Human Resources

The Dark Side Of Employee Engagement

There’s a hidden side to employee engagement.

It’s something that not too many people talk enough about, but it’s an important discussion to have.

Here’s the hidden secret that every manager and leader is afraid to admit.

The only reason that any of this employee engagement stuff happens, is because companies want you to make them money.

It’s an exchange.

We’ll be nice to you, and give you flexibility, and give you autonomy, but in exchange, you have to actually produce results.

I remember when I was talking on the phone to a very big company that’s famous for their incredible culture, and I was going on and on about how amazing it must be to work there, and how much fun everyone must have.

The person on the other end was quick to interrupt me, and say something along the lines of, “ya, it’s great here, but we also need people to perform. We’re very results-driven, and so we hold people accountable”.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I think it’s a fair exchange.

But we often talk about the managers side of things, and try to educate on how to engage employees, but we never really talk about the other side.

Most of the time, the only way I can really justify the need for employee engagement, is by tying it back to financial ROI.

I like to think that companies actually care about their employees, but it’s not the same level of care that you’d receive from your spouse for example.

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What This Means For The Future Of Work

I think that there has been a real emphasis on employee engagement in the last 5 years, which is an amazing thing.

I think now though, managers will want to actually see a return for their investment.

2 things that I think will become more popular in the near future is the ROWE, and data-driven HR.


Just in case you don’t know, ROWE stands for Results Only Work Environment.

What it means, is exactly what the name says, where you measure results only, and not things like time spent in the office.

I had the privilege of speaking with one of the creators of ROWE, Jody Thompson.

At one point during our conversation, I asked about how you actually measure employee contributions.

What I was saying was, how do you measure employee contributions? Sometimes an employee will contribute in a way that’s outside of his regular work, so what do you do in that case?

The answer was basically, if you get paid, for example $60,000, you have to figure out with your manager and team, how you’re contributing $60,000 worth of value to the organization.

This sort of caught me off guard, so I said

“I feel like that’s pretty scary for some employees, especially in corporate environments.

You know, what I used to hear is especially in a lot of large companies, you can kind of hide away in your cubicle, and not do much work, and you know, you’ll collect your check every, every two weeks.

So I’m sure there are a ton of employees out there, that no offense to them aren’t adding $60,000.00 worth of value to the company. Should they be let go? What are your thoughts there? How do you account for that?”

Her answer was very interesting though, and as tough as it is to say, it makes sense.

We need to hold people accountable.

It has to be a two-way relationship between the employee and employer. If the employee wants things like freedom and transparency, they need to earn that.

Her answer made it clear that in a ROWE, you can’t hide in your cubicle and get away with doing no work.

“People say to us this is so awesome, because we know the people that are flying under the radar, and this is going to shine a big spotlight on them, because guess what? Our team is going to be so much stronger now, because it’s the people that aren’t doing the work that drag everybody else down. “

You can watch the full video right here:

Working In A ROWE With Jody Thompson From CultureRx

Data Driven HR

HR managers will start to use much more data to back up all of these things.

Hopefully, they’ll be able to measure things so granular, that there will be no more doubt about whether employee engagement initiatives worked in their office.

They’ll be able to see, in real-time, that when they had the pizza party at lunch, productivity went up that afternoon, and they’ll be able to track all of these things.

The good news is, there are a lot of HR software vendors that are implementing more data and analysis into their software.

Do You Think There’s A Dark Side To Employee Engagement?

I think it’s an issue that nobody really likes to talk about, but it’s worth bringing up. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

  Discuss This Article

Comments: 2

  • Employee involvment is a standing joke
    where I work due to production schedule
    over runs half of the meetings.
    ROWE sounds scary as desk bound
    HR reps. “Guide?” willfully clueless
    mid level and upper management on
    routinelg witch hunts, and as an advisor
    of mine once said “If someone high enough up
    starts a witch hunt, a witch will be found.

    • Hi Steve — I’m in a ROWE (middle manager) and there are definitely no witch hunts, at least not at the organization I work for. Rather, it forced our management team to take an even closer look at where results were and were not being met … because we need those results to fulfill our ultimate outcome and, frankly, to be profitable. That, in turn, pushes the management team to communicate better, clearer goals with our teams. It’s increased trust, unbelievably boosted production and has increased employee willingness to speak up about ideas/issues/etc. I don’t know if I could ever work in a non-ROWE environment at this point.

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