Several months ago, a reader posed this question to me Where do I start with rekindling the flame of passion in the employees? At the time she was commenting on another one of my blogs – Clocked In but Checked Out. In response, I promised that I would delve more deeply into employee engagement. So, here we go  albeit a bit belatedly.

engagementIn the original blog, I listed a number of signs and symptoms that could alert you that employees had become disengaged. They included boredom associated with a lack of intellectual stimulation, underperformance, a lack of intrinsic motivation and feeling unappreciated. Here’s the thing, if you err in diagnosing the root cause of the problem, all your efforts to secure engagement could be in vain.

Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge the ugly truth  it’s not exactly clear what we mean by employee engagement. Do you doubt that? Well, a 2015 ATD[1] article titled Employee Engagement – An Epic Failure, asserted A quick search for definitions of “employee engagement” yielded results as varied as simple happiness, satisfaction with an employer, pride in one’s work, willingness to drive business success, and commitment to act in the employer’s best interests. That same article referenced a Gallup poll which proffered the following definition: “working with passion and finding a profound connection to one’s company.”

Drawing on all of these definitions, the first distinction I’d like to make relates to disengagement from the job versus disengagement from the work.It is quite possible for an employee who loves what s/he does – i.e. the work – to absolutely detest the job or the company. The work represents the essence of what an employee does on a daily basis the specific tasks. On the other hand, the job represents the larger context in which that work is done. It includes the organizational culture and general working environment. Many technical and professional staff derive great pleasure from the essence of their work while being greatly frustrated by the context/environment in which they operate. So if you have a technical/professional employee who appears disengaged, the first order of business is to ascertain (not speculate or guess!!!) the precise nature of his/her dissatisfaction.

The second distinction I invite you to explore relates to compensation.In the public sector in particular, there is a tendency to relate lack of employee engagement to low salaries. I put it to you that compensation is a hygiene factor and not a motivator. I’m taking you way back here back to Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory which posits that the opposite of job satisfaction is not dissatisfaction. So, eliminating factors which cause dissatisfaction (i.e. hygiene factors such as unacceptably low levels of pay) does not inevitably lead to job satisfaction or engagement. In order to secure engagement, one needs to take care of the hygiene factors AND identify and address motivators/satisfaction factors such as achievement, recognition and responsibility.

And just in case Herzberg is too old-school for you, there’s the research done by SnackNation which identified the top 3 factors contributing to job satisfaction as job security, opportunities to use skills and abilities, and the organization’s financial stability.

  • So, what does your particular onion look like?
  • What are the factors/layers of issues affecting your employees?
  • Have you taken care of the hygiene factors?
  • If so, have you had a conversation with your employees about what truly motivates them and arouses their passion?

If you haven’t addressed these issues, you simply cannot go on your way to the prized destination of true employee engagement!

[1] ATD : Association for Talent Development


  • Levene

    I enjoyed the blog. My only comment is that we do not minimize ‘hygene’ factors. It is still a powerful motivational tool and must be factored in staff engagement. The argument here is when as middle management, we have very little weight to increase salaries, except for recommmending a raise or promotion. I stress on the word recommend.

    With the wjole notion of staff engagement, we must also consider that the mployee must also bear some responsibility in their own well being and work satisfaction.

  • Joan H Underwood

    You’re absolutely right that we ought not to minimize the importance of hygiene factors. They are a necessary but not sufficient condition for employee engagement.

    In terms of whose responsible for securing engagement, I would suggest it’s like a marriage. Both parties – ie employer and employees – have to work at it in order to succeed.

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