7 Reasons Why the Employee Engagement Movement is Over

It's no big surprise that engagement is a popular word in business. It's long been touted as the cure-all for poor performance, that single thing that can catapult an employee - and so a company - from good to great.

Articles like a recent one from Forbes wisely point out that engagement comes from a holistic investment in company culture. But they miss the fact that you can be highly engaged - in other words, you can like and be invested in your job - and still be ineffective. Nobody argues that engagement isn't valuable. But forget it as your target. What your people need is the ability - the time, resilience, overall well-being - to get there and get the job done.

I'd argue the single-minded pursuit of engagement is over. Simply put, it ignores outside forces that are dragging it down, making the act of, and desire to, work impossible.

Seven Reasons Why Employee Engagement Efforts Fall Short

1. Sick policies that make being sick feel frowned upon

There's nothing noble about dragging yourself into the office with 101-degree fever and an airsick bag. But you'd be surprised how many people do it because unofficial policies say it will cost their careers. Not being able to be sick conveys the message that leadership doesn't care. And how well do people work when they're doubled over from the stomach bug? Fringe benefit of allowing actual use of sick days: you avoid the physical repercussions from Typhoid Mary showing up and sharing the wealth.

2. Time off that's impossible to use

At some companies, vacation time is like bargain-basement travel; it's there, but it's impossible to book. We need to talk seriously about this. A recent survey said only 25% of employees used their paid vacation time last year. That means too many people aren't using it. Just as bad, those who are using it are begrudgingly tolerating intrusive emails while sipping umbrella drinks by the pool. People may tell you they can work perfectly fine without vacation. It might even look like high engagement to us as employers. But this trend is ultimately going to take its toll on people who are not only exhausted...but resentful.

3. Management that talks to employees only when things go wrong

Criticism can't be the only form of feedback. Another mistake: lauding only top management for accomplishments made possible by the masses. Cash is nice but nobody expects payouts at every turn. Congratulatory mass emails that name names speak volumes. And you'd be surprised at the power of a few pizzas.

4. Elusive benefits that are hard to find and use

Too many benefits are either oversold (meaning they don't actually do what they say they will) or require a major amount of legwork to hunt down.  This might lead employers to wonder, "We have great offerings, why don't our people use them?"  The solution: offer only those benefits that are easy to use and effective. And make sure people don't have to conduct a scavenger hunt to find them. Think how those lousy, impossible-to-use rewards programs make you feel...mistrustful of your investment and ready to switch companies.

5. Company cultures that don't benefit everyone

Benefit equity does not mean solving every problem for every person in the company. It means recognizing that every person has issues and responding accordingly.  You may not offer subsidized pet-sitting services, for example. But everyone - pet owners and parents - knows they have permission to care for those they love without having to justify it. When you remove those kinds of inequities, employees not only like you more - they like each other better.

6. Employees with limited control

Few things are worse than having to go through 72 layers of management to answer a single question about the use of the word "the." People need to feel entrusted to solve problems to do good work. You hired them, trust them to do their jobs.

7. Leaders who don't toe the line

Likability is a bigger issue than it might seem. Employees respect leaders when they're visible and when they practice rules that apply further down the line. Places of employment do not have to be democracies, nor do employees have to agree with every decision. But creating environments that respect the individual while advancing the greater good is the real key.

The Takeaway: It's About Company Culture

The takeaway: engagement is not a magic button. What's more important is the culture that supports it. You can install the big, splashy perks and hope for a solid workforce. But without focusing on the things that fly under the radar, engagement may not lead to effectiveness and the pieces of the performance puzzle won't naturally fall into place.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

Bright Horizons logo on yellow background

The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.