Is it time to change the lexicon around employee engagement?

Does the language around evaluation of employee performance matter? Microsoft’s decision to replace employee ‘engagement’ with employee ‘thriving’ suggests a wider perspective is on the way

Are we finally on the brink of a new approach to employee engagement after the ups and downs of the pandemic?

Microsoft’s announcement that it is shifting from evaluating employee ‘engagement’ to analysing whether or not an employee is ‘thriving’ is more than just a change of language – it marks a shift in thinking about what an employee can now expect from their place of work.

Worker needs have changed over the past two years and companies are recognising the need for a more holistic approach to managing performance. Microsoft alludes to the global pandemic as a key reason for this realignment of priorities and its new approach reflects a desire to keep up with trends in employee expectations.

Language barriers

Microsoft also cites differences in the interpretation of the term ‘engagement’ as a significant reason in making the switch to ‘thriving’. ‘Employee engagement’ is undoubtedly a nebulous term, belonging to a specific type of office jargon that has become outdated and meaningless to a more modern workforce.

The issues stem from the term’s lack of specificity. Microsoft found that whilst employees were ranking high for engagement, below the surface there were areas of difficulty. The feedback Microsoft was receiving based on the evaluation of employee ‘engagement’ was simply not matching up to the needs and experiences of its workforce and was allowing individual issues to fall through the cracks.

‘Employee engagement metrics allow individual issues to fall through the cracks…’

Microsoft identified a need to listen more closely to their employees and develop new metrics for evaluation. When people were assessed through the ‘thriving’ lens, Microsoft was able to adopt a more holistic view of employee performance and satisfaction.

What does it mean to thrive?

Microsoft defines thriving as ‘to be energised and empowered to do meaningful work’. But the common understanding of thriving at work is linked to a particular emotional state, of productivity and contentedness combined.

Using very clearly defined terminology helps remove problems caused by varying interpretations of language and linking the vocabulary to a particular emotional state places wellbeing at the centre of the employee experience.

By setting the bar for employee satisfaction high, Microsoft believes it can focus in on the problems at hand and work on developing strategies to increase individual and company performance.

A way forward?

So, should we all be adopting Microsoft’s new approach to measuring employee performance? Microsoft is clearly taking steps towards developing a more complete model for evaluating employee performance. However, there is also the potential for this plan to backfire.

After all, if you are setting the bar high and asking employees to evaluate whether they are thriving in an environment, the answer you receive may not be positive and could spur employees to look elsewhere for jobs which are more aligned with their personal goals and values.

But whichever way you look at it, taking steps to more fully understand the whole needs of the individual in the workforce can only make Microsoft better informed and more aware of what it needs to offer their employees in the future.

Read more about Microsoft’s new strategy here.

Echo Callaghan is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer with WORKTECH Academy. She holds degrees from the University of York and Trinity College Dublin.
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