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Employee engagement – finally more than just a buzz word

"You are not a human resource, you're a human being". "Engagement is not an HR activity, it's not a survey, it's about leadership, values, respect and praise". "Engaging employees is good for personal wellbeing, central for organisational success and vital for growth."

These were the messages coming out of the Engage for Success event I attended last week in London. The event was aimed at tackling the UK's employee engagement deficit as part of the Engage for Success movement, led by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, which also aims to improve the way people work in the UK.

After this event and hearing views from chairman, CEOs and HRDs it does seem the message 'engagement can drive performance' has finally got through.

MacLeod, who was commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to take an in-depth look at employee engagement, started the event by talking about the 'buzz' in the room.

And he was right - there was a lot of excitement around a topic that may have started off a number of years ago as a fashionable word in HR but has now broken through into the mainstream.

After MacLeod was an inspiring speech from ITV chairman, and former head of Asda, Archie Norman regaling the room with anecdotes about bored checkout ladies from Asda and uninspired ITV execs. He finished on a message that wouldn't seem too far away from Asda's next advertising campaign: "People come to work to shine and it's our job to make them shine."

After that rousing speech it was onto Tanith Dodge, HR director of Marks and Spencer, who talked about her 'lightbulb moment' in realising the potential of engagement. She stated:"The weight of evidence is absolutely phenomenal."

Final speaker of the event was minister for employment relations and consumer affairs, Jo Swinson. I've heard she's tipped to replace Michael Moore as Scottish secretary after the independence referendum in 2014. If she does, she'll be the first female Liberal Democrat minister.

But there wasn't any of that belief in this performance as it looked like she had been taking advice from the Vince Cable school of speech delivery and it ended up feeling quite flat.

Luckily the mood was lifted by some 'real corporate soul', with the Royal Mail choir from Gareth Malone's 'sing while you work.'

An excellent event that proves engagement is no longer solely an HR issue.