The Employee Engagement Fiasco: Why It Hasn't Worked, Why It Can't Work, And The Costs
by Robert Bacal
Although the term "employee engagement" (EE)goes back to 1990, with credit for the term given to William Kahn, we've now had at least a decade of intense attempts by companies to improve engagement, and leverage it to improve profitability and productivity. Popularized by Gallup, the reputable polling company, and heavily marketed, it's almost impossible for most people to talk about the workplace without using the phrase.
Not only that but Josh Bersin (Deloite) cites statistics that estimate current yearly expenditures on improving engagement at work at about three quarters of a BILLION dollars, projected to rise next year to ONE BILLION dollars.
Overview Of The Problems With EE
- Despite the research, the corporate attempts to improve it, there is no indication that anyone has succeed in making significant improvements even in one company.
- There is little if NO evidence that increased employee engagement can CAUSE bottom line improvement.
- The actual "cost" of employee engagement efforts are actually much more than simply the out of pocket costs. If you include meetings, time away from work, and any "pull" away from getting other productive work done, the costs are much, much higher.
- There is not a SINGLE principle or action that has emerged from the employee engagement movement that most people did not know before. In other words it has not resulted in any NEW actions to improve the effort employees expend in doing their jobs.
There's a lot more issues here, when you start to dig deeply.
Our Purpose In Critically Assessing Employee Engagement
As is often the case with "things that become popular", there's often a lack of understanding of what underpins that "thing". Critical thinking often goes out the window.
From this page you'll discover:
- Why employee engagement hasn't improved despite huge efforts.
- Why it's NOT possible to significantly increase employee engagement in any organization.
- Why the research is incredibly misleading about the relationship between EE and productivity and profitability.
- Why focusing on EE is in fact potentially negative for companies.
We'll use an understanding of research methodology, draw upon fifty years of research in Psychology and human motivation to help you understand why the whole thing has become a massive failure.
Important Things You MUST Understand About Employee Engagement To Understand Why It Has Failed
- Why Have So Many People Embraced Employee Engagement? Is It A Fad? You can hardly come across any discussion about the workplace that does NOT mention employee engagement. It's swept the world. But why? Is it because it's a powerful idea? That it's new? No. Read more to find out.
- Stripping Away The Jargon From Employee Engagement To understand why EE doesn't work, we need to strip away the business speak jargon surrounding it, and break down the logic, and the claims.
The Research And The Claims About The Power Of Employee Engagement
If you look superficially at employee engagement research it's not surprising that you would come away thinking that focusing on it is important. However, the research does not show a cause-effect relationship between employee engagement and business results. There's a fundamental misunderstanding of that research and the claims made.
- Engagement Doesn't Improve Business Results: Successful Companies Breed Engaged Employees: The third interpretation of the research data and the most likely to be accurate, is hardly ever explained properly. Employee engagement doesn't cause business results. Business success builds better employee engagement.
- The Bullshit Factor: Employee Engagement And Stock Prices There is some research that links employee engagement and higher company share prices, but the interpretation of that research is faulty. There is NO research to definitively support the idea that stock prices can be influenced by employee engagement levels.
- Why Don't We Know What Causes What When It Comes To Employee Engagement? Almost Everything Correlates With Other Things - Causation vs. Causality The research shows some correlations between employee engagement scores and business results, but we cannot say intelligently that EE causes better business results.
- Statistics Used In Research Misleading: Example Of Correlations - Number of Lawyers and Deaths By Misadventure HIGHLY Correlated
Research shows exceedingly strong correlations, in fact way beyond statistical significance, between number of lawyers and certain kinds of deaths across the USA. Test yourself and explain why these findings occur.
- Correlative Statistics Suggest We Should Discourage Marriages To Lower Crime And Deaths by Accident
More data based on correlations, and how easy it can be to end up mislead and taking either silly actions, or actions that do nothing.
Why Companies CAN'T Significantly Improve Employee Engagement: The Psychology
Since the popularization of employee engagement as a concept, there have been countless research reports that "track" employee engagement across companies, across countries, and across industries on a quarterly basis. Despite the huge investments of time and money, the results have been disappointing. On aggregate, employee engagement hasn't improved. There are good reasons for this. Not only have companies failed at improving engagement, but they will always fail, because it can't be done, at least enough to make a difference.
- Most Determinants Of An Employee's Engagement (Level Of Effort) Beyond The Company's Control At the heart of the misuse of employee engagement is whether companies can actually improve engagement. In fact, employee engagement isn't under the control of companies. It's under control of each individual employee, which is a main reason research shows that employee engagement has not improved despite BILLIONS of dollars invested around the world.
- To Improve Employee Engagement, Companies Need To Address Hundreds Of Things That Might Affect It. Another reason companies can't improve employee engagement is that to do so, you have to change hundreds or perhaps thousands of "microbehaviors" in the workplace, which is basically impossible to do in any reasonable amount of time.
- Employee Motivation, Effort, Engagement and The Hygiene Factor We look at the idea that what causes employee engagement, and what causes employee disengagement are two different things. We apply Herzberg's Two Factor Model Of Motivation to the problem and find that it's a lot easier to destroy engagement than to improve it.
The Harm, Downside And Other Issues From Focusing On Improving Employee Engagement
If there was no cost to focusing on employee engagement, this page would not exist. EE efforts would just be benign. That's not true. There are significant negative outcomes that occur as a result of employee engagement efforts.
- Diverting Scarce Resources To Measure Employee Engagement
- Why Companies Can't Evaluate The Success Of Their Employee Engagement Attempts: Money Down The Rat Hole
- Employee Engagement As Means, Or As End
- Employee Perceptions Of Being Manipulated By Employee Engagement Attempts Cause Unintended Consequences
Transforming Employee Engagement Into Real World Action
If you look back at a decade of work in employee engagement you will be hard pressed to find a SINGLE suggested real world action that we didn't know before anyone talked about employee engagement. Which is scary. In this section, we'll look at whether employee engagement has increased our understanding of employee motivation and productivity, and whether it's added one bit of information we didn't know before.
We'll focus on whether EE work has translated into action, and we'll end with a set of recommendations about what to do instead of focusing on employee engagement.
(more material coming soon)