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Engagement not a ‘silver bullet’ for HR, says Cooper


HR professionals are guilty of seeing employee engagement as a solution to all its problems, according to a leading business academic.

Cary Cooper, distinguished professor of organisational psychology and Health at Lancaster University, was commenting on the ORC Global Perspective Survey, which showed that Britain was 18th out of 20 countries surveyed and that all elements of engagement had lower scores than in last year.

Cooper told HR magazine engagement should not be seen as a stand-alone factor, but as part of the wider wellbeing agenda.

“We first started getting into trouble in this country when we started seeing engagement as a box ticking exercise," he said. "Managers had all these targets to meet that on paper looked impressive, but in reality did nothing to change the workplace. We have made a mistake in HR of seeing engagement as a silver bullet that fixes everything else.”

Cooper doesn’t see the problem as a lack of focus on engagement, rather a focus on the wrong areas.

“The strange thing is no other country has worked as hard on this as the UK. It’s just that they are too focussed on engagement as an end in itself without looking at the wider wellbeing issue,” he said.

“Give them a piece of the action. Share ownership, such as the John Lewis model, really helps people feel better about themselves and subsequently be more inclined to stay in their roles.”

Cafcass senior HR business partner Daryl Maitland told HR magazine making employees feel valued both in and out of work is key to their wellbeing and engagement.

“If you give the staff the right tools to do their jobs, both in the office at home, this sends a message that the company trusts them and values their time,” he said.