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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

What Is Employee Engagement, Anyway?

It sounds like a simple question, doesn't it? What is employee engagement? But during a conversation with the guest of this particular episode, before we recorded the show, this question floored me. I wasn't expecting it. We were due to catch-up and chat through what we were both up to and what we were seeing in our worlds of helping clients sort out their employee engagement and workplace culture challenges. I didn't expect him to ask me what it was we were doing! I really had to think for a minute. It's not that difficult a question for me to answer, normally. It's what I do, after all. It was just the context from whence it came that threw me.

As we went on with our chat and got into the topic more deeply, it struck me that many people may be just wafting past this question and what lies behind it, and ultimately end up getting to the wrong measures, conclusions and actions, because they were looking at trying to affect the wrong things. So I got Rob Robson from the People Experience Hub to come onto Sticky From The Inside Podcast and the two of us had a good go at answering that seemingly very simple question.

Below is a transcript of the conversation, but you can listen to the episode here.

Two men with glasses discussing employee engagement
Rob Robson (left) and Andy Goram (right) try to answer the question, "What is Employee Engagement, anyway?"

00:00:00 Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside. The Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition, smashing consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn their lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them and create tons more success for everyone.

This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.

So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

00:01:10 Andy Goram

OK then I would like to think that this podcast is helping people get their heads around the challenges of authentically building better workplace cultures, where hordes of engaged employees thrive and lead more fulfilling work lives, and are led by genuine, caring and inspirational human leaders. And I hope the things we cover in each episode really do help in that sense.

And then throughout the process of bringing this podcast to the world, I get to meet some really interesting people, with great stories and insights into that world of engagement and culture at work.

Now I've learned loads from my guests and hopefully, I've added to their viewpoints too, by adding my own experiences and perspectives along the way. And whilst we might have some differences, there's nearly always a meeting of minds.

Now I say nearly always because today's guest totally disarmed me recently with a seemingly simple question, which I would normally bat back with an equally simple response. But he said, “Well, what is employee engagement anyway Andy?” And as we got talking and he followed it up with other questions, I thought, “We really just need to talk about this on the podcast.” So here we are today.

So today I'm joined by Rob Robson, who's the People Science Director for the People Experience Hub, and these guys are looking at engagement, engagement data and insight, and action planning through a slightly different lens to the norm, which we can find out more about today. He's a well-known voice in the people engagement community and has spoken on the topic numerous times. And he's with me today, to give me his perspective on that seemingly simple question to see where we agree, where there might be some differences, what the science says and hopefully point to a more effective way going forward.

Welcome to the show, Rob!

00:03:01 Rob Robson

Hello, Andy. Thanks for having me.

00:03:02 Andy Goram

Hey, great to have you here, my friend. We do love a bit of science on this show and we love a bit of engagement, and so you combine the two, beautifully. So I'm looking forward to our chat today.

00:03:14 Rob Robson

I hope so.

00:03:17 Andy Goram

Well, we could put the one question we had previously where you asked that question about, “What is engagement, anyway, Andy?”, kind of like totally flummoxed me for a little bit, so I I'm sure we'll get into that. And we've met briefly before, but my guests really don't have too much of a clue. So, could you perhaps just give us a little bit of insight into you, what you're up to, and what's currently, kind of making the grey cells turn over at the moment?

00:03:40 Rob Robson

Yeah, so as you said, I’m the People Science Director and COO for the People Experience Hub and we’re an employee survey, employee feedback platform. And our kind of Purpose really is to transform the experience of people at work through, you know, through better data, through better insights. And you know, so that's where obviously we come into contact with ideas like engagement and that sort of stuff. But we're also trying to solve a lot of problems that we, when I say we, my business partner Nick and I are both experienced in the, you know, in our roles in HR. Which was that, you know, that's the what tech companies selling you know selling a solution which can allow you to do a survey but don't give you much in the way of kind of help to drive the value from it. Or there’s people who are from a marketing background, saying, “We can measure customer experience so surely we can measure employee experience.” and there's a lot of companies out there that have a very fixed view of what you should be measuring. And we believe that you should be measuring something that is relevant to your own business context. And that's why we offer a very tailored approach to surveys. And I think that opens up loads of questions about, “So what are we measuring? What is engagement?” all that sort of stuff and you know it's... so it's very interesting.

00:05:16 Andy Goram

I think it’s really interesting. And this is why I say you've got a slightly different lens to it. It's not that we're coming at this from different angles at all really, but I think the point you make about having some rooted context in what the business actually does and wants to achieve, this is one of the big things that I think is lacking in a lot of measurement criteria out there. And certainly, in some of the things that I see. And even related topics. You know you talk about things, like purpose, you know, people getting caught up in the whole holier than thou worthy, worthy, worthy purpose. But the reality is it's got to be set on what the business actually does and what the people actually do in there and connect to, you know, if it's going to have any sort of resonance. So, I think this is going to be a really fascinating conversation.

So, this question that you asked me, right,

What is engagement anyway?”

What were you really trying to get at with that question that absolutely poleaxed me?

00:06:14 Rob Robson

Well, I suppose it's a bit of a loaded question.

00:06:18 Andy Goram

You think!?

00:06:18 Rob Robson

And possibly a rhetorical question, because I don't think we know.

00:06:24 Andy Goram


00:06:26 Rob Robson

And you know, you talk about the science. I think the science of employee engagement is still quite nascent and even though, you know, it has a history now of what? It's 31-32 years since, you know, William Khan published framework of employee engagement, not at that stage “employee engagement”, but on “personal role engagement”. We've come some way, but I think there's an awful long way to go. And as you mentioned in the pre-chat, there are so many different definitions of what engagement is and that raises so many challenges when it comes to things like measurement. And there's no simple answer to it. It's a real toughie. Because we all... one of the things I talked to my business partner, Nick, who comes from a more practical background, I suppose, in HR, you know, whereas I have a bit more of an academic perspective, and he'll say, “Well, we know employee engagement is a thing, right?” And I’ll go, “Yeah.” But we’ll have real trouble, actually deciding what it is.

00:07:42 Andy Goram

Well, look. Let's play a bit of a game. Well, I say game... to your point about many definitions, and my goodness there are many definitions. I've just plucked out a handful of employee engagement definitions, right, and so you can, well, let's have a chat about them and see what we think.

So where do you start when you're looking for the world authority to definitions and accuracy? Wikipedia, clearly! I mean, it's you know the world's greatest reference tool.

00:08:01 Rob Robson


00:08:12 Andy Goram

So, even Wikipedia has got its own definition for employee engagement. So, they say, “Employee Engagement is a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe both qualitatively and quantitatively the nature of the relationship between an organisation and its employees.” Full stop, so that's what Wikipedia says.

00:08:34 Rob Robson


00:08:35 Andy Goram

Interesting. Hold that thought. I'm a volunteer for Engage For Success, right. So, we know about Engage for Success, and the Engage for Success document, written I guess, nearly eleven years ago now, by David McLeod. At the start of that document, they say “Employee engagement is a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organization to give of their best each day. Committed to their organisation’s goals and values. Motivated to contribute to organisational success with an enhanced sense of their own wellbeing.” There's quite a lot in there.

And then I picked out, just because, you know, if you talk about surveys, people are gonna mention Gallup, right? I could have picked Aon Hewitt. I could have picked anybody right, but I've picked Gallup so Gallup are slightly less effusive, in that they say, “The involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.” Done. That's it. That's what they say.

00:09:34 Rob Robson


00:09:35 Andy Goram

And then there's me. So, I thought I would chuck mine in there, to be pulled apart. But when I talk to people, I sort of say, “It's the extent to which your employees feel connected to the business they work in, the people they work with, and are therefore motivated to make discretionary effort to contribute to its success.” That's me.

So, there's four. We could have picked any. But come back to your point about many definitions, which ones right? They're all different. What are we trying to talk about here? What in your perspective is what we're looking to measure?

00:10:08 Rob Robson

That is, you know, one of the big quandaries, that you know, the academic research has struggled with. Is it a state, a psychological state? I'm engaged right now. Is it a trait? I'm generally engaged. Is it a process? Which is a bit more like, what I think the Engage for Success is talking about. Is it a practice? Is it...? And this is one of the challenges that is out there. My view is that it's a psychological state. But it's also, but we should also recognise that there is a practice of engaging, you know. So, what we do is the engaging and what we're aiming for is engagement.

00:10:57 Andy Goram

Which is the output right? Engagement being an output, right?

00:10:58 Rob Robson

Yeah, we see it as an outcome. And I think what was interesting there, is thinking about Wikipedia one. It talked about the relationship with the organisation, I think?

00:11:11 Andy Goram

Yeah. Organisation and its employees, yeah.

00:11:13 Rob Robson

And I think it's... A lot of the stuff out there started really in about engagement with the work. And I think that Gallup recognised that. Now, I’m a little bit anti-Gallup.

00:11:29 Andy Goram

That's OK, that's OK.

00:11:32 Rob Robson

I’m putting my cards on the table because, I just think that the whole process of reducing the whole idea that there are 12 questions that predict an organization’s performance, you know, and the contribution to engagement is a tricky one to kind of justify. It's a very reductionist kind of idea, but I like the definition. And I think there's an honesty to it. Which is, OK, it includes both the relationship with work, and it says workplace. I'd probably prefer "with the employer or the organisation”, but it talks about involvement and enthusiasm, and I think this cuts to the core of one of the challenges I have with engagement. And that is, for me, engagement is a motivational construct. It's about motivation. And if we refer to different types of motivation, potentially, then I think it's a little narrow. And Gallup actually describe what I believe employee engagement as a psychological construct is, which is that involvement and enthusiasm.

00:12:36 Andy Goram


00:12:37 Rob Robson

It's a bit like you might describe, talk about things like, “Flow”, “Intrinsic Motivation”, but it's very much about the here and now. I feel good. I'm enjoying my work. I feel enthusiastic and energetic, all that sort of stuff. And one of the challenges I have, is that's only part of the jigsaw. And we get obsessed about the idea of employee engagement, as being part of the jigsaw... which I see is part of the jigsaw. We're not talking about the jigsaw as a whole. What does it look like? What does a range of positive states look like? At work we get very fixated on the sort of... and when we look at engagement in that sense, it's like, yeah, it's a happy-clappy and you know, kind of stuff, “We’re all on board.” And it's, I think it's challenging.

00:13:33 Andy Goram

Well, the numbers would suggest it is. Because for 20years or so, the global workforce engagement numbers haven't moved a jot.

00:13:44 Rob Robson

Yeah, yeah.

00:13:47 Andy Goram

Why is that?

00:13:50 Rob Robson

I'd be cautious about that, you know, because it usually is people like Gallup, who are saying that, and they take a very pessimistic approach to measuring engagement. You know, unless you score a 5 out of 5, you're not really going to count as being fully engaged. I think it's skewed. I think the data gets skewed. But I do think we haven't achieved an awful lot. And I think that is partly because perhaps we have been too narrowly focused in what we do. And I think... and for me, there's two ways of cutting this. One is to think of... the CIPD, say we should think of employee engagement as a kind of a broad umbrella, broadly akin to your people strategy, under which different constructs could sit. So, things like work engagement could sit underneath that. And so that would say, “What's under the umbrella?” So I guess that's a bit like me saying engagement is a piece of the jigsaw. Well, what's the jigsaw? Or we say let's actually start to define employee engagement in a more holistic way, that recognises other positive... you know, I was going to say psychological contributions, to you know, motivational contributions, but there is also a criticism that the whole concept of employee engagement is too psychological, and not sociological enough.

00:15:24 Andy Goram


00:15:24 Rob Robson

And I'm not an expert in sociology. But say, well, how could we broaden the definition of it? To not just you know... I've asked the question of people before, “Do you really think employee engagement is anything more enthusiasm?” and it's interesting that Gallup used that word. And then 'cause when you look at that, you go OK, so are there other positive emotional ways to be at work? Engagement is so focused on... That definition of engagement is very much about, you know, “I say I'm on board. I'm on board with this.” What about when we feel very strongly committed to the organisation, and its success, but we think it needs to go down a different path? And we challenge, and we care, but actually what we're doing in that situation is expressing similar frustrations or asking difficult questions for the leadership. Is that engagement?

00:16:44 Andy Goram

It would sound like it to me. Because it plays to the involvement with a business more than just turning up and being present. This is why I talk about a connection, right? Because that to me, evokes some form of care with what happens. Not just going along for the ride, which I think is what you're sort of describing here, a bit.

00:17:05 Rob Robson

Yeah, but I'm not sure it would be borne out in what's generally measured.

00:17:11 Andy Goram

I would agree with that. Yeah, yeah.

00:17:14 Rob Robson

And so, I think we need a grown-up debate about what engagement looks like. And actually one of the things that we do, is we don't really try and define engagement as such. You know, we focus on the people experience and we've got a little framework that describes it and it is deliberately quite loose, I suppose, and we describe 3 levels.

One is the Perceived Environment. What I see, or, you know, do I think things work around here? Do I think I’m well-managed? Do I think we communicate well? Do I think the People practices are fair? And all that sort of stuff.

And then we've got the Felt Experience. And that talks more to psychological constructs. And we put our own words around those titles, but things like autonomy, purpose, belonging, growth, enjoyment, which is often missed out, but is at the heart of engagement. And then there's one more, connection, emotional connection. So that's the Felt Experience.

And then the third level is The Outcomes, and that's where we tend to look at engagement. But we tend to look at, you know, a few of the researchers over the years have referred to the cognitive, emotional, and behavioural aspects of engagement. And when you look at some of the descriptions of cognitive engagement, which is really about peoples’ evaluation of their experience, that's possibly what sits in the Felt Experience in level 2. So, we're focused more then on the behavioural or intended behavioural elements of engagement and things like emotional commitment to the organisation. But we're also not that strict about how we define it. Because in the conversation, when we're trying to set up a survey with people and say, “What would you want to measure?” We'll start by saying, “Start with those outcomes,” and say “Well, what's important to you as a business in your context, what are you looking for? What do you want to see?” And in a way what does engagement look like? What would engaged people do?

They might say, “Well, they’d want to stay, they would recommend us to other people.” So great. That may or may not be what would come up in, you know, in an academic kind of, you know, scale around engagement. It certainly comes up in most of the commercial ones. But we might say... but increasingly clients are saying things like, “Well, we want them to be, you know, to be positive about change. And we want them to be, you know, we want to see them challenge us. And we’ll say “That’s great. So let's build those.” And quite often we'd have an engagement of index there, which isn't necessarily 100% true engagement, and in all honestly, they didn't necessarily always hang together as a set of questions. So what we often do, when we’re doing that kind of assessing drivers, is we’ll assess them individually. We’ll look at what's driving the results of this question and that question. Because you’ll get all different outcomes in some cases. But we also will say, “Well, what about things like wellbeing, burnout, et cetera?” So we don't always focus on engagement, but most of our clients tend to want to see something around engagement.

00:21:04 Andy Goram

I think it's typical now, when you look at some surveys. They sort of fall into either two or three camps really. Yes, there's the Gallup 12. Rationalised, boiled down to 12 questions. Short, sharp. Which, again, context for some businesses, that might be fine, right? At the other end of the scale, there's the all-encompassing Oracle survey of just tell me everything I could possibly want to know. And which is fine in some context. But what the worry for me on the survey stuff is, a survey done like that makes it even harder to go back and talk about what's been said, and actually put actions in place, and explain why things are going to change and why things aren't going to change. Which to me are fundamental principles of having any kind of survey that is seen as worthy by the employee.

Because if you're taking the time to bare your soul and fill out the questionnaire, at the very least, you should expect is an answer back, right? And I think this is where a lot of the survey work, that I see, falls over. Is that they tick the box of asking lots of questions. They pick out the answers that they want to answer. And think about doing some actions and maybe do some, but the rest of it is still under a shroud somewhere and no one ever knows and you never hear. And then you read verbatim comments of engagement surveys, and they go,

I'm not sure why I'm bothering doing this because nothing, nothing’s ever said, or nothing’s ever changed.

And then somewhere in the middle is a hybrid, right, of these things that kind of go on. When you're talking to clients, do they generally come with a very clear idea about what they want to achieve, or are they wandering around in the wilderness looking for guidance?

00:22:53 Rob Robson

It's very much a mixture. And we do you know... there are companies out there that go, “You know what? We just need a platform. Thank you very much. We know we want to ask and we have great analytical capability and all that stuff.” So great, fine. But actually, most clients we deal with, and I suppose what we're talking about here is really in that sort of mid-range. Not the biggest corporate clients, but people with a sizable, you know, sizable employee base. They don’t have massive HR teams. They can't invest hugely in that capability to design and analyse an effective survey and implement all the results and all that sort of stuff. It shouldn’t be an HR thing, but it does fall to HR to manage the process.

00:23:55 Andy Goram

Yeah, that does frustrate me, I think, about engagement, but yeah, go on.

00:24:01 Rob Robson

But we have clients who really do get it at the level of leadership and have a stake in this. The senior leadership team, really want to know that it's going to add value. And that's great, 'cause you just know that you're working with an open door there. But what we see, it is quite mixed. So, we see people come with some historical questions. So, they understandably want a bit of a connection to the past, to be able to see whether there's progress, or not. But they also perhaps want to... some just want to tidy it up and could you improve this a bit. And some people will, and others will come and say we've got some ideas, but it could really do with some guidance.

00:24:55 Andy Goram

And are there any misconceptions they, sort of, turn up with, in the main?

00:25:00 Rob Robson

The biggest problem is probably they’ll say, “These are things that we think are important to focus on and, we want 40 questions, or even 25 questions.” And we go, “OK, that's going to be a challenge.”

But we have also worked with clients who have come to us and said, and I’m thinking of one in particular, who hadn’t run a survey for 11 years. The People Director was very sceptical, but had been told at a Group Level that they had to do something. And she said, “I don't want to do just the usual stuff. And I really want it to reflect what’s important to this business.” And we literally, with them, started with a blank page. As we tend to do with our clients, we took in, so what have you got in terms of People Strategy, to what have you got in terms of the culture you’re looking for, values, behaviours. Let's take all that on board. And then we look at what the themes here are and how do we break that down into questions. And that's really interesting, from my point of view, to do that.

So, it really does depend.

00:26:16 Andy Goram

Yeah, so I want to dive into some of the bits that you've talked about it being a bit narrow and perhaps looking at more of the psychological part of this perhaps. You introduced a word, in our original conversation of “Emotivation” that sort of combination of emotion and motivation. And so, if you think about that, and your point about outcomes around engagement, what's missing? What's missing from your perspective with employee engagement and what needs to be included?

00:26:53 Rob Robson

So, I'll take a step back into... you know, this heavily influenced by a particular kind of theory that I've worked with over the years called Reversal Theory. Like you say, you mentioned the word “Emotivation”, it's a broad theory that links structural links between motivation and emotion. And in a lot of settings over the years, I used it almost as a sort of a form of you know Johari Window and put all the... and I look at situation and try and look at it through all eight of those motivations. Those motivational states. Those motivations are like operating values, rather than, you know, a desire. It's about what do I want in this situation? So, things like achievement, enjoyment, you know, duty...

Michael Apter's Reversal Theory Overview

00:27:46 Andy Goram


00:27:47 Rob Robson

Freedom, yeah. And you know, power, control, care and there’s self and other. So, I talked about all 8 there. So often do that conceptually, look at things and go well, and I see employee engagement sitting in, very much in this... First of all, it's what I’d describe as broadly conforming. It's about being... it’s a sort of “Are you on the bus question?” Whereas if you flip over to what we'd describe as a rebellious, you know, freedom-related orientation. That's where people would say,

Look, I care. But I really care about the organization and I want to be on board and it's important to me, but I think that they've gone about this the wrong way. And I need to see some change here.”

That's a very different perspective. So there’s an element I think is not covered.

And I think what Reversal Theory also does, is it gives us a way of separating out how motivated or how I feel about what I'm doing, my activity, versus how I feel about my external world, my interactions with all of my relationships. And so, for me, it's that thing of saying, OK, actually we probably need to be quite explicit about that piece about my relationship with my work and my relationship with the organisation, and find a way of separating, even perhaps defining and measuring those slightly separately as part of a bigger construct.

So, I think it's very much, at the moment, employee engagement is very much about A) conforming and B) committing to the other, which is the organisation.

00:29:36 Andy Goram

Yeah, I think that's really interesting.

It's a related point, but it doesn't necessarily link entirely, but also something you mentioned at the start, when we kind of joked that enjoyment wasn't included. And enjoyment is specifically one of those eight types of motivation.

00:29:51 Rob Robson

Yeah yeah, yeah.

00:29:52 Andy Goram

But interestingly enough there is that... there's that HBR article some time ago that talked about eight types of culture. And I'm not trying to be like, eight and eight and eight.

00:30:00 Rob Robson

Yeah yeah, yeah.

00:30:01 Andy Goram

And eight and eight like, but you know, enjoyment...

00:30:03 Rob Robson

But obviously I was coming to that.

00:30:06 Andy Goram

But enjoyment is one of those eight types of culture. And interestingly enough, only 2% of organisations that get measured on this stuff would put themselves forward as saying, yeah, we are primarily an enjoyment orientated culture. Whereas the vast majority of us would say 89% are all about results, right?

00:30:28 Rob Robson


00:30:29 Andy Goram

So how do these two things link?

00:30:31 Rob Robson

Well, the very essence of employee engagement, when you look at things like vigour, and absorption. Not so much the dedication, but vigour... they are all about enjoyment. Now we might not think about enjoyment in this sense. They might not sound like it's some people, well, isn't enjoyment like fun? Well no. It's also about being absorbed and involved in what you do. You know it's about being present in the moment. And not necessarily just about having a bit of a laugh. So I think it's really interesting, 'cause enjoyment is really central to the concept of employee engagement.

00:31:14 Andy Goram

Yeah, I agree with that.

00:31:15 Rob Robson

Particularly work engagement and yet, how many organisations who would say that employee engagement is really important to them, actually care that much about enjoyment?

00:31.34 Andy Goram


00:31:35 Rob Robson

Or unwittingly put barriers up to it? Because you know, anything that creates fear in any way, is a barrier to enjoyment. Anything that overly, overplays goals, short term micromanagement. You know, focus about short-term focus on results, et cetera, et cetera, all acts as a barrier to that sense of enjoyment. Which is really a huge part of any construct of employee engagement. So there's this mismatch between what people think they want and what they do.

00:32:19 Andy Goram

That's exactly my point. There's a definite mismatch on this stuff. And whether you call it a say do gap, whatever is, you can talk about, “Oh, we want to have fun and enjoyment”, but the minute someone’s laughing in an office... Well, that's going to affect other people. “Come on, calm down, get back to work, be productive.” I don’t know about you, but I'm at my most productive when I'm enjoying myself. When I'm having fun, because I am motivated to keep going and go deeper and go further and try harder.

00:32:48 Rob Robson

Yeah, and I think there's a bit of a mismatch on the other side as well, which is if you look at the relationship part, the relationship with the organisation, it's very much about committing to, subordinating yourself to the organisation and its goals, right? If you're really engaged, you know, what you care about is not yourself, but you care about the organisation. But what do we ask in employee surveys and engagement surveys? We sort of tend to ask about how good it all feels for you.

And OK, there are principles like reciprocity and all that sort of stuff, but there is that little bit about, we assume that if people actually feel cared for, for example, then there will be more committed to the organisation. But you may not get that. You might get that. You might be feeding the beast, in terms of like, I’ve said this to a client before, I think you have to be careful now about how much more you chase. You know, looking at your drivers and engagement, they're very individualistic, but you keep telling us, year after year, you tell us and, in the surveys, you want to know about teamwork. And what this three years of data is saying to me, is you've got a very individualistic culture. And at the moment engagement goes up more if you feed that. But that's maybe not what you need


00:34:25 Andy Goram

There you go.

00:34:27 Rob Robson

Again, it comes down to that definition of engagement. Because, I think they would really want to, include in engagement, that feeling of, you know, that commitment to the collective. But we tend... It's again, it's slightly different, a bit of a mismatch between what we think we want and what we actually then ask for, or what we, you know, or what we actually go out and build. And it's also a little bit paradoxical. There are tensions. And that's the point about whether you call it employee engagement or employee experience, that it’s complex.

00:35:03 Andy Goram

So, it is complex. So with so many variables and outcomes and things to measure, what do you think the way forward for the measurement of employee engagement is going forward, Rob?

00:35:17 Rob Robson

I think the big thing is it needs, you know, we need to accept that it's not necessarily something that can be reduced to a really, really neat construct.

00:35:29 Andy Goram


00:35:30 Rob Robson

If we call the overarching thing, employee engagement; except it's big and complex, and I think the academic world is guilty of kind of trying to reduce everything to, you know, those neat little buckets. I think there are fashions in that world. And things like we’d describe as a general theory, is unfashionable. But actually, you probably need that kind of holistic approach. And I think we need to expand it and consider more flavours, if you like, of engagement.

00:36:13 Andy Goram

And I think covering some of those concepts you've talked about, the emotion, the motivation, the psychological, you know, thinking about those rooted in some sort of business context, makes tons of tons of sense, right? Tons, and tons of sense.

In terms of...

00:36:28 Rob Robson

Yeah, I was gonna say and do we even need to study employee engagement? Do we just go back to the basic principles around things like motivation? We sort of invent stuff just for the sake of it.

00:36:48 Andy Goram

Yeah. You’re right. You're right. I mean, at the end of the day, is it trying to get to the nub of it, at the end of the day? Do you feel motivated to work here? Do you feel motivated to be here? You know, how much do you want to play a part in its success? I think those are probably things at the core of it.

I'm sitting here going, right, we've pretty much come towards the end of the show. Which is where I now introduce Sticky Notes. Which is a very unfashionable way of condensing everything down, into 3 little points, Rob. So, if you could bear with the format, if you were to give three little bits of advice to anyone listening to this today, about how they could, I guess, take more, get more, or have a more effective measure for employee engagement going forward, what 3 little bits of advice you could stick on a post-it note, would you give them, my friend?

00:37:41 Rob Robson

Yeah, I think one would be, have a critical eye. Speaking as a supplier, don't take for granted that what people are telling you has actually got any substance to. That's a freebie.

Then I think, do focus in on what's important in your business, to your business. Look at your business strategy and how are we going to execute that? What kind of behaviours and values, and you know, culture do we need in order to execute that successfully. And focus your efforts there.

And then, I think, to really get value from anything you do, you know, make sure that whether you're investing it directly in your own team, or whether you're bringing people, you know, suppliers in to support you, the analysis is really important. Using statistical analysis to understand what's driving, what is actually important. Because you’re presented with a lot of data. And you know, and actually it can be... it can actually lead you down the wrong path and take you away from what's really important.

00:38:52 Andy Goram

So true, the interpretation of those results is absolutely critical, isn't it? In helping you make the right decisions.

That's great. Three backed-up by data, scientific sticky notes at the end there, thank you for that. I feel like we've kind of just scratched the surface of this topic. I'm gonna have to get you back at some stage to go a bit deeper.

00:39:12 Rob Robson

I honestly feel like I’m just scratching the surface of it. And I would love to do more, you know, research. That’s a different job and maybe one day when we've got a bigger team and all that sort of stuff.

00:39:24 Andy Goram

Amazing! Well, look, I've loved talking to you today. As I say, I always love a bit of science and a bit of fact. And you've made me think.

I don't think we're that diametrically opposed onto what we're thinking about when it comes to employee engagement and look, thank you for sharing your time and your insights with the audience, today mate, I really appreciate that.

00:39:43 Rob Robson

No, no, thanks for having me, yeah, pleasure.

00:39:46 Andy Goram

Absolutely brilliant. Thank you very much.

00:39:48 Rob Robson

Thank you.

00:39:49 Andy Goram

OK everyone that was Rob Robson, and if you'd like to find out a bit more about him and any of the things we've talked about today, please check out the show notes.

So, that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something, maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.

If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the Sticky From The Inside podcast. until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.

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