Coping with the Credibility Gap in Employee Engagement

Our current practices and approaches to employee engagement are failing. They are failing to achieve organizational results and most employees fail to experience the benefits of their own engagement.”  Excerpt from David Zinger’s 21-Point Employee Engagement Manifesto.

A disheartening statement, but not surprising as employee engagement gets more intention than action. In my workshops, I frequently hear managers lament about being told to initiate engagement and/or recognition programs with insufficient commitment and resources needed to support their efforts. Then when these programs don’t work, the well-meaning but clueless-in-charge look for other quick-fix workplace remedies.

Frustrated by wasting precious resources on “flavor-of-the-month” engagement initiatives, employee cynicism continues and top management’s credibility gap widens. If this describes your workplace, here are several tips to help you preserve whatever sanity you have left.

Help for hanging in there

  • Keep in mind that across your life’s spectrum this situation is only temporary.
  • Another important perspective is your workplace isn’t all that unique – the world is filled with Dilbert-like organizations. While “misery loves company,” refrain from wallowing in a victim mentality.
  • Until you can change jobs, or if you’re unable to make the switch, look for whatever positive, fulfilling aspects of your workplace you can find such as making a difference through the work you do, helping customers, enjoying some of the people you work with, and yes, even getting a steady paycheck.
  • Find healthy ways to de-stress and maintain your mental and physical health – it’s the most precious resource you have.
  • Consider the opportunity you have to learn what works and what doesn’t work in dealing with people in the workplace. You can apply “lessons learned” in your next job and any community activities you may be involved in as a volunteer. (Note: the practice of engaging employees is similar to that of engaging volunteers.)

It’s important to remember that engagement is a two-way proposition between employers and employees. While the management team is responsible for creating an engaging workplace, employees are responsible for showing up each day ready and willing to engage in their work. The absence of the former may mitigate–but doesn’t preclude–the latter.

5 replies on “Coping with the Credibility Gap in Employee Engagement”

Yes! There are leaders with great instinct, caring, and warmth. They are a gift. But, lest other potential leaders be discouraged, leadership skills can be learned — and they should be pursued well before men and women are placed in positions of influence and authority and honed forever after.

I agree, Andrea, especially about “enlightened leadership.” One of the truly enlightened CEO’s I interviewed for my first book about engagement through internal marketing understood its value and practiced engagement as an ongoing philosophy embedded in the company’s culture, not a just a program. “It’s easy to put a poster on the wall,” he told me, but it has to be something that we live.” Just like the state Secretary you worked for, some leaders instinctively and intuitively care about and respect their employees.

With more than 25 years management and supervisory experience under my belt in non-profits and government agencies — 12 in human resources and labor relations — I cringe when I hear about engagement programs and employee recognition. They are simply the gloss applied to cover the rot beneath. When staff are subjected to poor “leadership” in an organization that demonstrates no commitment to learning and high performance and, in fact, punishes initiative and diversity in all forms, an engagement program adds insult to injury. In that remarkably rare instance when employees can bask in the glow of enlightened leadership, no program is required. I spent years working with executives, managers, and supervisors to understand the elements of leadership, define and communicate needs and expectations, share with staff, listen to staff, learn from staff, and value staff every single day. Are there organizations with that internal capacity any longer? I haven’t seen it in a very very long time. In a state agency with 10,000 employees, I worked for a Secretary who knew everyone in central office (2,000) and greeted them by name. He thanked everyone informally, shook hands with staff as they entered the building on many many mornings. Wow! Did that make a difference. And, it didn’t cost a dime. I could go on for hours, but ‘nuf said!

Thanks, Mary Ann, for clarifying that employees engage with both their work AND their employer/organization. I love the “dead battery” metaphor for employer-employee engagement!

Great reminders! BlessingWhite’s research indicates that engagement reflects each person’s individual relationship with the work and organization. Everyone can do something, no matter what, to take control of their engagement. This is a particularly important message for managers who can coach team members to higher levels of engagement. If they are not engaged, they can’t help others. A dead battery cannot jumpstart another.

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