The real test of employee engagement

May 02 2011 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

We hear all the time about employee engagement and how it's measured. Terms like "discretionary mindshare", "active engagement" and others get bandied about like they actually mean something. Finally, though, I've found a simple metric that reveals what employers and employees alike need to know.

In their new book, WE - How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement, authors Kevin Kruse and Rudy Karsan offer a simple litmus test for how engaged people are in their work and with their employers.

The question is simple: when you speak about the company you work for, do you use "we" or "they"?

Listen to the responses (including your own). If someone says "they make software for the widget liquidation market" it's a very different relationship to work than if they were to say, "we make software for the widget liquidation market".

If, like me, you're a hopeless semantic you'll immediately understand the difference:

  • "They" do things to you like cut your budget. "We" work within constraints.
  • "They" create policies that tie your hands and make you powerless to help your customers. "We" sometimes struggle to do our best but we're trying and you're not likely to throw the company under the bus in discussions
  • "They" are easy to distance yourself from emotionally. It's just a transaction. If you're using "we", you have an emotional and psychological investment in the relationship. You're less likely to bolt at the first excuse or better offer.

The other thing I like about this test is that it takes a general snapshot of your attitude. Let's face it, all our engagement shifts from day to day. Are you one of the supposed one-third of employees who are "actively engaged" all day, every day? We'd all like to think we are. Of course some days we're lucky to not grab someone by the lapels and shake the stupid out of them. People who say "we" are less likely to act on that impulse.

Also, if you fall on the "we" side of that equation, you're more likely to be turned around by well-meaning engagement efforts than if you're squarely on the "they" side. People who think of themselves as part of the organization are generally more easily enthused, excited and will give more than the contractual obligation.

Understand that there are many parts of the "we". People are engaged with their team, their manager, the people they see and talk to every day, and the bigger organization as a whole.

Each of those relationships need to be nurtured and maintained Ė because by the time someone thinks of everyone associate with the workplace as "they", there's precious little you can do.

I like to think of Management-Issues as "we", and I think that shows in how hard all the contributors work, and the way the site reflects our collective values. Not every business site has that energy, that's why I've been associated with MI for over five years. Of course, sometimes "they" make me crazy, but overall this is a "we" relationship. Whether we're always 100% on our game or not, you readers can tell we're doing the best we can, and we care.

So pull out the mental calipers and slice the engagement data any way you like. I like to think that the simple "we"/"they" test will tell me whether things are good or not.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.