Great News, 30% of Our Employees are Engaged. WAIT, WHAT???

Anthony Mersino
March 16, 2015

Is Employee Engagement important, and does it conflict with Agile Methodologies?

I’ve been looking into employee engagement ever since hearing Marcus Buckingham of Gallup speak about it at a conference about 8 years ago. This past week, Gallup reported that Employee Engagement had reached a 3-year high. Is that good?  It seemed like a really good idea to have your employees engaged in your company as evidenced by, as Gallup calls it, their willingness to contribute discretionary effort. It also seemed like a good idea to minimize the roughly 1 in 6 employees who are actively disengaged and possibly wreaking havoc within your teams.

In my work as an Agile coach for teams and organizations, I believed that having engaged employees was a worthy goal. A couple of recent articles has me wondering if this is wrong, and if it is possible that Agile is in conflict with employee engagement. Tony Schwartz wrote about the potential for employee engagement leading to employee burnout in a recent NY Times article. Mr. Schwartz may be right - how many of us find ourselves checking our emails on the weekend and having trouble shutting work off when we are supposed to be off work? Could our push for the discretionary efforts of others lead employees to go beyond healthy limits to perform?

What about those statistics showing 70% of employees are either disengaged or actively disengaged? Jack Zinger thinks that the the data behind Gallup's findings is wrong. Based on his work with clients and his general experience in the marketplace, he doesn’t believe that only 30% of employees are engaged. Is there an accuracy problem with the measurement?

Should we even be looking for engaged employees? Is the use of discretionary effort the best measure of an employee? Ian Buckingham thinks that employee engagement has had it's day.

How does this idea of employee engagement work with Agile? One of the 12 Agile Principles speaks about sustainable pace. The idea of sustainable pace is that we work at a pace that everyone can maintain indefinitely. This means that people need to get their rest and downtime within the normal cadence of work life and personal life. That normal cadence would also include learning and personal development time. Setting aside time for learning is another valued practice in Agile teams. But if employees are fully engaged, are they giving their discretionary effort (i.e. their personal time and energy) at the risk of burnout and in conflict with sustainable pace?

What do you think about employee engagement? Is it in conflict with the sustainable pace of Agile? Is there a better measure for organizations to use with their employees?

I welcome your thoughts.

Photo source:  Unfinished Business

About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.