Why Engagement is the Wrong Word

I was engaged once.  It was 1988 and in between a course of sweetbreads and lamb at the Millcroft Inn in Alton, Ontario, the blue-eyed guy across from me popped the question.  I looked at the ring, and I looked at him, and I said, “yes”.  In other words, I said (on the inside), “I find you very attractive, I have no idea how this story might end, but yes, I think there are good odds here and I’m game to give it a shot”.  After all, we were very young, we had no money, but we had high hopes for the future. We set a date.

That’s engagement.

During engagement, you buy an expensive dress you’ll never wear again, and you fuss over the strange details of a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.  You drive your friends and family crazy.  Then once the engagement is over and you’ve settled in, you find true happiness.

I’ve thought about this as it relates to the workplace.

Do we need engagement?  Or do we need that sense of settling in and happiness?

I think it is the latter.

I’m not sure we are at our best during the engagement.  There are reasons why there are TV shows about bridezillas. There is frenzied anticipation and many, many details.  There are a lot of things to balance, with time always seeming to be at a premium. Our goal is to have a lovely wedding. We fret at not being able to see much beyond that day.  It is when the engagement is over that we have a routine and new goals and a longer-term outlook.  We fall more deeply in love with our spouse. That’s happiness.

I fully realize that not everyone on the engagement bandwagon agrees with me.  They argue that an engaged employee is not necessarily a happy employee and they argue that a happy employee may be happy because their work isn’t challenging, which doesn’t benefit the business.  Ok, fair enough.  That said, perhaps I’m being overly technical but the definition of engagement does not include the word motivation (in fact, appointment is a synonym for engagement).  Ultimately, motivation is another positive side effect of being settled in to a role where you have confidence. Again, during engagement you are not settled in yet.

So how can you achieve a workplace full of happy people?  Try these strategies:

  1. Find ways to include your employees in long-term planning.  So often we set short-term goals in our planning without thinking about how this contributes to the big picture.  The more employees can see themselves in your organization 3, 5, 7 years down the road, the more likely they will contribute in ways that will ensure the organization is sustainable.
  2. Love your organization.  Love your employees. I’m talking to you HR. Some of the best organizations out there have amazing programs not only for current employees but also alums.  Make it a family atmosphere full of positivity and mutual respect by focusing on programs designed to be supportive of the whole employee, at 24 and 64.  The workplace should feel safe and a place to find your centre.  This can’t happen in a place where there isn’t an environment of mutual trust.
  3. Lessen the distractions. People focus best when they aren’t surrounded by a myriad of distractions.  They’re happy when the details are set.  If that means organizing central pick up for dry cleaning, providing access to a concierge service or being more flexible about work arrangements, go for it.

If you think of your employees after the engagement, the onboarding, all that preliminary stuff, and make the workplace feel like an extension of home, you’re well on your way to achieving workplace happiness.


Photo Credit


About the author: Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award.  You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.

About the Author

Bonni Titgemeyer

Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award. You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.



I have noticed you don’t monetize womenofhr.com,
don’t waste your traffic, you can earn extra bucks every
month with new monetization method. This is the best adsense alternative
for any type of website (they approve all websites), for more info simply search in gooogle:
murgrabia’s tools


Fantastic article. I’m looking at continually this blog that i’m influenced! Very beneficial facts in particular the outstanding piece 🙂 I personally take care of this sort of information and facts a whole lot. I’d been interested in this type of facts for any while. Thanks and finest associated with good fortune.

Sasha Zito

Hi Bonni, You always have a fresh take on things! Loved this and yes, where you feel at home and relaxed to be yourself and focus on delivering your best, and also having a clear understanding of the objectives – that makes for a happy and productive work-life!

Doug Shaw

Hi Bonni – nice post. I think you are right that engagement is the wrong word. I often see it defined as ‘a proposal of marriage’ and ‘the onset of war’.

I recently found some interesting research recently that indicates a large percentage of UK workers haven’t even heard of the term employee engagement. There’s more on that here if you and your readers are interested.


Cheers – Doug

Jon Williams

Bonni, a lot of what you describe sounds like “flow”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

We’re tried and seen a lot of terminology in our own surveys and in others. Happiness, Satisfaction. However, these are often overloaded in other ways (as you say).

Paolo Bafico

Very good post. Feeling ” at home” and yet in an environment where you can thrive, whithout having the sense of being on edge all the time.


@Bonni – great post, I too am hesistant about the engagement concept at work…I like the alternative of “enabled”, which means that the employee has what they need to do their job – clear expectations, resources, support, and autonomy. And I agree, sometimes the iniatives aimed at engagement in the workplace are similar to the circus that is planning a wedding.

Gaurav Gat

I think you are confused with the term Engagement. English is a lesser language in the sense that the same word can be used in different contexts. The first para refers to engagement in terms of marriage and then you attribute the same meaning to employment.

If you look at the word engagement, it derives from the word engage that means to be

participate or become involved in

. But thats not the meaning conveyed by the story of your Friend proposing to you, is it? But the things you mention later are about engaging the employees. The two ideas do not converge to convey the message that you are trying to convey.


@Gaurav – I don’t think Bonni is confused – I believe she was just making a clever play on one word that has mutiple meanings


1. a comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.


Hi Julie,

Thanks for coming to my rescue. Yes, I was making a funny, but apparently not everyone got it. Sort of like this:


That said, Oxford defines engagement as the following:

*a formal agreement to get married: she’d broken off her engagement to Paul

*the duration of an agreement to get married:a good long engagement to give you time to be sure

*an arrangement to do something or go somewhere at a fixed time:a dinner engagement

*[mass noun] the action of engaging or being engaged:Britain’s continued engagement in open trading

*a fight or battle between armed forces: the war’s most significant engagements were fought to keep these sea lanes open

We’ve moved the word into employee engagement, which is kind of interesting considering that is not at the root.


Great video Bonni 🙂

I love number 2 strategy which is love your organization or your people, because if you do love and appreciate your organization and your people, more often than not, the love will be reciprocated and every one will be happier and more satisfied.

Gaurav Gat

I got the clever usage of the word engagement. My bad if I was’t clear in what I wanted to say. HRs tend to get confused a lot (atleast from where I come). A word play doesn’t help in un-confusing them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *