'Engagement' is the latest buzzword used to describe an abstract emotion that we would like our employees to feel about their work. In the past it has been called empowerment or ownership or commitment and now we have 'engagement'. It is simply another attempt to describe an instinctive understanding that we have that our organisation tends to be better off when our workforce care about what they do. The reason that the word we use to describe this keeps changing is because we have not been able to discover what it is that we have to do to get it - mainly because it id actually different for most people. So, instead of admitting failure, we change the word and make it look as if we are looking for something different.
Most of us have still not found out what to do to allow our workforces to engage so when our bosses ask what we are doing about engagement we look for a survey to prove that they we are (at least) doing something. The people whose business it is to produce surveys are very happy to oblige our desperate need for affirmation.
The survey does not even have to measure engagement at all, just provide data that makes it look as if it does. Consequently, there is pretty much no correlation between 'engagement survey' results and performance. About the best anyone has managed to do at Gallup for example is about 0.19 (100% correlation would be 1.0). The fact is most engagement surveys are complete nonsense and usually pedalled by executives trying to justify their existance.
Imagine trying to measure a similar abstract emotion like happiness. No one in the business world would even contemplate it would they? You can't measure 'happy' - you just know if you are.
King Jigme of Bhutan declared when he ascended the throne that his major concern was the happiness of his people. If that had happened in the business world it would have led to an explosion of 'Happiness Consultants' and then cost a fortune while they benchmarked the nation’s current state of happiness using 'Happiness Surveys', and ran focus groups to find out what happiness was and perhaps what colour it should be. Instead, when asked what he was going to do, King Jigme replied that he was going to create the conditions that would allow his people to be happy and then they would choose to be happy for themselves.
'Engagement', like happiness, is the way that people feel about what they do. Trying to measure it is an extremely difficult and ultimately futile exercise. We would be better off, like King Jigme, creating the environment that will allow our workforces to engage. Then when they do we will know it. No survey needed... but then the survey is so much easier isn't it?