one reason your engagement efforts will fail (and no one is talking about it)

There is a BIG reason your employee engagement efforts might fail. It’s prevalent, it’s pervasive, and no one is talking about it. I can sum that reason up in one word. But, first a little back story…

Employee engagement is a huge topic right now. Lots of buzz, plenty of debate, data collecting, teeth gnashing, and program development in action. As with any hot issue, there are HR departments, survey firms, and consultants everywhere swinging into action as I type.

But what if it’s all for naught? Tim Sackett and Paul Hebert both recently offered some great counter-perspectives to employee engagement over on Fistful of Talent. Good stuff that’s worth a few minutes of your time. I’d like to offer up my own concerns about engagement.

To be clear: engaged employees are a great thing and all organizations should be striving to fill their payroll with engaged people. BUT: I do not define “engaged” as “happy”. I believe they are two separate things that happen to have correlation and overlap, but I’m skeptical about one causing the other. My working definition of “engagement” is “giving a damn”.

People who truly care about the results they are creating in their jobs aren’t always happy. They’re frequently frustrated, irritated, and torqued off at the people and processes and policies between them and the outcomes they are trying to create. Engaged people take ownership and responsibility and that doesn’t always bring sunshine and rainbows and unicorns.

So what’s the reason engagement efforts will fail?


Look around: it’s night of the living dead out there. The world is filled with zombies. Not the fever-infected, brain-eating kind, but the breathing-but-not-really-alive-stumblilng-through-today-without-a-purpose-just-to-make-it-to tomorrow kind.

Walk through the grocery store, stroll through the mall, look at people going through their day. There is  a frighteningly large and significant percentage of folks disengaged from their own lives. They are comfortable enough that they don’t have to worry about food or shelter, but with the basic needs met they don’t have any sense of higher meaning. There’s a pulse, but nothing in their lives to get the heart racing. We are in a golden age of enlightenment where the knowledge of all humanity is accessible instantly and for FREE and they shuffle about in their own self-imposed dark ages. Purpose is displaced by distraction.

If someone doesn’t care enough to show up for their own lives, how on earth will we get them to care about the work they are doing? If they have given up on themselves, how will they be an active part of our cause?

Zombies. The apocalypse is already here and it’s on our payroll.



  1. Hard to believe that comfort and safety can be limiting, but they are. So the question becomes, how do we challenge the zombie? We can’t make the decision to accept the challenge, but is there something we can do to make the challenge at least look interesting, to tweak some forgotten emotion in the zombie brain? And perhaps part of the problem is because there is so much to look at, to see to do, choice has immobilized. Sorry .. no answers, just more questions! Am going to have to read Fistful of Talent.


    1. Really good questions, Laurie. I’m torn. You can’t change people, but you can certainly help those who want to change and maybe – maybe – you can inspire people into grabbing onto this gift called life and revelling in it. I agree that there is now so much to see and so many distractions that it can feel overwhelming, perhaps even pushing us to recoil and shut life out. And we also have the myth that life can be/should be/is perfect. It’s lunacy, but probably causes many to feel like they failing because their life doesn’t look like an infomercial, all perfect smiles and easy-breezy.


  2. Sometimes “giving a hoot” also includes wanting to change a process or start a conversation to take a away a pain point in the workplace. Those pain points push me towards the “zombie state.”


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