You may want to build a contingency plan in case Employee Engagement fails

From academic journals to blogs and Twitter, employee engagement is a hot topic.

Practical as well as fuzzy ideas and tool kits are available to get your workforce engaged; in short, the full Monty is at your disposal.

My suggestion both to management as well as to fellow consultants is to hedge your bets and make a backup plan about what happens if employees will no longer engage, as appears to be the case in several cases.

There are many reasons why employees are not as engaged as in the past:

  • employees know they will be “shot at dawn” at the drop of a dime to make the numbers look good;
  • engagement is often manipulated by management and HR to get more for less,
  • work processes totally dominated by technology subjugate employees to mindlessly “servicing the software”.
  • the virtual work place is not all that engaging; relationships are superficial as well as highly annoying and the work place has become a political cesspool.

Furthermore, it is clear in many instances that engagement which leads to loyalty may not be all that desirable to management, because management needs to pay more. So yes, the perception of engagement is “engage until you cost too much”.

So since people are not stupid when it comes to the skin on their ass, I believe employee engagement may become a thing of the past.

As engagement becomes passé, there needs to be a whole new set of assumptions about how to manage.

Two examples will suffice. I have a client who runs a wedding hall. 15% of his waiters can quit during work because they gets a Whats-app about a party, or some other happening! So there are more buffets and less waiters. And I also have a client has had to structure work so that churn will impact the firm less, following the introduction of a cost saving yet “dumbing” software.

The words we use are often words on management and OD are often from a managerial perch. (History is written by the victor)  However, from a non managerial point of view, is engagement the right word to describe what management is looking for? Perhaps, in some cases; in other cases management wants self sacrifice at low cost without a mutual commitment. Sounds like a “pleasant hallucination” to me.

I believe that we are migrating to a model of employee as subcontractor. I see that all around me in terms of attitude and mindset, albeit not yet in structure. In such a reality, focusing on outdated Pravda-like campaigns to raise employee engage is not the brightest idea around.

Follow me @AllonShevat

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8 thoughts on “You may want to build a contingency plan in case Employee Engagement fails

  1. Right on, as usual Allon. Loyalty/engagement is a 2-way street. When employees see management treating it as one-way, it disappears. & rightfully so.

  2. Yes Allon, managers as system integrator. In some cases the kings may find themselves naked thus!!!

    Also the virtual work place is often not engaging but it does not have to be so. Many will have to learn how to use the tools and may also discover that the one-man does it all current situation is not tenable. It may well be that the employee/ subcontractor need to work as a small team to perform the assigned tasks but also update social medias, project management tool, and report while letting the world know he/ she is ready for another assignment.

  3. I read this from a slightly different stance -that employee engagement as we conceived of it in the past does not exist and will not exist. The two way street notion doesn’t hold when people change jobs every three years and often have multiple careers – or when the majority of the staff is free lance. So the challenge is what factors can create a compelling raison d’etre for an employee to give 100% ?

  4. I am not that old, but even in my lifetime I saw a tremendous shift from the “do-your-best” to “why-would-I-care” attitude to work at all levels. In the former Soviet Union we used to say “they (authorities) pretend that they pay us, so we pretend we work”. Regretfully I have more and more an impression that the Soviet Union did indeed win the Cold War: across countries, cultures and industries I keep encountering this “pretending” attitude more and more. Managers pretend they manage, employees pretend they work, companies pretend they care for the customers, governments pretend they care for citizens. And – like in another Soviet joke (“Masha loves Vanya, Vanya loves Natasha, and everyone is unhappy”) nobody is happy…

  5. With distance (time-wise), we get a better view of things. Do you remember employee participation? employee ownership? employee involvement? employee empowerment?

    Did these fads come and go? Yes.

    But were they fads? Or were they momentary glimpses of the truth that were squelched before they could become movements.

    Maybe that’s what OD was (and could still be)…

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