Sometimes, it Takes a Hurricane to Know What Engagement Looks Like

I talk and write about employee engagement a good deal. One comment I often get is: “Yeah, I understand why employee engagement is important, but what does it look like?”

I think Towers Watson’s new “Sustainable Engagement” approach, especially the “energy” component, gets at what engagement looks like in the individual employee. More on Towers Watson’s “energy” concept was recently explained in Harvard Business Review:

So what is energy, exactly? In physics, it’s simply the capacity to do work. In other words ‘energy’ and ‘capacity’ are essentially interchangeable. In simple terms, energy is the fuel in our tanks — what’s required to bring our skill and talent to life. Without sufficient energy, skill is rendered irrelevant. You can’t run on empty.”

How do you “fuel” your employees?

So how do you feel employees’ “energy” tanks? Being sure employees understand the meaning and purpose of their work is foundational to inspiring the energy fueling employee engagement.

Just one incredibly powerful example of what employee engagement looks like comes to us from the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy that devastated parts of the Eastern U.S.:

An emergency room technician was so determined to make her shift the day after Sandy hit that she swam part of the way there through the floodwaters.

“‘Can’t isn’t in my vocabulary, so I knew I was going to make it,’ said Marsha Hedgepeth of Toms River, N.J.

Hedgepeth had to make her 3 p.m. shift at Community Medical Center the day after Sandy. But when she looked outside, her neighborhood was dark and flooded. The Barnegat Bay had poured 10-foot waves on to her street overnight, and the streetlights were out…

Dressed in jeans and sneakers, Hedgepeth bundled up in a scarf, hat and mittens, and swam about 200 yards (the equivalent of swimming about 4 lengths of an Olympic-sized pool), navigating through the debris and carrying her scrubs in a grocery bag. When she finally made it to the highway, she hitched a ride with some utility workers and arrived to work six hours before her shift.

Hospital administrators say it’s a testament to Hedgepeth’s hard work and resilience. ‘To suffer such a tragedy and have to endure the extreme weather we had experienced on the Jersey Shore that day — we can’t say enough of how proud we are of her and that she is safe,’ said Teri Kubiel, administrative director at Community Medical Center.”

That’s a truly, deeply engaged employee. If you would like to help those in need to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, consider donating.

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How full is your “energy” tank?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


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