplace that make it possible for employees to point out practices that make them stressed, fearful, angry, or disengaged. And I hope businesses will listen.

The fundamental dynamic of social business is listening, and a company that can’t do that will not be able to accomplish anything else, no matter how much social technology they acquire.