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The Truth About Engagement

Author’s Note:
Scarlett Surveys has surveyed over 15 million employees over 53 years and has empirically validated the 15 drivers of engagement, developed by Dr. Frederick Herzberg, with their Associate Engagement Research (AER™) employee engagement survey instruments, worldwide.

"What is Employee Engagement?" is the most viewed and quoted White Paper on employee engagement.  Ken can be reached at Ken.Scarlett@ScarlettSurveys.com. 

© Scarlett Employee Surveys International “Lead. Inspire. Profit.” 

Quotations without approbation subject to copyright infringement.

The Truth About Engagement

​15 Million Surveys



​Published on May 23, 2016​

​Ken Scarlett is a second generation Employee Attitude Research survey meister and Management Consultant. He bought Scarlett Associates from his father in 1992 and created the companion brand Scarlett Surveys International, The Survey Company®. Since 1963, Scarlett has worked with over 10,000 organizations and surveyed over 15 million employees, creating one of the largest empirical, employee attitude data bases in the world.

His science and instruments are based on Fred Herzberg’s Motivation to Work studies, which have empirically proven to affect business performance and sustainability. Ken’s Employee Engagement Leadership System has been a standard in the automotive, manufacturing, hospitals, insurance and logistics industries, worldwide for decades.

Dr Jac: Ken, since you’ve been surveying employees for over 3 decades, what changes have you seen in employee attitudes?

Ken: Significant decreases in our global engagement driver indexes in attitudes towards Top Leadership, Compensation, Work Objectives and Personal Growth. And, significant increases in attitudes towards Fellow Associates and Company Brand.

Dr Jac: So what are these big-data shifts telling us?

Ken: All together these trends tell us what’s coming; that organizations will have to change more in the next 5 years then they have in the last 20 - just to survive. Here’s the breakdown:

Number 1 – Down-trending attitudes towards Top Leaders are telling us that if organizations want to engage employees to get the productivity they need, they must become active communicators directly to each work group’s Key Opinion Leaders (KOL), who in turn, can routinely distribute work group information through socialized networks. Employees want to know things immediately nowadays. They want to hear it from their go-to opinion leader, not from the chain-of-command. (Dr. Jac’s Note: My doctoral dissertation on employee communications said the same thing about preferred communication source in 1973. Human needs doesn’t change; circumstances change.) Over 84% of employees have smart phones, 81% use Facebook several times a day, 50% have company e-mail and 50% do not. Passive, top down communications are not trusted anymore and obeyed less and less.

Number 2 – leaders need to actively promote the Company Brand & Values to employees everyday through their preferred medium - socialized networks and personal behavior. And routinely/interactively explain how associate efforts will affect the Brand goals/market position/strategy. Be ready for employee ideas better than yours.

Number 3 – organizations need to reengineer their traditional methods of setting Work Objectives and Compensation based on 21th Century thinking jobs. Most employees today plan the work, do the work and control the work – mostly autonomously. These dynamic jobs require cognitive skills and they consistently show that engagement and performance deteriorate with traditional if-then and passage-of-time compensation systems. This new overtime law adds additional pressure to change.

Number 4 – the Top Leadership “Halo Effect” has been replaced by the “Pitchfork Effect”. Most employees do not trust words and actions of their top leaders, but place significant trust in their Peer Group’s socialized analysis of things before they will act. We have also found that employees trust the “organization” much more than “top management”. Remapping traditional “now hear this” pronouncements in light of these attitude shifts are key to unifying employee efforts and executing strategy.

Number 5 - organizations must put employees in charge of their Personal Growth and career paths if they want the focus and engagement both parties need to thrive. Millennials are leaving companies in a heartbeat that expect them to wait their turn.

Dr. Jac: That’s pretty interesting. You’re noted for your great work on measuring engagement. In my experience, I find the term often misused and misunderstood. Could you enlighten us with a proper and complete definition?

I need to begin by smashing some prevailing myths. Real employee engagement is simply an employee’s emotional pledge to the organization, their work and their work group. The intensity of that emotional pledge substantially affects employee willingness and effort. It is attitudinally developed, over time, based on 15 experiences employees routinely encounter. Engagement intensity drives effort and productivity in the organization.

Dr. Jac: Is Engagement really a science with all the trappings of being measurable, predictive, repeatable, showing cause and effect, et cetera?

Ken: Absolutely, if you know how to measure it and teach leaders how to manage it.

Dr. Jac: Can you elaborate?

Ken: Often when we go into an organization, the survey data leaders are relying on to guide their engagement efforts are faulty. Their efforts to improve employee engagement only improve the survey results and frequency of positive anecdotes – not business outcomes. This is explained in more detail on our website whitepapers and in the chapter about engagement measurement I contributed in your book “The New HR Analytics”.

But here’s the myth that needs busting: Employee engagement was not invented by mankind. It is a discovery of something which has always existed. While engagement has been intuitively accepted as the key to self-management, cognitive work quality and effort, very few leaders have a scientific understanding of it. Even less understand are the attitudes that drive it. I’m talking about cause, effect and related business outcomes. Few organizations map out and track their Engagement Value Chain despite spending huge sums on “engagement” bells and whistles. CEB concluded that 80% of business leaders do not believe engagement investments are driving business outcomes despite spending loads of money to boost engagement. We see the same thing.

The bottom line is this: Engagement Drivers are attitudes based on a set of experiences which can be precisely measured. Not opinions. Not groupthink questions. Not contests about the most generous benefits. If you measure engagement correctly, leaders can be trained to improve business outcomes by improving each group’s total Engagement Index. It's that simple. If you don’t see a repeatable payoff, like revenue per employee, it's not engagement. It's the Emperor’s Clothes.

Dr. Jac: Can you talk a little about managing Engagement Indexes and Drivers?

Real engagement drivers are composed of both Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators. They are two different sets of motivators which must be managed two different ways. Managing extrinsic motivators just removes the pain inflicted while managing intrinsic motivators elevates the heart of engagement intensity. The trick few practice though, is that you have to neutralize the pain before people respond to the intrinsic stuff. For example, if you are routinely treated unfairly, Personal Growth opportunities do not intensify your engagement. It can’t get through to your injured heart. So, leaders need to be trained to manage both sets of motivators simultaneously to maximize engagement over time.

Circling back around, when Engagement Indexes and component Drivers are measured correctly at the group level, connective “HR Analytics” are easy. Tracking business outcomes as a result of increased Index scores is in plain sight. Lead-lag indicators fall at your feet.

Dr. Jac: Wrapping up, what advice do you have for employers regarding engagement?

First, discard faulty engagement measures. If there is no statistical connection to revenue or cost per employee, scrap it.

Second, define, measure and manage employee engagement as your most important long-term KPI.

Third, map out your own signature Engagement Value Chain. Share it with your Board. Show them why you are spending money here, to get something over there in 9 to 12 months. When the payoff arrives, show them how smart you are.

Dr. Jac: Ken, thank you very much for you insights.  


For further information on Scarlett's scientific employee engagement surveys Ken can be reached at 864-770-0153 or for further information contact them