“Employee engagement” is a buzz phrase among CEOs and human resources departments. It’s a great concept, but it doesn’t always work as expected.
Take little me. I started my last two jobs mostly unengaged. I didn’t know or care much about the industries where my employers did business.
Harman International makes speakers and other audio equipment under brands such as JBL and Harman Kardon. When I started as an editor in the marketing department, I didn’t even own headphones.
When I started at Investor’s Business Daily as a copy editor in 2014, I hadn’t invested (or had enough money to invest) since the tech tumble of 2000-2001.
I felt engaged in that I wanted to please my supervisors and keep my job. But I had no personal connection with the subject matter that I was editing.
And yet: Within a year of hiring me at Investor’s Business Daily, the managing editor had given me an extra responsibility: two sections to run, Managing for Success and Financial Advisor’s Briefing. They weren’t big sections — one page a week — but they represented a step up.
Not very long after I began at Harman, this untechnical unexpert had risen to co-writing and co-editing my division’s official glossary of complex tech terms.
How did I get that far despite my low level of engagement?
My supervisors let me do engaging work.
I like pop culture and show business. Harman sold sound systems to prominent entertainers and entertainment venues, and I was happy when my supervisors gave me materials dealing with those subjects. And IBD printed stories on pop culture and show business just as it covered other industries, so I always tried to work on those stories.
Once I got my one-page IBD sections to edit, I was more engaged than when I was simply copy editing. And I liked creating the Harman tech tome more than I liked, say, double-checking specifications of input impedance and stereo separation.
So this employee’s engagement didn’t come from Human Resources or the CEO’s office. It came from my supervisors.
Now that I’m job hunting again, I’m naturally most interested in pop-culture and showbiz companies, but I’ll work for nearly any company that I can respect. (Cigarette makers? Not for me, thanks.)
As long as my supervisors give me interesting work, I’ll give them all the engagement that they can handle.