Stop Trying to Fix Employee Engagement

Dec 09, 2015


For the past thirty years or so, we have seen a lot of human capital industry buzz around employee engagement. It’s hard to find any issue of a people-related industry publication that doesn’t include one or more articles on employee engagement and how to fix it.

There are many success stories, but they are exceptions. We don’t see overall improvement. Employee engagement measures appear to rise and wane with the scarcity of labor. As the labor supply rises, leaders pay less attention to trying to retain employees, and on the reverse swing they work harder to keep them.

Wasted Effort on Quick Fixes

Organizations spend a fortune on surveys and consultants to pinpoint the issues. Many companies have tried multiple programs and initiatives to try to influence employee attitudes, but we don’t see overall improvements that can’t be explained by external factors.

Deloitte University Press recently gave us a comprehensive look at employee engagement with a list of recommendations beginning with “make work irresistible.” It’s a good rehash of the best of recommendations we saw over the past few years, but in its essence it aims at culture as the controlling factor. That discussion starts us in the right direction.

The Long March

As Paul Hebert explains in “The Long March of Employee Engagement,” culture is the problem and the cure. The problem, he explains, is that leaders try to fit employee engagement into the same time frame as other company processes (yearly, quarterly) and expect quick results. It doesn’t work that way. A culture is years in the making, and a cultural turnaround can take as long as a decade or more.

We see the same short-term thinking in the engagement consulting world. A company cries for help, so a consultant swoops in, does a survey, makes a few recommendations, then moves on to the next case. In our opinion, employee engagement consulting is often like pop psychology. The number of employee engagement issues appear to be directly proportional to the number of consultants with solutions.

Culture is as Leadership Does

An organization’s leaders create its culture by the behavior they model. We spent quite a bit of time with an executive of a small firm that has pioneered several advances in its industry. (we are vague here to protect his anonymity.) It is not unusual for him to get phone calls at odd hours of the night complete with screamed obscenities and threats. When I casually asked about employee engagement at the company, our friend said there was no problem – they are engaged, or they are gone. It reminds us of the research that shows us the quality of customer service correlates to how a company treats its customer service agents.

We have seen many examples of dominant company cultures that produced astounding results – Google, Publix, Southwest and many others. They built their cultures from the ground up based on the principle of valuing people. For these companies, it’s not about short-term solutions. It is a fundamental way of life driven by principled leadership.

Stop trying to fix employee engagement. It’s not going to work. Instead, take the next few years to build an organization with a strong purpose, sound principles, and a culture that values people. Engagement will fix itself.

Pixentia is an enthusiastic team of individuals, fervent to make lives simpler through effective use of technology. Our mission is to implement solutions that drives business results. Know more insights from our thoughts and experience.

Contact us today or call 1-855-978-6816 to talk with us about your business needs.


Previously:  Next up: 


News Letter Sign up

Get in touch with us
phone_footer.png  +1 903-306-2430,
              +1 855-978-6816