Employee Engagement Lost in Translation


When my boss told me I would have to define the word ‘well-being’ for employees and leaders to understand and engage with our transformation from ‘health promotion’ to well-being, I thought it was absurd and reflective of his own close mindedness.  How could anyone not know?  After all, it’s an English word! And yet, there is an invaluable insight to his perspective. In order to gain wide-spread employee attention to initiatives, leader support and endorsement is needed and, in order to get sustained leader endorsement, support of business objectives is a requirement.  However, in the world of business, often we really are speaking a different language, with different nuances and assumptions from spoken language.   Without definition of new terminology and objectives, our key engagement initiatives may easily be lost in translation.

While the alphabet and pronunciation may not differ, this disconnect in expression goes so far as to penetrate even the seemingly universal language most commonly used to discuss business.   Consequently, many key messages and emphases, even when expressed in English, are lost on employees when articulated in ‘business speak’.  Take the phrase “for the love of ___” for example.  In business speak, this sentence would be most naturally completed with the word ‘money’, while most English speakers would automatically complete this phrase with the word “G-d”.  Although mention of spirituality and belief systems may be lightly mentioned in business conversation, mention of divinity is excluded from the business room and left to the dinner table and house of worship exclusively. Although our marketing counterparts have the freedom to adeptly appeal to the wants and language of its target audience, employee group engagement, and thus productivity, often suffers due to this business-to-human language barrier.

While many employers aim to engage employees around those key business objectives that tie the occupations of these colleagues together, the real ‘key’ to ensuring these communication investments yield employee engagement is the genuine conveyance of that connection point on the more personal, human aspect of these invaluable employee-employer business relationships.

Top 4 Communication attributes for True Employee Engagement

  1. Use ‘human speak’ to convey the value of the daily work completed by your workforce. This doesn’t mean adding hearts and the word ‘love’ to your communication, but use the words that you would when having a conversation outside of work.  The word ‘wow’ to express how impressed you are with the great work your team is doing is much more powerful than the business word ‘critical’ and distant word ‘impressed’ for example.
  2. Acknowledge the contributions of individual teams to larger goals.  Aside from the simple pleasure of accomplishing a shared objective, appeal to the bigger, higher purpose of what that input really adds to the big picture.  Recognition of how the sole contribution enables the accomplishment of the broader goal creates a sense of impact ‘greater than oneself’ and purpose, thus driving intrinsic motivation and sustained engagement.
  3. Recognize the ‘human qualities’ behind the benefits to business objectives. At the core of hard work, tenacity, even trustworthiness in sales are the truly human, meaningful attributes of dedication, integrity and sincerity.  Recognition and appreciation of these human virtues taps into, not only the core elements enabling those benefits to the bottom line, but also the core beliefs that employees exhibiting these attributes maintain and take most pride in.  Recognizing these most highly valued ‘human qualities’ provides meaningful recognition and sustained employee engagement.
  4. Expose vulnerability and lessons learned. Often in business we are compelled to put our best foot forward, but a willingness to share some of our concerns or mistakes along the way creates a more even playing field and connectedness via those shared or similar experiences in the inevitable trials that all professionals experience.

Communications that leverage these underlying ‘core’ elements of employee engagement effectively avoid losing the employee work force audience in the translation from business objectives to human connection in the workplace.  This shift in tone in turn, moves the engagement lever beyond employee attendance at company events to true, sustained employee commitment, productivity and the innovative, diverse thought that distinguishes a good work force from a world class organization.

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