Saturday, December 19, 2009

The End of Employee Engagement

December 10, 2009: Leaders' Forum

by Theresa M. Welbourne

It's been many years since we in the HR world started talking about employee engagement. And since that time the following has happened (or not happened):

1. We have no agreement on what engagement is.

2. Many people refer to their employee engagement survey questions when defining engagement.

3. It has become one of HR's most successful fads, with everyone and everybody using it to describe what they do (myself included, albeit I was dragged along unwillingly).

4. We are all very comfortable having no agreement with what it is.

5. No one has an answer to the "engaged in what" question. Think about it for a minute, your employees could be engaged in baking cookies all day; that is probably only good if you are in the business of baking cookies. What about the rest of us?

6. Did you know that there are examples of companies winning the most engaged company awards and then going into bankruptcy a few days later? Is that ok?

7. Did you know that there are conditions under which raising employee survey engagement scores actually leads to lower employee performance? Here's how that works. Manager X has a bonus tied to the engagement survey scores. Manager X gets a low score on a question that leads the manager to take all his/her employees out for fun; make sure they like each other; they like their jobs. Employees start having a great time at work. Employee engagement scores go up; performance goes down.

8. When you don't know what something is (employee engagement) and you spend lots of money on it, and you do not have a calculated return on the investment, some day some other executive will come after your budget. When times get tough, your budget goes away.

9. Employees jump for joy that the employee engagement initiative went away; now they can do their jobs.

10. Firm performance improves because HR is finally done pestering everyone about employee engagement.

Is there a better way? Yes.

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