We Have Employee Engagement @$$-backward

Paul Hebert Employee Relations, Employment Branding and Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, HR, Organizational Development, Paul Hebert

Employee engagement is one of those things that seem to have taken on a life of its own recently.  Every HR professional is worried about it.  Every company that sells to HR has wrapped an “engagement” feature or benefit into their offering.  “Need new paperclips for the office?  Use ours – they increase employee engagement!”

Employee engagement is – and will be for the near future – THE topic of conversation.  At least until the “boomers leaving in droves” doesn’t occur and the “millenials will have 1043 jobs in their careers” doesn’t happen either.  Remember a few years back?  Weren’t we supposed to be seeing some sort of Biblical-level exodus from corporate America?  Yeah – that happened.

Rethinking the Engagement Paradigm

As I talk with clients and the companies that feed the engagement beast I can’t help but think we’re all looking at the same disease but treating the symptom – not the cause.

Companies left and right are spending oodles of cash to “engage” their employees yet the numbers keep falling.

I’ve gone on record before that employees have learned how to respond to surveys in a way that gets them more stuff.  Each time a company surveys their employees, the numbers drop and they add a new perk or bennie to “increase engagement.”  Employees see this and they figure out that as long as the company thinks they are disengaged they get more stuff.

Momma didn’t raise no fools.  They’ll just keep saying they aren’t connected and get more and more.

Employees Need to Give More

Uh-oh – now you’ve done it.  Employees don’t need to give more the companies do!  Not so fast.  Here me out.

I re-read a post written a few months back on TLNT site about how the author saw employee engagement through the lens of a Neil Diamond concert.  The premise of the article was: Neil Diamond does a great job of earning audience loyalty and that companies should emulate the way Neil does it to earn employee loyalty.

In a nutshell the author says that Neil starts the concert by saying he’s there to earn the audiences loyalty even after playing the same venue for 40 years.  Somehow that leads to a list of things a company must do to “earn” employee loyalty.  Things like:  understand your employees, rethink job expectations,

embed work/life into the culture, focus on teams and individuals, offer coaching and inspire the employees through transparency and communication.

Don’t get me wrong – I like those things and they should be part of the overall employee experience in today’s companies.  They should.

But the premise is wrong.


If you think about it Neil Diamond isn’t the company.  Neil Diamond is the employee.

The audience is the company. The audience paid Neil’s salary.  Neil needs the audience much more than the audience needs Neil.  So the real story from the Neil Diamond concert is that as an employee Neil Diamond gets audience loyalty by doing things that earn him that loyalty.

Translating that the real world of employees…

In order to be a great employee and EARN the perks of engagement employees must:

  • Find the needs the organization has and match their skills to them.
  • Find ways to reduce costs and increase results on their own – not when asked.
  • Focus on building teams in the organization – go beyond the cubical and break down silos – don’t wait for managers to show the way
  • Invest in skills and their future through classes, training, coaching.  Employees need to keep getting better.
  • Set time aside to talk with the company leadership – make appointments to find out what other divisions, product groups and departments are doing.  Find out how what they do interfaces with other departments and see if there is a way for the employee to improve their processes by doing their job differently.

Employee Engagement Starts With Employees

I know this is antithetical to the current guru and consultant thinking but in my world it is much better to demand quality work and engagement from the employee than to simply roll over and add a new benefit to the mix when your scores go down.

I agree that a Neil Diamond concert can provide some insight into employee engagement – but it’s more about what the employee needs to do to earn the company’s loyalty than the other way around.

What say you – too much spoiling the employee going around or is it really a problem with companies not giving enough?