Defining Employee Engagement

The Happiness Index (THI) talks a lot about Employee Engagement… but what does it actually mean? Well, as ever with things that relate to humans, there is no absolute and single definition. We know that happiness means different things to different people, and the same is definitely true of employee engagement.

THI has an Employee Engagement framework that is underpinned by neuroscience and our experience building happy, engaged cultures all around the world. But our understanding of Employee Engagement can differ quite a lot from how other people define or use the term.


Bill Kahn is an organisational psychologist, and a professor of Management and Organisation, teaching, writing and consulting out of Boston University in the US. His main area of study is people and their relationships, particularly in a work context. Bill is clearly very good at what he does, but his involvement in the history of Employee Engagement was almost accidental.

Bill wrote his doctoral thesis on Personal Engagement. He developed a theory around what it meant for someone, in a work role, to be as alive, present and fully authentic as possible, a state he called Personally Engaged. He laid out his ideas about what allowed someone to be fully engaged, or the opposite, disengaged.

This work went relatively unnoticed for a while, except by other scholars in the field until one day it blew up, rebranded as Employee Engagement. However, Bill sees Employee Engagement as completely and violently different from Personal Engagement. Violent here is Bill’s word but it’s important.

The way that Personal Engagement was conceptualised and theorised was originally very personal. It’s right there in the name. Bill was looking at whether individuals could be themselves, express themselves, and ultimately perform, in a way that wouldn’t see reprisals. He feels strongly that it was about individuals expanding into their space, being revealed to others, and thereby being connected to things that are happening around them.


Bill believes that people can’t just lose themselves in a job that they feel really connected and engaged with, but actually find themselves in it. He believes that we can really find out more about who we are as people and what we can achieve in roles, when we’re given the opportunity to, and find an organisation with which we can really connect.

When we look at Personal Engagement, it’s really about the relationships between people – it’s about really great managers and leaders, and the way they interact. It’s about putting people and relationships under the microscope and thinking about the ways that humans can flourish.


Employee Engagement on the other hand is far less focused on the individual and how they learn, grow and thrive. It’s focused on what the employee can do for their company. Specifically, how can employees be as engaged as possible in their work so they help the business achieve its goals?

There are some overlaps in terminology and aspects of Employee Engagement and Personal Engagement. For example, both look at how companies can help their employees find meaning and purpose in their work. But the purpose behind doing this is fundamentally different.

Bill thinks of Employee Engagement as almost an oxymoron. That these two ideas are almost diametrically opposed: if you’re looking at engagement, the fact that someone is an employee isn’t important; and conversely, if you’re looking at Employees, then their engagement is just a fancy word or hook to make people believe you have their personal interests at heart.

Ultimately, we’re going to keep using the term Employee Engagement. It’s industry standard, and it’s what people know and expect when it comes to Happiness in the workplace. But we also feel strongly that the way Employee Engagement is defined and the ways the framework is used should be changed. We have a different way of doing it at The Happiness Index…


With the right balance of engagement and happiness, your organisation will achieve a thriving culture. In our Cultural Assessment model, we balance happiness and engagement, using neuroscience. Happiness relates to the Instinctive and Emotional parts of our brain. The Instinctive area of the brain deals with factors like Safety and Freedom. The Emotional area of the brain focuses on the factors of Relationships and Acknowledgment. On the other hand Engagement links to the Reflective and Rational parts of the brain. Our Reflective brain looks at factors such as Meaning and Purpose and Personal Growth. The Rational part of our brains deals with Clarity and Enablement.

Neuroscience brain quadrants cultural assessment

When businesses understand how to measure the happiness and engagement of their people, and create action plans to improve both areas – they will reap the rewards of a happy, engaged and highly driven workforce. The healthy balance sheet will follow soon after!


If you’d prefer to hear this from the man himself, then look no further! Click the button below and hear Bill’s thoughts on employee engagement as he chats with our Head of Global Happiness, Matt:


Future Proofing your Employability as We Age

In this webinar for Aging 2.0 in the UK, John Fitzgerald shared his shared his 3-Dimensional approach that rewards those who are willing to relearn, reskill and reposition to meet changing demands as we age.

He says “The rules for career and life success have changed forever. Loyalty and hard work were once rewarded with an incremental pension that would ensure a secure retirement. What is required now is to maintain lifelong employability and a purpose as we age. Work has changed into ‘something to do’ rather than ‘some place to go’ as we can all work from home as much or as little as we like”.

See the webinar on the link below


Blog Happiness News

One Big Thing to Learn from Covid..

There are two types of people I know going through this Longest Lockdown Saga.

Person 1- I see two people in my town walking every day, they have lost kilos in weight, they used to go to the pub every other night. Since lockdown, they have made a choice to become healthier and fitter. They have gained greater self-esteem and I can see the pride they feel when we stop and have a chat. For them, lockdown is an opportunity to change lifetime habits

Person 2- I was coaching a leader today and we spoke about how one of their team is spiraling out of control, they are out on stress leave, they are not able to cope with working from home. The stress of taking on a new role in combination with working remotely has taken it’s toll. They need help.

I am sharing my daughter Sarah’s behaviour hack she has on her phone. She has started driving, has her L Plates Up and doing the Leaving Cert in June. She is busy learning and has a clear purpose.

Now think about the work you are doing today?

Imagine yourself at the end of your life looking back:

– what aspect of this work would still seem meaningful?
– what would you wish you worried less about?
– how would you wish you would have approached this work?



Racing to Get Ahead!

This short video of Steven Bradbury winning an unlikely Olympic Gold Medal is a great example of how people in a rush to get ahead can scupper not only their own chance of success but also others.


We have also seen it throughout our own careers when those who are so focussed on reaching the next promotion, the next achievement bump into people and cause unnecessary collateral damage on the way up.

In Coaching Hi-Performance Leaders, we meet resistance to behaviour change.

Take time to reflect and answer this question?

What’s the greatest behavioural change you have made in your adult life?

Neuroplasticity in our brains show we can change but few choose to change unless something in the environment forces us to change. Covid has forced many of us to change how we work and where we work.

But changing how we see ourselves and how interact with others is the greatest challenge for those seeking to grow as leaders. People who have driven hard all their lives fear adapting their style as they progress their careers. The famous line from Marshall Goldsmith “What got you here, won’t get you there” never ages.

I have the seen the scares of committing with a tunnel vision close up where high achievers miss out on the most important moments in life. Yes, we require a laser focus to achieve our goals, but lockdown should have opened our eyes to what is closer and more important in our lives.

  • The importance of time with family
  • Deeping your key Friendships in life
  • Taking in Nature and the Outdoors
  • Being present and giving time to others
  • Being kind to others on social media

None of these require a Master’s or PhD, they require time to observe our own behaviour, our relationships and environment

The chase to get ahead can blind us to what’s really important.

If you require business, leadership or career coaching to support you through change, see a link to our programmes





Did you know?

Did you know?

*21% said they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them.
*14% agreed that they had resigned
*42% had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them.

My blog last week on #LockdownWindow was all about Wellbeing.

At Harmonics, we are listening and responding.

Our Partnership with the Happiness Index has enabled us to launch our Wellbeing Survey.

We know creating a great culture to attract and retain talent is more challenging with remote working. Our Wellbeing Survey gives you back invaluable data 24/7 so you as an Employer can act swiftly to look after your people.

This technology platform is the best we have seen and proud to partner with the Happiness Index in Ireland.

Book in a chat with one of our Wellbeing Experts today to discover more and see a free demo



Wright Brothers

“It’s hard to reach a certain stage and have to start learning again”

At the turn of the last century, two bicycle builders became the first in the world to fly a plane. They won the race against the expert astronomer, physicist and inventor, Samuel Langley who was backed by €2 million in grants (in todays money) to complete the project

So what was their secret formula?

The Wright Brothers had a Beginners Mindset and began exploring with curiosity. They took a design thinking approach, they knew they would fail many times, but every experiment was an opportunity to learn.

Langley, however was weighed down by rules and theory and years of expertise in his field. He had an Expert Mindset, he discounted many possibilities and narrowed his options too fast.

In a recent coaching session, a Senior Leader said to me “It’s hard when you reach a certain stage in your career and have to start again”. He fears making a mistake, fears asking for help. His ego is getting in his way.

I would encourage anyone fearing change to combine your current knowledge and expertise with the curiosity of the beginners mindset.

In todays world, we are all beginners, we have never experienced a time like this. We need to let go much of what we know to be true

The Wright’s were right:) #curiousity


Lockdown Window

Every call I have had this week, the topic of well being has been mentioned.

One client is doing a Well Being fortnight, another has Wellness Wednesdays where no online meetings are supposed to happen…but they still do!

These HR led initiatives highlight a focus on taking care of ourselves.

The real question is how do we turn well meaning for well being into feeling well and confident to face the future through lockdown?

Our work and life environments have changed and are likely to never go back to where they were pre-covid.

Many of us are on Zoom or Teams calls all day with one glimpse of the outside world through our #LockdownWindow in my case my skylight window.

This isolation is having a huge impact on people. At Harmonics, we are on a mission to help Organisation Leaders truly listen and care for their people.

Leaders and Managers need to purposely build even greater emotional connections with their people by creating the time for quality conversations.

We have used the Lockdown to create new technologies like Employee Voice 24/7 to work as an internal communications coach and our Future Readiness Index to enhance our 5 Step Career Conversations Masterclass series

Take a look and give us a call on the link here.

Blog News

Future of Work 2020 Research Study Launched


Future of Work Research Study Examined Changing Landscape of Skills in Demand, Work Environments and Technology

23 November 2020: A global survey of Business and HR Leaders conducted by Irish firm Harmonics and OI Global Partners (one of the world’s largest career consulting partnerships) has captured some of the positives, negatives and challenges that the pandemic and digital transformation are bringing to the world of work.

This is the fifth annual survey that Harmonics has conducted in association with OI Global Partners on the Future of Work and the implications from the pandemic were felt right across organisations.

Some of the key take-aways include:

  • 43% of global respondents believe Covid-19 had a positive impact on productivity. When looking at Irish respondents this rose to 69%.
  • By comparison, 46% of respondents in Ireland (and globally) perceive a negative impact on collaboration because of fewer informal interactions.
  • The impact of remote working has led 71% to anticipate a hybrid form of work in the future with some division to time spent between home and the workplace.

Commenting on these findings, John Fitzgerald, managing director, Harmonics, said, “Hybrid working is here to stay so we need to continue to find ways to stay connected and to collaborate effectively in virtual environments. The big question for employers now is how do we create greater teamwork, better conversations and well-being in a very scheduled online meeting led world of work?”

Virtual workforce mobility is another trend emerging in a tight global labour market for specific skills. Organisations can now hire someone from anywhere in the virtual world. We will start to see more examples of a person living in Japan working for a company in Dublin for instance or someone living in Kerry working for a company headquartered in Berlin,” he continued.

The top 5 skills most valued by organisations are:

  • Leadership agility
  • Embracing Change
  • Collaboration
  • Communicating Clearly
  • Critical Thinking

“We saw the same top 5 in 2019, although leadership agility has jumped three places to the top.  Digital transformation has accelerated apace because of Covid-19 and this has increased the need for an agile mindset to embrace change and learn new ways of work. Career success is very much mindset led and skillset enabled,” Mr Fitzgerald noted.

Other key findings include:

  • 46% say that ‘adapting to change’ is the biggest people challenge facing their organisation, followed by ‘managing remote workers’ (43%) and keeping employees engaged (42%).
  • By contrast, in Ireland, the biggest people challenge is ‘preparing for the unknown’
  • The transition to a remote working environment has increased responsibility for each employee to self-direct their own career development. Self-directed learning portals garner support from 45% of survey participants this year, the highest rated development activity and one that has not made the top list in previous years.
  • Just over half of survey participants predict that new technology (e.g., artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning) will have no impact on jobs (56%). This is an increase from 2019, when 38% of responses fell into the “no impact on jobs” bucket.
  • Turning to the impact of new technology on social skills, more than 3 out of 4 of overall survey participants (77%) believe that new technology will require more social skills.

Mr. Fitzgerald said, “The impact of digital transformation and ongoing technology advancements are increasing the need to reskill to meet changing work demands. However, in Ireland there appears to be a significant gap in businesses committing to investing in upskilling their people. Only 16% Irish employers stated they are currently investing in reskilling, while 66% said they would do so in the future. This may impact the ability of people to quickly transition to new jobs that require an increasing hybrid of digital and social skills.”

The Global Future of Work survey results can be downloaded here OIGP-FOW-2020-IRL


About the survey: 

The survey was conducted in September and October 2020. There were almost 600 respondents from 16 countries.  Organisations of all sizes weighed in, with half reporting more than 500 employees. Respondents represented every one of 16 major industry groups, with heaviest response from Financial Services, Business Support & Logistics, Technology, Telecom, Internet & Electronics and Manufacturing.

About 50% of the respondents are from the UK and Europe, with the largest representation from Ireland, Netherlands and Nordic countries. Slightly fewer respondents (48%) come from Canada and the US and 3% represent Australia.




OIGP 5th Annual Future of Work Is Now Study

This year has certainly not gone as any of us had planned. A global pandemic and its impact have made those of us at Harmonics and our colleague in OI Global Partners more curious than ever about what is happening in organizations around the world and how experiences are similar and different.

OI Global Partners is a global partnership of leading Career Consultancy firms serving 28 countries across all continents.

In the Global ‘OIGP Future of Work Is Now Annual Research Study’ we surveyed Business and HR Leaders in late 2020 to track going trends in Organisations around the globe.

We sought to discover:

  • Important skills required in today’s environment
  • Significant people challenges currently facing organizations
  • Impact of new technology on jobs
  • Most effective ways to develop talent

We also investigated a few additional topics this year:

  • Impact of Covid-19 on organisations
  • Reskilling as a result of technology advances
  • Importance of developing a sense of purpose
  • Reasons for employee turnover

Please see the link to the report here

OIGP Future of Work is Now Annual Research Study


Lunchtime Friday and I’m Happy! Why?

“Freedom to Be Happy” – the business case for Happiness is a new book by Matthew Phelan has landed.

I’m having the traditional cup of tea and a purple snack after my lunch and smiling at the fun and engaging way Matt has written this book.

Matt has been able to capture so many diverse global insights into the Neuroscience of Happiness in our Life, Work, Career and Business.

I got the opportunity to contribute to the book on Happiness in Your Career and will be joining Matt on his global book tour when he has his Dublin Book launch with Margot Slattery on December 2nd.

If you have 30 minutes to spare, Matt will be well worth a listen and you can register for the book launch here.

The book is timely after a tough 2020 for many and a great Christmas gift for Business Leaders to offer to their people and remind us all on what really makes us happy:)

Through our Partnership with Matt’s business the The Happiness Index we use the latest in AI technology to help our clients understand how their people are feeling which has been so powerful during Covid.