Employee Engagement: Interview with David Zinger

I’m delighted to introduce employee engagement specialist David Zinger, who is also the founder and host of the Employee Engagement Network

Employee engagement continues to be a hot topic these days. I posed a number of critical questions about it to David that he graciously answered.

Question: In talking about employee engagement as something that “enriches everyone in the workplace,” you emphasize that “It is not sucking out more discretionary effort from everyone.” How do you define employee engagement?

David: There are a plethora of definitions of employee engagement. Sometimes I think the multiple definitions are perpetuated by the larger consulting companies trying to sell their own measurement and interventions. I believe employee engagement is connection. The stronger the connection, the higher the level of engagement. It is our connections to our work, meaning, others, leaders, managers, customers, financial returns, etc., that creates and maintains engagement. We all must benefit from engagement or it will not be sustained over time. We don’t engage people to “suck out discretionary effort,” we engage them to enrich their life and work experiences.

Question: Why do you think there are so many managers who don’t get the importance of effectively engaging employees?

To some managers it is another buzzword. The workplace is shifting and it is a challenge for many leaders, managers, and supervisors to respond to the shift. I see the parallel phenomenon with social media and web 2.0 tools. Managers might not understand it and might not feel comfortable or competent in working at engagement. In addition many managers are taxed to the max, and if we don’t help them energize themselves they will not have the energy to initiate or sustain engagement efforts.

Question: Is there a point at which engagement levels are unsustainable? How realistic is it to sustain high levels of employee engagement?

David: On a macro level engagement can be sustained for a long time, perhaps even a lifetime. On a micro level we need to balance engagement with work with disengagement from work and engagement at home with disengagement from home. There are a lot of things individuals, managers, leaders, and organizations must do to sustain engagement. It must be of benefit to all. It must also be a very human endeavor.

Question: In her recent post, Maybe the Traditional Approach to Engagement is All Wrong, Judy MacLeish started a wonderful discussion on a top-down vs. bottom-up approach to engagement. What do you think is the most effective approach?

David: I think the hierarchical notion of engagement is part of the problem. When you have a top or a bottom, actual or perceived, you have a lot of division. I think engagement radiates out from a circle or a core. I think each individual is responsible for their own engagement yet everyone is accountable for everyone else’s engagement. I embrace John Wooden’s line: Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can. To me the most effective approach is when everyone is involved, benefiting, and ENGAGED!

Thanks for sharing, David.

I encourage you to visit David Zinger’s website where you’ll find great articles and additional resources … and while you’re there you can join the employee engagement network.

 

5 Comments

  • Sybil September 5, 2008 Reply

    @Kate, Michael, and Brandon: Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on this. As Kate points out the cost of disengagement is staggering, and we can’t afford to overlook it.
    @David: Thank YOU for enabling the network for people who care about employee engagement. P.S. I love your recent “mini-rants” post! (http://www.davidzinger.com/6-mini-employee-engagement-rants-876/).

  • Brandon Carlos September 5, 2008 Reply

    I like David’s point about the workplace “shift.” It’s as Brady Wilson, another Canadian engagement expert, notes: “There’s an understanding of the differences across generations in the workplace, but a misunderstanding of how to employ these differences to an organizations advantage.”
    I think the biggest issue around engagement is (to employ the hierarchical notion) the lack of buy-in from the top.

  • Michael Lee Stallard September 4, 2008 Reply

    Sybil,
    Nice interview with David Zinger. I agree with David that everyone in organizations needs to be responsible for engagement. I also believe everyone needs to be on the lookout for processes and procedures that increase or decrease engagement. The start/stop/continue exercise is an excellent platform to do that.

  • Kate September 3, 2008 Reply

    I agree engagement is a bit of a hot topic at the moment, but it’s also quite an expensive issue when it causes employees to be unproductive at work.
    I work over in Australia, according to the Gallup Institute disengaged employees cost Australian businesses $32.7 billion per annum. This a a huge amount for our economy. Part of the issue is that disengaged employees are often acting out of their unhappiness, they can be quite malicious, dirupting their co workers and mouthing off the employer brand.
    If each individual is responsible for their own engagement this leads me to think that each individual should be acknowledged and recognised for their contribution to the organisation on a regular basis. Here’s a link to a free book which shares some tips into how to motivate employees, say thanks in a personalised way check it out http://corporate.redballoondays.com.au/go/knowledge-bank/book-of-answers

  • David Zinger September 2, 2008 Reply

    Sybil:
    I appreciated the fine job you did with this interview. I will post a link to this on my own site tomorrow.
    Take care, carry on caring, and stay engaged.
    David

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