Inside Out E-Column: Aligning Employee Engagement with Marketing Communications

Helping the heart grow fonder

Many years ago, someone dissuaded me from the time-worn notion that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  Instead, the person implored, “Absence is to the heart what wind is to fire. A little bit will fan the flame even brighter.  Too much will put it out.”

Following that wisdom, I occasionally like to revisit my definition for employee engagement which is really about the heart. It’s an emotional connection that gets employees tuned in, turned on and eager to go the extra mile.  That’s actually a simplified variation of the definition that The Conference Board coined in 2006, which included the now omnipresent term, “discretionary effort.”

Recently, a number of pundits have been challenging that definition along with others that have emerged over time.  They’re calling for a more relevant meaning that everyone can align around – and ironically offering yet another definition to the burgeoning engagement lexicon.

Not surprisingly, we’re also seeing an increasing array of methods that supposedly are the “real” keys to getting employees to go that extra mile.  Many times when I ask people what kind of engagement efforts they’re using, I get a litany of rewards and recognition activities focusing on perks, parties and novel employee benefits. Nothing wrong with that, but it misses the point about the necessity for systemic, day-to-day systems and processes that get to proven extra effort drivers for most employees.

Setting aside the debate about how to define engagement and all the tools and techniques for creating it, here’s an elemental truth about human beings in the workplace.  Extra effort makes a difference, and people simply won’t go the proverbial “extra mile” unless they feel some kind of “emotional connection.”  End of story. It’s about the heart. They’ll show up to work – most of them will most of the time.  They’ll do what’s expected of them – most of them will most of the time.  And they’ll pick up their check at the end of the pay period – all of them will all of the time.

But going the extra mile? More money can get you some of it – but there’s a limit to how far it will go and how long it will work. If you really want to blast off with your team, you need to tap into the deep inner core of imagination and free will of people in the workplace. Those innate traits differentiate human beings most significantly from all other living creatures on the planet – and they are the forces that propel people to towering heights of achievement. I delve into that idea extensively in my book, Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement.

In an article published in the June issue of PRSA Tactics, I talk about some of the keys to making the emotional connection that generates extra effort – along with a bit of interesting history behind the “engagement movement” going back to the early 1980s.

I invite you to take a short trip down engagement lane … and let me know if your heart grows a bit fonder for the power and potential of people in the workplace.

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