Nick Ruhmann
January 31, 2017

The Employee Engagement Myth

Before anyone starts flaming me that hasn't read the entire article, let me say

"I DO want engaged employees".   

 Screenshot 2017-01-31 19.38.06.png

However...I don't believe many companies are going about getting engagement the right way, or even understand the reasons why it's important.

I'm not sure when "Employee Engagement" became the buzzword it is, but it probably had something to do with the Gallup Q12 survey and articles that came out proclaiming "Employee Engagement Drives Growth".

It is an interesting title for an article based on research and analysis that doesn't actually prove that engagement drives growth (there's NO cause and effect relationship proven) but instead only shows some pretty meager correlations.  

Unless you count Pearson Correlation Coefficients of .10 to.42 as being significant, cause that's all the data can actually muster, even after they apply "corrections"

That hasn't stopped a whole industry from popping up around the idea that we can give our employees a survey once a year, analyze it, create "action plans" , execute them (the plans, not the employees), and watch our Engagement Score go up...and like a magic pill, profits with it.

So let me ask a few simple questions?

  1. Why are we so sure that engagement is the input?  The data does not prove that there's a cause and effect relationship, only a correlation.  An extremely weak correlation at that.
  2. Why can't we just talk to our employees, our colleagues?  How is it respectful to "allow" our employees to share their feelings remotely, through a website, and at that...only once a year?  Is that all we owe them?

Question#1 - Is Employee Engagement an input to company performance?

I don't know, I suspect it may be.  But I also would believe that it's an output of an environment that lends itself to success.  Isn't it possible that what the studies are also seeing in their correlations are that companies with the right principles, right leaders, and right techniques are more apt to be successful...and that successful employees are likely to become engaged in their work?  (Winning and learning is fun, it's contagious).

That's at least as plausible as assuming that engagement is the input...maybe even more so.

What's really going on is probably somewhere in between.  

The chicken or the egg -> what came first?  Does it matter?  

No, it probably does't.

(as long as we aren't trying to hatch infertile eggs)

So the egg of engagement needs to be a fertile egg, one born of the right leadership, culture, etc that is worth having.  

Engagement "bought" by posters, prizes, and monetary incentives is not.

Question#2 - Why can't we just talk to our employees?

I find it very interesting that the greatest companies generally don't do engagement surveys....

Ever heard Google touting it's engagement scores?  Toyota?  Tesla? 

Maybe they just don't care about their employees...or maybe they care for them and respect them far too much to make the process of listening so cold and informal...and so frequent (sarcasm there).

Want to know if your people are engaged?  Go get off your backside, out of your office and talk to your colleagues.  Learn about their interests, their families, the problems they're facing at work and at home, and start solving those problems with them.  Ask them to help you solve your problems too.  

Don't be that guy or gal that "doesn't have any problems" one believes you.

"But Nick, I don't have time to just sit and talk with my direct reports all day.  I have meetings, and reports, and conference calls that use up my whole day"

Then you are NOT a leader.  I'm sorry, your title may say CEO, or VP, or Director of Something Special, but if you're not interacting with and influencing people then you are NOT leading.

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