When I first started seeing this term some seven or eight years ago, I have to admit, I laughed heartily. Since that first mocking laugh, I have seen employers run with the concept, up to and including placing “C” level executives in charge of “employee engagement”. Really! I am not laughing any less now.
The reason I mock this term is not because employee engagement is not important. On the contrary, given that compensation is historically the fifth highest reason that people leave their jobs and that “feeling” issues constitute the first four, I find employee engagement imperative. What I mock is the fact that it needs a label. To make this short and simple, an employer, regardless of its size, either gives a crap about their employees or they do not. While this simple fact is self-evident to the employees, it seems to be lost on employers, especially larger employers where the gap between those who do the work and those who assign the work is the greatest.
Employers, especially those who do not give a crap about their employees, blind to the very fact that they do not care, are seemingly compelled to address the issue of turnover or lagging performance by applying a label and a concept known as “employee engagement.” The fundamental point that is missed is that no amount of “employee engagement,” labeling, or manic efforts to this effect can convince any staff that they are valuable if the employers truly, at heart, do not believe it.
To be perfectly clear, let me state the following axiom:
Employee engagement is not a program, or a slogan, or an idea. It is the product of an employer’s relationship with the employees and the quality of that engagement directly reflects the cares and concerns of that employer for the employees.
If you have to package it, label it, or promote it… you don’t have it in the first place. There is a big difference between offering a program that might cost $15 per employee per month and a real benefits package that might cost hundreds. Free lunch Friday once per month and a clown at the company picnic does not help an employee to feel “engaged.” I can assure you that the employees see more than one clown at the company picnic when you have a lousy benefit package, or poor compensation, or a crummy workplace environment… or all of the above. You might as well hire the whole circus.
If you want employees to feel that they are cared for, then care for them. Otherwise, do not insult them with a program aimed at soothing the employer’s conscience.
At least Ebeneezer Scrooge was honest with himself: he knew he did not care. Perhaps it was that very honesty that gave the angels something to work with…