Illustration of ducks flying up into the sky We know some things just by looking at them. But do we really understand them? In this blog post, Kerri Hollis reflects on her interview with career development expert Helen Tupper. Together, they draw a distinction between spotting employee engagement and understanding it.

What is a duck?

Yes, this is still a blog post about employee engagement. And yes, it’s an odd question. But think about it for a moment. While you probably can’t give a dictionary definition, you almost certainly know a duck when you see one.

This is what’s known in the legal world as the duck test. A form of abductive reasoning – a series of observations leading to the most likely explanation. Some things are easy to spot. You just have to look at the characteristics.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, well, it’s probably a duck.

And you know a duck when you see one just like you know employee engagement when you see it. An engaged workforce boosts your business’ productivity and its profitability. So if your people are keeping busy and your business is making money, your employees must be engaged, right?

Well, abductive reasoning isn’t the same as certainty. You can put on a coat of feathers and quack, but that doesn’t make you a duck. And your business can be productive and profitable, but that doesn’t mean your employees are engaged.

When it comes to really understanding employee engagement, there are subtler markers to look out for. So what are they?

The true characteristics of an engaged employee

“Employee engagement is people being able to bring their best selves to work and do their best work at work.” That’s Helen Tupper. She co-founded a career development company called Amazing If. I sat down with her to find out what the characteristics of employee engagement really are. What will business leaders see in an employee who’s bringing their best self to work?

  • They’re encouraged to share their opinions.
  • They contribute to the direction of the business.
  • They’re good at what they do and eager to get even better.
  • They recognise the value they add to the business.
  • They feel rewarded.

Of course, these characteristics aren’t as easy to spot as feathers and quacking. They’re not as easy to measure as productivity and profits. And, since every employee has a unique best self, you need to understand what motivates the individual before you can engage them.

The engagement test

What does this employee’s best self look like? Do they know what’s expected of them? Is their progress reviewed regularly? Are they being recognised when they do good work?

These are the questions that will reveal what motivates your people. And it’s these drivers that will help you engage them. After all, you can’t understand employee engagement just by looking. Abductive reasoning isn’t enough. You have to have a conversation to identify the less conspicuous indicators of engagement.

To find out more about employee engagement, I had a conversation of my own. I sat down with Helen to talk more about how to spot low employee engagement, what might cause it, and how HR leaders can overcome it. And you can join the conversation here.