The Long Con of Engagement

William Tincup Audacious Ideas, Bad HR, Culture, Employee Communications, Employee Relations, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, Leadership, William Tincup

We’ve been lied to. We’ve been hoodwinked and bamboozled. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that employee engagement matters. Moreover, that it is our moral obligation to manufacture engaged employees. The simple truth is… engagement is a nice to have, NOT a need to have.

The con unraveled.

Work is work, play is play, work is NOT play, play is NOT work. Our collective focus on engagement clouds our judgment AND litters us with guilt. That somehow we have failed if we and/or our employees don’t LOVE every single thing about what they do for a living. Turns out, most jobs suck. Tangentially, most employers suck. Conversely, most employees suck. With all this suckage… how in the world are we to realistically get folks to fall in love with the TPS reports?  We’re not. We’ll never be able to hit the unreasonable goal. Why? Because we’ve been set up to fail. Some of this is our fault because we actually bought in to the lie that folks should and/or could LOVE work. And, partly because the businesses we work for just need us to toe the line, continue the con sort of speak.

See, American businesses NEED more yield out of each and every worker bee. So they conjured up the concept of engagement… you should love your work, you should be engaged by you work. In fact, if you are NOT engaged by your work… then something is wrong with you. Spooky, spooky… voodoo bulls#*t. Again, take the rose colored glasses off for a minute. Engagement is crap… it’s a big, sophisticated, con.

Work IS work. Get over it.

The real game of work is twofold: (1) performance and (2) retention. Worker bees that suck… well, many ways to treat that… fire em, put em on a plan, mentor them up, etc. Whatever has to be done to get them back to high production rates. Employees that are awesome… again, many ways to treat that. I’d start with paying the better employees more. No matter how many people tell you otherwise… money means more than any of the other shit they pawn off on us. Don’t believe me? Okay, fair enough. Test this in your own personal life… when called upon to give a gift… Christmas, Birthdays, Graduations, etc… simply give an envelope of 100s… tell the person that you cared enough to give cash. It has been my experience that those people will love you… LOVE YOU. That and I don’t need a new effing necktie… no one needs a new necktie. Give cash to your high performers, you’ll thank me later.

The darkness in regards to retention is simple. Companies want to change the power dynamic between employer and employee. What they really want is to have power over employees… the power to choose who stays and who goes. By offering better benefits, cooler work environment and/or better projects, etc… btw, they might call these things elements of “engagement” but really… and secretly… they own you. In fact, you can’t leave… it also means you’ll work harder, longer and/or take the s#*t of the job, crappy bosses, etc… because you have to. No employee wants to leave that heaven on earth. Meanwhile, the employer decides who shall be retained and what crabs get tossed back in the sea, etc. Whether or not you are engaged… meh… that s#*t doesn’t matter.

Let’s keep walking this dog…

I believe that most people, if given the chance… would NOT work. They would rather be doing something else. In short, they would do whatever truly makes them happy… spending time with their families, traveling the world, enjoying a glass of wine or three, etc – you get the idea… they wouldn’t be working. Only workaholics and douchebags (some think of these as two sides of the same coin) really WANT to work. So why is it our mandate to engage people that inherently don’t want to be engaged? I mean, isn’t the whole thing a bit dysfunctional?

Okay, I’ll stop… even my own cynicism can be a bit much…

Do me a favor… for just one moment today… think critically about engagement. Do you really want happy employees? Please stress test the logic… what if they are happy but they suck? Do you still want them in your organization? What’s more important to your particular organization: happiness or competence? And don’t say both… that’s chickens#*t.

I’ll go out on a limb… if you think happiness is even in the same zip code to competence… then YOU are the problem.

Lastly, I’m tired of people pimping out engagement as if it were some super elixir that fixed everything that ails us. It doesn’t. Truth hurts sometimes.

William Tincup

William is the President of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He’s written over 200 HR articles, spoken at over 150 HR & recruiting conferences and he’s conducted over 1000 HR podcasts. William prides himself on being easy to find on The Internet, Google him and connect with him via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Not up to speed in the social media game? Reach out via email.

William serves on the Board of Advisors for Talentegy, Wellocity, GlitchPath, Talent Ninja, Universum Americas, Engagedly, Echovate, VibeCatch, Continu, Hyphen, Bevy, Happie, RolePoint, Causecast, Work4Labs, Talent Tech Labs, and SmartRecruiters. He was previously an advisor to PeopleMatter (sold to Snagajob Q2 2016), Good.Co (sold to StepStone Q1 2016), Smarterer (sold to Pluralsight Q4 2014) and a board member of Chequed (merged to create OutMatch Q3 2015).

William is a graduate of the University of Alabama of Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.