Employee Engagement is a 2-Way Street

Paul Hebert Employee Communications, Employee Relations, Employment Branding and Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Paul Hebert, Performance, Recognition, War for Talent

We've all seen the studies.  Employee engagement is down.  Employees are more disengaged than in any time since we banged rocks together to make music.  Employees are less satisfied.  Employees are going to jump ship.

I say let’em.

If… and that’s a big if… you've done your homework and understand what drives engagement in an organization then maybe it’s time you let some of those folks find the door.  I think it’s time we started asking for a little bit in return for all the effort we've put into making employees “happy.”  It’s time your employees pony up with their time and their effort.

As an organization you can’t continue to give and give and hope the employee base responds.

It’s A Relationship

Employee/employer engagement is a relationship and like any relationship there are two players in the game.  Engagement scores will never go up as long as the employer is always cow-towing to employees based on the latest engagement survey.

Employees aren’t stupid.  As long as you survey regularly and respond with new “engagement” bonuses, they learn that it is in their best interest to always have another demand in the chamber, ready to roll out when they think the company is getting a little soft on the perks.

Free lunch, free massages, free daycare – yeah… those are great.  But you what else is great?  Good work.  New ideas.  Better communication.  More effort.  More collaboration.

Are you calling your employees out when those things don’t happen?  Are you responding as quickly to those problems as you are to the demands in the last survey?

Why not?

They’re calling you out on the lack of free umbrellas in your surveys – time for sauce for the gander.

Engagement Ain't About Giving

I don’t mean to sound harsh but the truth of the matter is we've gotten scared in the last few years.  We want to “keep” our good employees and as an organization we’ll do almost anything to make that happen.  Unfortunately, by simply giving stuf

f, and not changing the way the relationship works, you only hang onto those employees that take.  The ones that truly give go find an environment where their contributions are valued and recognized.  That’s very different than just adding new freebies to the list of employee benefits.

Engagement is about two people, working together toward a common goal.  Engagement is about both people – manger/employee – having a desire to make each other better.  It’s not much different than the idea of two people getting engaged to be married.  If one side gives and the other takes – it’s doomed for failure.

Are you asking your employees to really do the hard work to make your company better?  Are you as clear and focused in your requests for what they need to do to be “engaged” with you as they are with what they think you (read: the company) needs to do to “make” them engaged?


The amount of press I see on companies who are asking for more is pretty paltry in comparison to the number of posts and studies I see telling companies to provide pure Greek yogurt and organic gummy bears in the break room to drive better engagement scores.

What Are Your Demands

Take some time to really think through what you want in return for your “engagement” initiatives.  What does the company need?  Is that clearly defined for all employees?  Do they understand that what they do and what you do are linked?  They are dependent on each other – in both directions.  In other words, sometimes you go first, sometimes they go first.

The bottom line is that you both have to be in the game.

Engagement is a 2-player game.  You can’t play the engagement game with alone.  There’s a word for playing one handed ….

Solitaire.  (I know – you were thinking something else – and that applies too.)  It’s fun for a while but in the end, no one is satisfied.