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How Much Does Employee Optimism Play into Employee Engagement?

I recently saw this article in Forbes about employee engagement surveys. The article initially discussed how employees typically play a passive role in engagement surveys. I don't completely agree with that statement. What I've typically found is that the companies that I've worked for that were serious about changing culture did want employees to be part of the solution.

What I always found more concerning are the employee surveys that I never saw the results for. THOSE are the surveys where leadership needed to listen to some hard truths and the fact that they would pretend the survey was never sent out spoke volumes. You'd wonder why they even bothered. Typically, those were the situations when the employees would whisper to each other and assurances from leadership that all responses were anonymous was met with skepticism and trepidation.

What Role Does Employee Optimism Play in Engagement?

After this initial part of the article, the author awkwardly transitioned to a survey the author's company had done regarding what makes an employee engaged. Again, the author stated that traditionally an employee is engaged when s/he has a great manager. I'd counter by saying it's not that black and white. There are multiple factors that drive an employee's engagement. They include but are not limited to: company leadership, perceived company benefits, the type of work the employee is doing (and that alone can vary), the employee's role, co-workers, culture, general comradery, opportunities for growth, etc. You see where I'm going here.

The author shared that the survey results showed that an employee's mindset and outlook drives his/her engagement more than a good boss. Okay, I'm intrigued. Here's a summary of the survey findings:

  1. A boss that recognizes an employee's achievements is good, but an optimistic employee is better.

  2. A boss that considers your ideas is good but the employee believing they can control their fate is better.

  3. Having a trustworthy boss is good but being resilient is better.

  4. Teamwork is good, but assertiveness is better.

  5. Having a clearly defined job is good but finding your work interesting is better.

Analysis methods

Before I go any further, I had to dust off my statistics hat (and ask my husband who builds models for work). R2 in and of itself is a strange metric to use to compare questions. What are the p-values? What are the confidence intervals? Sharing how he analyzed these would make them more legitimate for me. Also, causation doesn't imply correlation.

Even if I don't look at this through the statistical methods lens, the results are way too generalized. What were the other questions? Why were these particular questions compared? What does comparing these questions actually tell us? What were the demographics of the respondents? I'm more interested in how these results break out by things such as:

  1. Gender

  2. Industry

  3. Age

  4. Racial profile

Those are the results that I'm interested in seeing. For example, I read the word "assertive" and I think of a guy (and dare I say a white guy). Men are typically more likely to be more outspoken in the workforce AND they're more likely to be listened to. Women aren't typically taught to be assertive, and when we are, they are perceived differently (think bitchy or aggressive) than assertive men. Also, assertiveness may be better for the individual, but how do others feel about a co-worker's assertiveness? Also, how do you encourage other employees to be more assertive?

It's a start but...

The author's assumption that these results can stand on their own is as flawed as his first assumption that a good manager alone makes an employee engaged. In fact, I'm a little concerned that he didn't dive into these results more. The findings could be so much richer. Additionally, I'd argue that a good boss is still extremely important.

What do you think of these survey results? What makes you an engaged employee? Do you think my criticism of this article makes me a pessimistic person?

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