Engagement has run its course

by 26 Nov 2008

ENGAGEMENT OF staff should not be a dominant HR strategy because it is too employer-centric, according to Roger Collins, Professor Emeritus, UNSW.

Speaking at a recent HR breakfast,Collins said that “engagement” only benefits the company and doesn’t build a sustainable relationship between the company and employee.

“I think engagement has run its course,” said Collins. “It is too employer-centric and that’s not going to build the resilience that we need in our people over the next few years.”

Instead, companies should aim to focus on wellbeing as their key strategy. Because engagement is only a subset of wellbeing, said Collins,wellbeing presents a qualitatively different experience beyond engagement.

Collins said that engagement encourages employees to be advocates of their organisation, but while being an ambassador for their organisation will benefit the company, at the end of the day it will not benefit the employee, thus creating no lasting commitment.

“When you’re acting as an ambassador for your company and telling people where you are proud to work,you’re only convincing yourself to stick around,” said Collins.

However the concept of wellbeing focuses on the experiences of employees within the workplace. Only through building positive experiences can employees build resilience.

“Wellbeing is a mental state and the outcome of frequent positive experiences – and that builds wellbeing and resilience,” said Collins. “People need to be resilient and be able to say ‘No matter what happens to me I know I will come through it.’”

Positive experiences build a reservoir in the same way as a bank account,he said. In the difficult times you draw on these to cope with difficult situations. These positive experiences include things such as fun, pleasure,and good work conditions.

The concept that engagement has run its course was part of Collins’s presentation “Hard truths, dangerous half-truths and total nonsense” at the breakfast organised by Directioneering. He said that this concept is evidence-based and that HR practitioners should embrace and apply it “to make a real difference” in their organisation over the next 12 months.

Collins also questioned whether much of HR practice is evidence-based and questioned – if it was not – how to close the gap. He used the example of downsizing as a strategy that is often used, yet,evidence suggests, seldom successful.

“Most of the evidence of downsizing suggests that cost is greater than the benefits. There is a whole body of evidence to support this,” he said.

“For example, after 9/11 every American airline downsized with one exception – Southwest airlines. They’re the only one who has been profitable every year since.”

Collins said that the evidence from positive psychology, regarding building wellbeing and, thus, resilience,advocates that employers should: emphasise workers’ strengths, express gratitude, be genuine, care and connect and communicate properly.


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