The term “employee engagement” is more than 30 years old. Employers are still trying to figure out how to improve engagement. Perhaps we missed the target because we didn’t pay attention to its definition. William A. Kahn who coined the term defined it as “simultaneous employment and expression of a person’s ‘preferred self’ (displaying real identity, thoughts and feelings) in task behaviors.” The more one can be oneself at work, the more likely the person will stay and be personally engaged in performing their job.
Business being business is entrenched in rules, efficiency, and management by objectives to control and reward. Rather than seeing engagement as bringing who you are to work, we view it as a means to achieve greater performance through discretionary effort. Some companies have moved from an authoritative to a situational leadership approach, empowering teams for direction. Few have yet to focus on a servant leadership style driven by an authentic purpose. The engagement Kahn speaks of is tied to a company driven by purpose then connecting those who are aligned with that purpose.