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Employee Engagement in Beautiful Plain English


If you've spent any time in an HR / L&OD role, or in HR consulting, you'll be aware of the many models and definitions of employee engagement. There's been a long-standing concern over the growing body of complex jargon in HR — generated by the consultants as much as the HR practitioners — but I think it's also part of a more general observation about language complexity in business, which is certainly not limited to HR.

Take banking, for example.

Listening to the radio this morning, I heard of a new report that found "credit cards are deliberately confusing and designed to distract consumers from very high interest rates." No kidding, right?

It reminded me of an incident in late 2012, when a major international bank sacked 11,000 employees but buried the fact at the bottom of a long and detailed announcement about “a series of repositioning actions" that would "result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimised consumer footprint across geographies." The full press release was slammed as one of the most insulting and convoluted pieces of business writing ever.

More humane and authentic language in business is something I believe in passionately. If not for philosophical reasons, then for clear economic ones.

One such example of what I mean happened early last year, when an Australian company spent $150,000 with a consulting firm on an employee engagement initiative that was shot down by its staff. It was called the "behavioural capability framework" — a 12-page document given to staff asking them to "leverage relationships with stakeholders," "think ahead of the curve," "contribute to areas of strategic importance," "champion the relentless pursuit of excellence," and generally make a better effort to be more excited about their jobs. It was described as "a lot of HR claptrap … on the ground we just think that it's a complete joke. I'm glad it's being ridiculed."

There are plenty of amazing HR professionals and consultants I've seen who share similar qualities. One of those qualities I admire is the ability to present a topic simply and practically, avoiding excessive business-speak, and having a bit of compassion for those on the frontline who have to apply the information to their day-to-day lives.

In summary, employee engagement is about getting maximum satisfaction in one's job and giving maximum contribution to the business.

Theo Winter

Theo Winter

Client Services Manager, Writer & Researcher. Theo is one of the youngest professionals in the world to earn an accreditation in TTI Success Insight's suite of psychometric assessments. For more than a decade, he worked with hundreds of HR, L&D and OD professionals and consultants to improve engagement, performance and emotional intelligence of leaders and their teams. He authored the book "40 Must-Know Business Models for People Leaders."

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