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Bandwagons often have Broken Wheels

July 30, 2014

As business books become more and more prolific, certain trends begin to develop, some of them wonderful, like sustainability, while some are abused, like employee engagement.

The Gallup Organization has a fantastic employee engagement program with a firm grasp of what employee engagement is and isn’t.  Other companies create engagement programs without this finely-tuned understanding.

Employee Engagement is the bell and whistle to employee motivation.  Some study, somewhere, polled thousands of workers to see what motivated employees.  Things like “recognition” and “flex-time” and “appreciation” vastly outweighed “good salary.”  Well!  It must be cheaper, then, to make workers feel GOOD about their employment!

The survey is misleading.  It didn’t include, “Would you work for this company if you had all these other things but they didn’t pay you?”  That’s the question with the biggest weight.

Gallup understands this, ranking employees as “Engaged” “Not Engaged” and “Dis-engaged.”  Should everyone be engaged?  Gallup understands that, no, the bulk of your workforce is “not engaged” and they do the bulk of the work.  They’re the ones who show up every day, perform well, often exceptionally, and go home.  While they prefer a positive work environment, they do the job to make a living… and that’s enough for them.  

You don’t want “dis-engaged” employees, because this less-than-10% group actively sabotages work.  These guys you want to get rid of. 

There is another 10-20% of the not-engaged who want something more from work.  They want to be “engaged,” making work a primary “feel-good” environment.  There is a key metric which drives HR departments, the “retention rate.”  How many people leave?  Anything above 90% is great.  Who’s leaving?  The 10-20% who want to be engaged (mostly).

So, companies develop engagement programs and make them a business multiplier by tying them to brand initiatives… for free.  They realize if they get their employees to run branded 5K marathons, serve on their own time under the company flag for charities, get together after hours to promote teamwork, they can get valuable brand recognition out of it.

I recently worked for a company that didn’t understand this stuff at all.  They wanted EVERYONE to be engaged, believing that the non-engaged were dangerous (thus turning some non-engaged to dis-engaged).  Buy branded shirts and desk items! Volunteer your free time!  Get out your pom-poms and be a cheerleader!  Join Networking Groups! Be a mentor!  Be a Buddy!

Excuse me, but I have work to do.  I am a positive influence at work in my own quiet way (though people who don’t do their work to be involved in every engagement program chap my hide).  I find pom-pom undignified.

I remember one conversation:

“Rob, you need to join this [engagement program].”


“Because you’re not involved in any.”

“Are they a part of my job?”

“This is in addition to your job.”

“Do I get paid for it?”


“Then why would I do it?”

“So you’ll be an engaged employee.”

“Am I not performing my job well?”

“You’re great.”

“Will I do my job better if I join this group?”

“Well, no.”

“Then why would I want to do it?”

“To be engaged!”

“To what purpose?”

“Look, you’re not just here for the paycheck are you?”


“You are?”

“You aren’t?”

“No! I’m an engaged employee!”

“Can I have your paycheck, then?  That would make me more engaged.”

“Ha, funny.  I need my check.”

“Then give me some of it.”


“Are you saying you wouldn’t work here without getting a paycheck?”

“Of course not!”

“Then you’re here for the paycheck.  The rest is window dressing so you feel better about working here.  I’ll feel better with a raise.”

I actually got called in to the HR director for that, where he informed me they don’t want people here motivated solely by a paycheck.  I wanted to know why not.  It’s certainly cheaper.  Engagement is for those who need more to feel good about their job.  I don’t need to “feel good” about my job if I feel good about my paycheck.  I like my work, I do it well, but if the company wants me to do other stuff, they need to pay me.

I was laid off not long after (with a good severance, so I felt good about that).  Related?  Probably not.

Too often, companies jump on a bandwagon without a clear understanding of the purpose, and therefore think every program is for every employee.  I’m of the type where as long as you’re not burning down rain forests, harming people or animals and try to offer products and services that are beneficial at a fair price, I’m good.

So leave me along already. 

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