4 Reasons Employee Engagement Doesn’t Work

There are a significant number of organizations around the globe where employee engagement simply doesn’t work. It is completely ineffective and they realize little to no benefit from it. They have experienced so much disappointment around this issue that they have come to believe it is the flavor of the month in HR trends and it will soon pass. So, they have assumed the role of devil’s advocate or outright naysayer.

In one respect, this group is completely accurate. They have created some program or initiative and done all the things all the so-called “experts” in the engagement arena have suggested and they saw little to no improvement, so they canned the effort altogether. No sense wasting good money on a bad idea. Right?

In my experience, the majority of the “failed” employee engagement efforts can be traced back to at least four major faux pas.

Recruiting tool

Employee engagement has become the rally cry for people trying to find work (especially the Millennials). So in order to try and score the best talent, organizations make the phrase “employee engagement” a part of their recruiting rhetoric. It’s not that it is a part of the organizational focus overall, it just makes it sound like a great place to work.

The real problem is you don’t have good quality employee engagement for the right reasons.

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PR efforts

Because of social media, there is an enormous amount of pressure for organizations to appear more human and a bit less like a money vacuum that is never satisfied. As a response to this shift in public sentiment and expectation, more effort is being placed into appearing to work extra hard for the human side of the organization so it feels more like they’re part of the bigger picture. Short term solution, if engagement is just a PR campaign. The people who work for the organization will be happy to tell their friends about how much of a liar their boss is. It’s ugly, but it’s the truth.

Distractionary methods

Life isn’t perfect, nor is running an organization. There are a lot of moving parts and many players with varied backgrounds, temperaments and perspectives. When things seem to be heading south for whatever reason and morale is low, companies begin talking about the importance of engagement. It’s not a real interest in employee engagement as much as it is a desire to pacify the angst they feel and that just seems like the logical thing to do.

Engagement isn’t a program or project to attempt. It is a way of operating.

Profit chasing

It’s not exactly a secret that businesses are in it for the profit. Nothing intrinsically nefarious about that. And yes, quality engagement does produce higher levels in profit. The rub is when engagement is trying to be used solely as an accounting device to just get money. Doing this completely undermines the purpose – as well as basic definition – of employee engagement.

At the end of the day, each one of these is a disjointed attempt at doing some real good within the organization. It is a fragmented perspective of what employee engagement is all about. It can be easy to hear all the selling points of why engagement is important and recognize that your organization is lacking in one of those areas. So you want to do engagement because your motivation is to fix the problem. In reality, the problem you’re all worked up about is really a symptom. The real problem is you don’t have good quality employee engagement for the right reasons.

Engagement isn’t a program or project to attempt. It is a way of operating. It is designing an atmosphere in which your organization chooses to function. It must be the DNA of your organization or it will be a faint copy of something noble and everyone will see through it. Engagement efforts done for one or more of the above reasons will actually be more destructive than no effort at all.

If you want employee engagement to work, then let your employee engagement efforts be motivated by one simple thing: You value those who help make your organization successful and you want to honor them consistently.

This post was originally published on the Switch & Shift site in the “Winning Through Engagement” series in October 2012.

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