There Are Only 6 Ways To Engage Employees

We think there are millions of ways to engage, or disengage, employees but there aren’t.  Truly, there are only six.  The six basic emotions we feel as humans, which are:

1. Anger

2. Disgust

3. Fear

4. Happiness

5. Sadness

6. Surprise.

Knowing there are only six doesn’t necessarily make it any easy for us to figure out how to raise engagement, but at least it will help you giving you a concrete starting point.

Let me help get you started.  Of the six, only one really help you engage in a positive way: Happiness. The other five can all be very disengaging factors: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Surprise.

So, you want to raise engagement?  Well, that seems easy, happy employees will equal engaged employees.  But, you’ll have your haters which will say, “Tim! Just because I’m happy doesn’t make me ‘Engaged’!” Yes, you’re right.  But, have you ever tried to engage an employee who was angry, disgusted, fearful, sad or unexpectedly surprised?  It’s tough.  If I need to increase engagement, I would prefer to start with happy employees.  Makes my job easier.

In the short term you could ‘engage’ employees by the negative emotions as well, but that never plays out well long term.  I can make employees fearful for their jobs, their livelihood and they will perform better, for a little while and seem very engaged. Until they find another job.  All the negative emotions can be played out like this.

So, I’m left with Happiness.  It’s not a bad emotion to be stuck with if you can only have one that helps you.  I like happy people, even on Monday mornings.  It’s better than assholes for sure!

We focus our engagement on so many things that have little impact to the emotion of happiness. We spend millions of dollars a year on leadership development, because better leaders raise engagement, we’re told.  We spend millions of dollars on building better environments because $800 office chairs raise engagement.   We spend millions of dollars on increasing wages and benefits, because more raises engagement.  But none of these really raise happiness.

“But, Tim! You’ve told us before you can’t ‘make’ someone happy.”

Ah, now we’ve come to something important.  If you can’t ‘make’ someone happy, how can we positively raise the engagement of our employees?!?

You can’t.  It’s a dirty little secret the engagement industry doesn’t want you to know (oh boy, can’t wait for Big Papi Paul to kill me in the comments on this one!).

You can raise engagement of your organization, though.  Hire happy people.  Happy people aren’t just happy some of the time, they’re predisposed, for the most part, to be happy.  Hiring happy people consistently over time will raise your engagement.  Do you have a pre-employment assessment for happiness?  Probably not. HR people hate happy people.


8 thoughts on “There Are Only 6 Ways To Engage Employees

  1. I have to agree with Paul! so often we hire qualified, positive, brilliant people and then after 1 year we wonder “what happened to the person I interviewed?” The answer is not that we didnt find a person that was “happy enough” its because poor leadership managed it right out of them. Yes, we hire for positive people but you have to develop leaders who allow that to cultivate and thrive!

  2. As usual, whether I agree or disagree, you make me think about relevant concepts and question my predispositions – often with good outcomes.

    That being said – I believe you can help drive up engagement. The trick for me is to know when I need them to be engaged and when I am ok if they are just being productive (and which roles require engagement at all times).

  3. So go ahead and shoot me for riding the fence on this one. We absolutely hire for positive attitude. When it comes down to hiring a highly qualified person with a negative outlook demonstrated in the interview, I will hold out for someone with equal or even a slightly lower skill set that is positive and driven to achieve.

    But I also believe in our leadership development program, strong onboarding program, annual manager goal/bonus program, employee action committees to follow up on critical areas identified in our annual employee survey, and consistent training of managers on the power of ongoing feedback/communication as some of our drivers of engagement for our staff once they are on board.

  4. Unfortunately, there’s also zero evidence that employee engagement drives actual business results. Businesses should hire people that have the competencies/skills etc that have been shown to drive business results for that particular organization.

  5. Tim, this is brillant. Did anyone told you that you had the capacity to simplify complicated subjects? I’ve researched engagement for a while and discovered the self-determination theory and now I read this and both of them together are the solutions to engagement. Happiness is the goal and Self-determination theory is the how. Thank you!

  6. Not even going to bother.

    This flies in the face of so much validated research it isn’t worth it. Management by anecdote is what most managers do anyway. I say go for it! I just hope I compete against those that do. That is one battle I will win – in the marketplace.

    Go ahead – hire happy people – then turn their souls black with poor management, unrealistic expectations, negative reinforcement, lack of communication and transparency and good ol’ fashioned command and control. That should be no problem because…wait for it… they were happy when we hired them.

  7. Great article.

    I would note that “surprise” does not have to be negative. It can be a positive (think about surprising your wife with a diamond ring…unless your name is Kobe, in which case she may wonder what you’ve been up to.)

    Pleasant surprises can lead to happiness. Game theory has shown that unexpected, ad hoc rewards can actually be very enticing to people.

    The trouble is figuring out when, how and what to base the surprises on in order to gain the strategic result you’re seeking.

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