disengaging the engaged

Last post, I talked about the difficulty of creating employee engagement for “zombies” – people disengaged from their own lives and just going through the motions. If it’s highly unlikely to engage them, where does that leave us? Are engagement efforts all for naught? Not a bit, but I suggest looking at our efforts differently.

If engaging the disengaged is a wasted effort, consider the possibility that our real engagement risks are disengaging the engaged. “Fink” commented on the previous post:

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

This is a committed, passionate person – fully engaged – sharing a warning and putting us on notice. They aren’t asking for more “employee engagement programs”, they’re telling us to stop making it so difficult to do great work. (If it sounds like I’m overstating or reading too much into a simple comment, I’m not. I know this person and can say that you would move heaven and earth to have them on your team. It pains me to think there are idiots leaders idiots blocking them from doing the great work they love to do.)

I’m not convinced we can engage the disengaged, but am confident that we can destroy the engagement of the people we need most.

What if the easiest way to harm engagement is to treat it as a separate program – a Human Resources initiative – instead of being every leader’s responsibility? It almost seems that treating it as a program makes it someone else’s problem and excuses poor leadership. I can almost hear it, “Of course my people are disengaged, HR needs to create better engagement programs.”

But engagement is never a separate event or program, it’s how we do daily business. Engagement is very difficult to create, yet so easy to tear down and destroy.

Your thoughts?


  1. Great post Broc. Looks like we’ve touched on similar themes today (my latest post is about capacity building in managers so that things like engagement are no longer seen as solely ‘HR’s job’). I think your point about how easy it is to disengage people is also a really important one- perhaps all the time, money and energy that orgs are pouring into DOING things to impact enagagement might be better spent figuring out what to STOP doing to prevent those already engaged from switching off.


    1. Well said. To your point, I can’t help but think that one of the best places to divert all the effort we are putting toward “engagement” would be manager development. Leading is a very difficult job, no one gets it right all the time, and – despite the way companies promote – I’ve yet to be convinced that being a really great individual contributor in any way automatically translates into being a great leader.


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