Why Employee Engagement Doesn’t Work

Recognize This! – Buzzwords don’t deliver desired results. Effort to communicate meaning and value does.

There seems to be a good bit of push-back against employee engagement lately. I can’t say I’m surprised. This is fairly typical as any good idea or methodology morphs into a buzzword over time. However, the fundamental problem isn’t with the concept, but with how it’s often implemented or viewed.

What is the problem, then? Providing an engaging workplace isn’t enough. Training managers on employee engagement isn’t enough. In a terrific article on TLNT about this, Theresa Welbourne notes further:

Is this what’s needed to grow, innovate and be successful? People show up at work? That’s why engagement is starting to backfire. We also learned that:

  • Being there is not enough.
  • Engagement has to mean something tangible vs. everything to everybody.
  • The questions, “engaged in what” and “for what” have to be answered.

Engagement just may be the wrong word, the wrong concept and it’s probably the wrong time to keep focusing on it. Business is about performance, and high performing people are needed to grow a business. High performing people are smart, and they are not easily fooled.

It’s time to go beyond the fairy tale of employee engagement and move to a more rigorous, business-focused approach to managing people at work.

Dr. Welbourne’s last bullet above is particularly on point. How can we ask employees to engage if we don’t also make clear what it is we’re asking them to engage with. This is another way of conveying the importance of the meaning of the work – helping employees understand the deeper or greater value their daily efforts have within the bigger picture. When people understand the deeper value, they naturally and willingly “engage” to go the extra step.

Read this story of the Mayo Clinic hospital janitor who defined his job as saving lives. He knows the deeper meaning of his work. Do you?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition, he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

One Response

  1. [...] The fact that corporate values and operations strategy are not thought of together, frequently, is one of the reasons that corporate values end up losing steam. It’s one of the reasons that Employee Engagement schemes bite the dust as described, quite nicely, here. [...]

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