Employee Engagement is Not Enough!
published by , on 02/10/2013

By Elaine Cohen (founding partner of Beyond Business and author of CSR for HR)

I thing we are in danger of diluting the “employee engagement” concept to one which is more passive than active. I am not sure who holds the definitive definition of employee engagement these days but generally it tends to refer to “a measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job” on the assumption that emotional attachment will create the desired behaviors.

Kevin Kruse, who wrote a book on the subject offers his definition in a Forbes article:

“Definition: Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.

This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals. When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort. This means the engaged computer programmer works overtime when needed, without being asked. This means the engaged retail clerk picks up the trash on the store floor, even if the boss isn’t watching. This means the TSA agent will pull a bag suspicious bag to be searched, even if it’s the last bag on their shift.”

This is good because, in Kevin’s definition, engagement leads to action.This is right. Employee engagement in CSR should be more than an emotional commitment, it needs to be proactive action. But I think that the more we talk about engagement, the more we may be focusing on emotional onboarding and less on practical action. We should stop measuring “engagement” and start measuring behaviours. If engagement is the driver, action is the output, and business improvement, employee empowerment and social and environmental benefits are the outcomes. More than understanding that employees are engaged, I would like to know how they act, and how they turn their engagement into real deliverables. Therefore, at the Lundquist conference in Milan, I talked about:

Employee Activation

Does the CSR-HR Partnership drive employees to action in support of a CSR-oriented business program? Are CSR and HR Managers putting in place the tools that invite, encourage and compel employees to ACT, rather than be emotionally engaged at some sort of philosophical level? Are measures in the business the responses to a survey where we ask employees about their views, or do we ask them about what they actually did to advance CSR? Are rewards processes in place to recognize action rather than engagement?

I think its time for HR to wake up to CSR and for the CSR-HR partnership to work together to drive Employee Activation, and not just employee engagement. Semantics? Maybe. But our choice of words may just influence the way we behave.


Elaine Cohen runs a master class (9.30 h– 12 h) during the HRM Inspiration Day of 11/07/2013. Title: CSR for HR and vice versa

More info & registration:

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