Happiness At Work and/or Engagement ~ what’s the buzz?

Office workers in meeting

We are noticing more and more noise about the necessity of what is being termed ’employee engagement’ – why it is so necessary, what it makes it so hard to achieve, and what is likely to help and hinder it happening.

Of course we whole-heartedly applaud this emphasis on the human dimension of organisational life.  But at the same time, we wonder why ’employee engagement’ is perhaps being credited with a higher, harder-edged validity than happiness at work.  Are they the same?  Is one an aspect of the other?  Are the two symbiotically dependent upon each other?  Should we be concerned about the use of the more distanced, abstracted and objective-sounding ’employee engagement’ in preference to the more straightforward-sounding everyday recognisable un-jargoned idea of happiness at work?

This post won’t necessarily answer these questions, but rather, deliberately leave them hanging, suspending them above a series of new articles from this week’s latest Happiness At Work Edition #54, in the hope of encouraging more conversation about what we really want and what really matters to us in our work.

photo credit: Theophilos via photopin cc

photo credit: Theophilos via photopin cc

This week’s HRZone publishes a new toolkit of ideas to help organisations to build engagement amongst their people, which they title: Employee Engagement Is the Secret Sauce of Business Success…have you got the bottle for it? and from which we have drawn heavily in this post.  In it in his conclusion to his chapter, Professor Cliff Oswick makes a call for a radically new ‘Art of Non-Leadership’, writing:

Better decisions are made by groups than individuals. All the research tells us that. So why not allow the ecosystem of employees to be decision makers? Leaders of a truly engaged workforce create the conditions where people feel they have a voice and a stake, where organisations have forms of internal crowdsourcing, and where the leader facilitates employee-instigated behaviour rather than delegates responsibility.

In truly engaged organisations, employees take decisions and implement solutions for themselves. It’s the route to a more successful organisation.

And it’s still leadership. But not as we know it.

Employee Engagement is the Secret Sauce of Business Success… have you got the bottle for it? 

The link attached to the above heading will give you the HRZone’s free download guide –

an employee engagement toolkit with insight from leading academics, it’s a practical roadmap for organisations looking to engage their staff…

There is much valuable resource in this and here are some of the highlights that stood out for us.

In the introduction, Tom O’Bryrne, CEO of Great Place To Work writes:

…The truth is that it’s actually quite hard to do. Although there are a number of approaches to engagement there are no guarantees of success. For every organisation that creates a workplace of motivated, engaged people improving business performance, there are many others who struggle and fail. Many businesses today are too busy focusing on the short term – the order books, the bills – to have the time or resource to focus on engagement. The irony is of course that focusing on the people side of the business will ultimately help drive the business outcomes in the long term…

Employee engagement, as much as happiness at work, is situational, and what will be right and relevant in one place and time is likely to be very different than any other specific place, time and people.  In their opening chapter, Engagement Across The Globe – The Importance of Local Context, the authors summarise the findings from their recent study to show that even though engagement matters in every conext, what helps of hinders engagement changes according to the situation:

…As one director remarked, employee engagement is much easier in times of growth, when the aims of the company can be easily aligned with those of the employee, since both parties can benefit from growth. However, one of the MNCs in the study had had to reduce its workforce by 20% following the financial crisis, and in a period of such significant downsizing the drivers of employee engagement became very different. Managers felt that they needed to direct their energies towards maintaining and/or rebuilding trusting relationships with the workforce and the trade union representing them…

One of our favourite Happiness At Work experts in Jessica Pryce-Jones, and we notice a very strong correlation with the research conclusions of the top factors that affect people’s happiness at work that she outlines in her excellent book, Happiness at Work: Maximising Your Psychological Capital for Success:

Pryce-Jones defines happiness as “a mindset which allows you to maximise performance and achieve your potential. You do this by being mindful of the highs and lows when working alone or with others.”

Happiness at work has five major components, called the 5Cs:

  1. Contribution: what a person does in the workplace and her view of it.
  2. Conviction: a person’s ability to stay motivated.
  3. Culture: how well a person fits within the ethos and dynamic of the workplace.
  4. Commitment: a person’s general level of engagement with his work.
  5. Confidence: a person’s level of self-belief and how well she identifies with her job.

The 5Cs are accompanied by three supporting themes: PrideTrust, and Recognition.

Notice the similarity to the list of the most important factors for success in being a highly engaging manager, as identified by Katie Truss, Professor of Human Resource Management, Kent Business School, in the second chapter of the HRZone report, What Can Line Managers Do To Raise Engagement Levels?

Research suggests that these cluster around five core interconnected domains:

  1. the design of work,
  2. trust,
  3. meaningfulness,
  4. interpersonal respect, and
  5. voice. 

It is really interesting to see the word ‘voice‘ being used in this list of essential factors for employees.  During our work with schools we came to understand the immense importance and difficulty of encouraging and really listening to student voices talking about what they needed to flourish and learn at the best.  At the moment we working again with the wonderful Hackney Museum to help make a series of arts-based learning events with local community members, and again we are discovering the complexities of keeping an alert curiosity and interest in what the people in the room want and think and believe and feel about their own lives and aspirations, especially when our own ideas are trying to get out and into the room.

photo credit: Paolo Margari via photopin cc

photo credit: Paolo Margari via photopin cc

This idea is well illustrated in the American case study written up by  in his story:

Want To Help Kids Solve Problems? Have Them Design Their Own Solutions

… Their journey began with a simple question: What change do you want to see in your community? It ended with their answer, which they created collectively over 12 class periods as part of their marketing class…

It aimed to help them learn the 4Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity…

The idea of recognising employee voice made in this Employee Engagement  guide remind us of the necessity alongside the challenge of making time to ask into and listen closely to the people whose lives we seek to affect…

…Studies have shown that where employees feel they are able to express their views on work-related matters and know that these views will be listened to, then levels of engagement will be high. Some organisations are particularly good at encouraging employees to share ideas. One award-winning financial services firm has a scheme they call ‘Why on earths?’; if employees find themselves asking, ‘why on earth are we doing this?’ and bring this to the attention of managers, along with some proposals for improvement, then they are eligible to win a prize…

The aforementioned Jessica Pryce-Jones is emphatic about the distinction between engagement and happiness at work, as she writes in her introduction to her book, Happiness at Work: Maximising Your Psychological Capital for Success:

Myth 2: Happiness is Job Satisfaction or Engagement in Another Guise

Engagement in its purest sense refers to the relationship you have with your working environment and the strength of your connection to it.  Thought to be the opposite of burnout, it’s been broadly defined as “vigour, dedication and absorption” and has been widely used by organisations and consultants for improving retention…At its best engagement has been researched through using the concept of flow at work…

 But here’s the central issue:  in crunching through all our statistics – and we now have over 300,000 data points – we can see that engagement relates to 10% fewer items than happiness at work does…Although its something that matters – who doesn’t want to feel engaged at work? – it’s not as “large” a concept as happiness at work is…Engagement – and job satisfaction – are both things which happiness appears to encompass…

The starting point of happiness at work is that it is self-initiated:  we know that you want to make your working world better and enjoy contributing to it if you are given that opportunity…Being happy at work operates best from the ground-up because you know most about managing and affecting your world…

Be honest: would you rather be satisfied, engaged or happy at work?  You decide…

photo credit: Leonrw via photopin cc

photo credit: Leonrw via photopin cc

Pryce-Jones’ contention that engagement is primarily concerned with getting the right environment appears to be corroborated by Amy Armstrong, Research Fellow, Ashridge Business School, in her chapter of the HRZone engagement guide, Overcoming The Barriers To Senior Leader Engagement, which begins by citing the MacLeod Report Engaging For Success

Engaging leaders create work environments where employees are more committed, stay longer and give more to their organisations, which means that leaders are the ‘climate engineers’ by setting a culture and tone for engagement across the entire organisation. That said, UK engagement levels remain stubbornly low, therefore it is important to understand what prevents some leaders from taking responsibility for engagement. This was one of the objectives of a fascinating piece of research launched earlier this month by Ashridge Business School in partnership with Engage for Success, a Government-sponsored movement that is seeking to improve levels of engagement and well-being across the UK, and in which, it is suggested that it is the skills and capabilities of top management that is a key barrier to engagement.

The research, a year-long study which explored engagement through the eyes of 16 UK CEOs, suggests that for senior leadership, engagement is one of the most difficult parts of the leadership task, requiring them to possess specialist skills and attributes and often having to manage seemingly contradictory demands. The research also suggests that a new leadership model should be found given that the ‘command and control’ style of leading, with its emphasis on organisational hierarchy, has declining relevance in many organisations.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

The three main obstacles this research identified for leaders in their attempts to build engagement in their organisations…

…shortcomings in leadership capability, such as poor self-awareness on the part of leaders, facets of leaders’ personality and values that prevent them from being engaging leaders and the culture and system in which we operate, seen in some ways as antithetical to engagement…

1. Developing Leadership Capability
…Leading engagement can be characterised as walking a fine line. There may be a dichotomy in leading engagement whereby leaders feel an expectation to project confidence, while admitting that they do not have all the answers. Equally, they need to be decisive while giving voice to people across the organisation and they have to be resilient yet emotionally attuned.It is therefore important that we focus on developing leaders who are encouraged to experiment with new ways of leading to discover a personal style that is emotionally-attuned, contextually-relevant and is borne from self- insight…
2. Get To the Heart of Leadership
Engaging leaders also lead with authenticity and purpose and in a way that is aligned to their personal values. Leaders are not simply mouthpieces for their board of directors; rather they find ways of leading that are congruent with who they are and what they believe. However, leading in this way requires a level of personal self-disclosure, which some leaders find deeply uncomfortable. Some leaders may be inherently shy, or be more comfortable with ‘managing the numbers’ than with entering into conversations in which they reveal their own fallibilities…
Leaders need to be encouraged to enter into conversations at work where they are open about who they are and how they feel, since it takes a confident leader to disclose, empower and engage.
3. Change the System
In the UK, we have a task-oriented culture, valuing hard work and output above almost all else. In this kind of environment it is the tangible business outcomes that are valued, so the push on senior leaders is to get things done in a systematic way in order to drive business results. Consequently, it is easier for senior leaders to be judged on measurable outcomes, such as increasing turnover, as opposed to being judged on their ‘softer’ skills of engagement such as inquiry, conversation and interaction. These issues are further compounded within the current economic climate where some leaders have become pre- occupied with addressing questions of short-term viability and survival, as opposed to focusing on the long-term processes of engagement.
However, leaders should be encouraged to move the dial to the longer term to encourage a system in which the invisible processes of engagement are valued just as highly as the tangible outcomes of it.
4. Calling for New Ways of Leading

We have for a long time talked about the role of leader as though it were static, yet this is far from being true – generational shifts, social and demographic change and the impact of declining trust have all contributed to new and different demands being placed on those who lead. Tomorrow’s leaders may look very different, which is likely to have significant implications for how we identify and select leaders for the future.

In the past, individuals may have been promoted into senior leadership positions for possessing skills such as rationality, order, control and toughness, but these are skills that have declining relevance in many organisations. Future leadership models need to have engagement at their core, particularly given the differing expectations of a multi-generational workforce.

The absence of a single ‘right way’ to lead opens the path to more individual ways of leading. It is also time to try genuinely different approaches to leadership development and to encourage a new generation of leadership experimenters who have the courage and the attributes to play their part in defining leadership for the future.

Her conclusion is a clear call to action that chimes with the things that we, too, deeply care about…

By exploring what characterises engaging leaders and engaging leadership, leaders should be encouraged to experiment with new ways of leading to discover their own personal styles that are emotionally-attuned, contextually-relevant and borne from self-insight. Ultimately, through leading with engagement at its heart, there becomes a better way to work that releases the full capabilities and potential of people at work, while at the same time enabling organisational growth and ultimately economic growth for the UK. 

Photo by: KaliFire (Maroc) kali.ma photo credit: kali.ma via photopin cc

Photo by: KaliFire (Maroc)
photo credit: kali.ma via photopin cc

In his chapter, Developing Leadership Styles That Facilitate Employee EngagementProfessor Cliff Oswick identifies Engagement as the latest in a progression of E’s that begins in the 1970’s with Enrichment, which required leaders to help create work that was more meaningful;
and developed in the 1990’s into Empowerment, which meant leaders delegating work and responsibility within agreed boundaries, and proved more of a struggle and less often a success for most managers.

Which leads us to today and engagement, a process where employees feel a sense of commitment and an affinity to their organisation. Employees feel that they have stake in the organisation, feel part of it and care about it…

And here again is another voice making the call for a new style of leadership…

When you have high levels of employee engagement people self-instigate; they do things because they think it is right to do so, because they feel they have a responsibility. Not out of a sense of compliance. There is a more collegiate atmosphere and a greater sense of community. This feeds into a more innovative culture, and better performance.
Once again, with engagement, a change in management approach requires a change in leadership approach. Engagement is more about political engagement, people having a stake in their organisation, and in its decision-making, democratising the workplace. It requires a different style of leadership…
photo credit: WilliamMarlow via photopin cc

photo credit: WilliamMarlow via photopin cc

Oswick’s paper goes on to discuss what he calls Bad Leadership, Good Leadership…

Certainly there are some popular and prevalent leadership styles which are a bad fit with engagement. One is the highly controlling and autocratic directive style, often dressed up in more acceptable language as strong leadership. Strong leadership is the polar opposite of what is required to create the conditions for employee engagement.

Equally bad, but different, is the highly charismatic leader. Charismatic leadership is often described in terms of vision and highly developed interpersonal skills. The leader has a vision, knows the direction everyone should head in, and persuades others to follow. Although different to the directive style, it is similar in the sense that employees are still following the direction set by the leader.

Perhaps surprisingly these two leadership styles are still common in organisations. The higher up you go in organisations the more you see these styles exhibited. Senior executives, for example, are often described as “strong leaders” with this being considered a positive attribute…

…if they want to engage their workforce leaders should avoid these leadership styles for much of the time. There are more effective ways to lead people to get high levels of engagement. They represent, to varying degrees, what I refer to as the art of non-leadership.

The ‘better forms of leadership’ he advises then include ‘distributed leadership,’ where the leadership role is shared and rotated with the situation; and ‘servant leadership,’ which emphasises what the followers need and makes it the leaders job to satisfy these.  But he is critical of both of these because they don’t go far enough.  And again we get the call to revolutionise leadership practice:

If we really want employee engagement to flourish, to get the very best from the workforce, we need leaders to be braver. A more radical approach is required.

The Art of Non-Leadership

Non-leadership is a form of leadership. It’s a form of leadership which involves deliberately not intervening. Non-leadership is the active non-engagement leadership approach – it’s not intervening and not imposing a direction or view. You don’t construct a problem and you don’t constrain the solution. As things arise you don’t step up and take responsibility.

How does it work in practice? …

Increasingly work in organisations is open and ambiguous, with many alternatives, rather than closed and predictable. So processes of organisational change, of innovation and creativity, matters relating to social responsibility, these are ambiguous and hazy. In the early stages of a project you may find yourself asking questions such as ‘how do we improve our processes of customer service?’ or ‘what new products and services should we be developing?’ These are divergent type thinking situations, where there are a number of possible answers. These cry out for a non-leadership approach.

Next, frame the problem or the situation in the broadest possible terms to create the best conditions for engagement. “How can we become more sustainable?” is a more broadly framed topic than “how can we reduce the amount of non-recyclable packaging on a particular product?” This allows people to be very creative and generative in their thinking around problem solving. It allows more people to get involved and to interact, so you get a ‘wisdom of the crowd’ effect within the workplace.

With a non-leadership model, not only do you not constrain employees over identifying the problem and the solution, you don’t constrain them on the implementation, either…

When the team is busy devising problems and implementing solutions, what is the leader doing? Apart from the mundane resource-type decisions, leaders should be facilitating and accommodating employees in their problem-solving activities. It is more of a non-directive counselling role, available to provide resources and advice if required, and actively encouraging and supporting the creativity that people exhibit.

It takes courage to adopt a non-leadership approach, and to resist the temptation to step in and direct, to retain and exercise a degree of control. That is one reason why this style of leadership has taken so long to start to develop. Managers like to be in control. Psychologically, it feels far more secure…

Non-leadership may seem a radical approach, but the workforce is changing in radical ways. Employees want to be included in the decision- making process. They want the workplace to be more democratic in orientation and more inclusive. Traditional ‘leader knows best’ models do not work with the new generation of employees.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

This guide ends with the Editor of HRZone Jamie Lawrence’s 10 Thoughts To Take Away With You.  These are the ones that stand out especially for us…

2. For engagement to succeed, it must form part of an organisation’s DNA, owned by everybody, with the understanding that the benefits will be felt in the future.

3. Organisations looking to engage employees must consider what they are trying to achieve and where they are trying to achieve it – successful engagement depends on taking into account contextual economic, social, political and local factors

4. Across different national contexts and employment groups, effective communication and the critical role of line managers emerge as universal drivers of engagement

5. To become engaged, employees need to appreciate the connection between their own work and the overall aims of the organisation and, ultimately, society

9. Senior leaders will not become engaging leaders until they find ways of leading that are congruent with who they are and what they believe in

10. Ultimately, change is required at all levels of an organisation in order to foster the trust and behaviours necessary to build a long-term culture of engagement


5 Ways Leaders Build A Culture of Trust

JENNIFER MILLER offers these practical guidelines for developing greater trust…

Is your organization built on a culture of trust?

Look around you; there are plenty of clues as to whether trust abounds. How quickly are decisions made? How many people do you copy (or worse, bcc) on e-mails? Do executives check in on the “troops” even when on vacation?

Given that 82% of workers don’t trust their boss, trust is a scarce resource in many organizations.

When it comes to creating a trusting workplace culture, the best place to start is with you. As a leader, you either believe in someone’s trustworthiness or you don’t. Leaders who try to split the difference with “trust but verify” won’t build a culture of healthy organizational trust…

Trust is about creating space for people to thrive; excessive verifying diminishes that space. Use these five tips to reduce the amount of verifying happening in your company so that trust will flourish:

  1. Assume positive intent, until proven otherwise…
  2. Banish bureaucracy…
  3. Look at your company’s written word…
  4. Tell employees: “I trust you to make a good decision.”…
  5. Eliminate “we” and “they” when describing other teams…
photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail

On the subject of leadership development, Peter Bregman, writing in Forbes magazine has this to say…

…There is a massive difference between what we know about leadership and what we do as leaders.

I have never seen a leader fail because he or she didn’t know enough about leadership. In fact, I can’t remember ever meeting a leader who didn’t know enough about leadership.

What makes leadership hard isn’t the theoretical, it’s the practical. It’s not about knowing what to say or do. It’s about whether you’re willing to experience the discomfort, risk, and uncertainty of saying or doing it.

In other words, the critical challenge of leadership is, mostly, the challenge of emotional courage…

We’re teaching the wrong things in the wrong ways.

If the challenge of leadership is emotional courage, then emotional courage is what we need to teach. You can’t just learn about communication, you have to do it, in the heat of the moment, when the pressure is on, and your emotions are high…

The only way to teach courage is to require it of people. To offer them opportunities to draw from the courage they already have. To give them opportunities to step into real situations they find uncomfortable and truly take the time to connect with the sensations that come with that…

Alongside their toolkit for engagement that I have extensively quoted from above, HRZone also publish a success story from the field:

Interview: Emma Pinker, General Manager, London Vision Clinic, on employee engagement

in this HRZone feature Emma Pinker says what this much-talked about idea of employee engagement means to their organisation…

…employees are passionate, enthusiastic and happy to work at our clinic.

Talking about how they achieve this so successfully – good enough in fact to be included in the latest  2013 Best Workplaces List, she cites their annual team building event as the most important thing they do…

…This was introduced in 2010 and involves a half-day clinic. The clinic departments will be placed in a mix of different teams prior to the day and they will immediately start with coming up with a team name and theme. Each team is given a set of 20 tasks and clues/riddles to solve together. A time frame is normally given and teams need to photograph evidence or perform various tasks to obtain points. The themes involve London landmarks and history so not only do they work as a team but also get to explore and learn about the city as well. The team with the most points win. Needless to say, there is a great level of competition, team building, laughs and many memories made on the day of this event and to date, I believe it bonds the team and brings them closer together…

Reading this makes us wonder whether, even though we are using to some new words to headline the development agenda these days, if perhaps some of the solutions we already know about continue to be worth investing in.  Over the years we have seen dozens of team building events give people time out and away from their day-to-day demands to refresh and revitalise themselves and their relationships and bring an extremely high return rate, and perhaps, now more than ever, people need these moments to re-fire and sustain their commitment to the hard work and hard work days of 21st century professional lives.

Improve Your Happiness At Work

Whereas Jessica Pryce-Jones sees engagement as a subset of happiness at work, Kevin Kruse sees it exactly the other way around.  What difference does this make?  In the end we notice more similarities than difference in what Kruse and Pryce-Jones are advocating.

Here are some thoughts extracted from Skip Pritchard’s interview with Kevin Kruse for his blog Leadership Insights

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, former CEO, speaker, and a blogger.  His newest book is Employee Engagement for Everyone.

…”Engagement is similar to being happy at work, but it’s a little deeper. Engagement is the emotional commitment someone has to their organization and the organization’s objectives. When we care more, we give more discretionary effort. Whether we are in sales, service, manufacturing or leadership, we will give more, the more engaged we are. Not only is this good for a company’s bottom line, but when we are engaged at work, we also end up being a better spouse and parent, and we have improved health outcomes…”

“Communication is one of the top drivers of engagement. It is sort of the “backbone” that runs through the other primary drivers of Growth, Recognition and Trust….”

“The biggest impediment [to having an engaged culture] is the senior leaders themselves. Either they don’t truly get why engagement is important, or they think it’s important but think the answer lies in corporate-driven initiatives like casual Fridays or a summer picnic. Instead, they need to realize that most of engagement comes from one’s relationship with his or her boss. It has to be a grassroots effort driven at the front lines…”

“…People who are engaged use the word “we” a lot. In fact, that was the title of my first book on the subject of engagement….”

photo credit: tronathan via photopin cc

photo credit: tronathan via photopin cc

Workplace Happiness

Dr Izzy Justice writes about the confusion between engagement and happiness in his latest blog post…

Last week, Gallup revealed troubling survey results in its 2013 State of the American Workplace Report on employee happiness and engagement. Both at dismal levels. 70% of employees are not inspired or engaged at work.

I have been writing about this trend since 2008 when workplace power shifted dramatically from the employee, who was just grateful to have a job during a paralyzing recession, to the employer. No point in rehashing the mistakes that were made in leadership across many organizations as I am pleased to note a renewed focus on happiness as a key element in workplace performance.  A happy worker, and engaged worker, is simply a more productive worker.  The Gallup Report gave many examples of creative programs that some companies are doing. Everything from game rooms, to nap rooms, to flexibility in schedule – all popular with employees. But I believe these are merely band-aid solutions to a much larger issue no one seems to want to discuss.

Why do we think that what is needed for a human being to be happy at work is somehow different than what is needed for happiness in general? Happy people generally tend to be those who have very healthy relationships with people in their lives. The quality of human relationships far outweighs the ping pong table, pool table, free lunch and whatever else employers are providing to engage their employees. Quality human relationships are almost entirely an emotional experience. There are no real set of quantitative metrics to check off to determine quality relationships. The American worker, leader, and workplace are mostly bone-dry of human emotions, many even discouraging emotions in the workplace. The level of emotional literacy, emotional intelligence, and emotional training/programs are dismal. I submit that as long as this is the case, then employee engagement levels will continue to drop. We have to have the courage to accept the powerful role of emotions in all we do – not just at work – and to embrace EQ as a foundational competency…

For more stories that connect with these ideas you might like to check out our weekly Happiness At Work  collection.  Here is this week’s latest edition, which includes all these stories:

Happiness At Work #54


photo credit: Ant1_G via photopin cc

photo credit: Ant1_G via photopin cc

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