Employee Relations

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?

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.