Engagement Drivers: A misnomer?

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David Zinger’s 2010 article entitled “Don’t drive me and don’t put me on the bus!” talks about the common use of the term “drivers” to describe those organizational characteristics that, when enhanced, should improve employee engagement. I’ve long thought that referring to factors that simply “correlate” with engagement as “drivers” was misleading so wanted to take this opportunity to share my two cents.

It’s not clear who first to used the term “drivers” to refer to things that correlate with engagement but it’s clear that the idea sure caught on – just about anyone who has conducted an employee engagement survey is probably familiar with the phrase – drivers of engagement. Unfortunately, these are not drivers at all – in the sense that they do not “cause” engagement. Let me clarify.

When survey specialists analyze survey data, one of the things they look for are factors (e.g., supervision, career development, leadership) that are most strongly related to engagement. To do this, they typically use a statistical procedure called “multiple regression” – a fancy name given to an analysis that looks at the strength of “correlations.” Correlations simply show whether two things occur together. For example, it is well-known that during summer months, when temperature goes up, crime rates go up. Statisticians, therefore, say that there’s a positive correlation between temperature and crime rate – they do not say that “temperature” causes people to “commit more crime.”

To go back to “drivers of engagement,” what the majority call “drivers” are not really drivers; rather, they are “correlates” of engagement. In other words, they are simply things that are strongly “related” to engagement but they do not necessarily “cause” engagement.

I’m in agreement with David – I don’t like the word “drivers” as it is currently used in the context of employee engagement. We should come up with a better term – not only because the current word is de-motivating (as David implies), but it’s incorrect and misleading.

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