Employee Engagement News: It’s Bad, Really Bad And It Won’t Improve (Part 1)

This is part of a series of articles on the waste of resources allocated to employee engagement efforts, and the potential for these investments to backfire on companies looking for bottom line results. It is based on Present And Future Of Employee Engagement, and The News Is Bad, Really Bad.

In a recent report from Josh Bersin, estimates of ANNUAL expenditures on employee engagement initiatives is about three quarters of a BILLION dollars. It’s hard to find articles on improvement in the workplace that do NOT mention engagement. It’s certainly THE buzzword of the century, yet there’s scant evidence that the construct, and the practical applications of employee engagement are having ANY positive effect.

In this section we’ll look at both the good and bad news about employee engagement but here are ten points to keep in mind.

Six Absolutely Critical Things You Need To Know About Employee Engagement

  • The costs of measuring employee engagement, a rather pointless process can be as high as $400 per employee, according to one report. Measuring something doesn’t improve it, and that money is better spent on things that directly impact employees’ workplace life (e.g. affordable child care).
  • Despite years of investment, there is no evidence that employee engagement has increased. In fact, it’s the opposite.
  • It’s likely that it’s simply NOT possible to increase employee engagement in a company ENOUGH to impact the bottom line. That’s because the factors that determine employee attitudes AND work behavior have less to do with what the company does than who they are and their existing values.
  • Since employee engagement processes are undertaken to benefit the company, and it’s clearly so, employees can perceive them as manipulative, a way of squeezing more work from them without paying them more. That’s more likely to anger them, then encourage them.
  • There is no evidence that employee engagement causes better performance. There are only studies that show a correlation. It may be that more profitable companies have better engaged staff, because they are profitable, and do a lot of other things better than companies with less engaged staff.
  • Some research suggests that the best performers in companies actually are less engaged than lesser performers, suggesting at least that the construct is wrong.

Important Articles On Employee Engagement, Its Flaws, and The Research

Below is part I of a curated selection of articles on employee engagement. Many are critiques, while there are a few that support EE as a valid and worthwhile investment.

It’s intentionally biased towards the critiques simply because there are literally tens of thousands of articles, most superficial that claim that employee engagement is the best thing since…well, the last management fad. Unfortunately critiques are lost in the bandwagon effect.

Each article has a brief commentary. PLEASE read the commentary before clicking since each provides context for the full article.


  • Aligning Employees With Your Business Strategic Priorities By Tim Witcherley- Case example of how Cisco worked to align employee work with the overall strategic goals of the organization. While this is a critical part of any employment engagement strategy (making the work meaningful), its essential for ANY well managed company.


  • Article: Employee Engagement is now more personal By Mervyn Raphael- A beginning at moving away from a rationalistic, logical model of employee engagement to one that recognizes employees as human beings who cannot be “turned on” or off like machines, as the traditional EE stuff covertly suggests.
  • Asia Pacific sees improvements in number of highly engaged’ employees By na- Is this evidence that one CAN increase employee engagement? Not really, never mind whether it actually has a return on the investment. Some scores went up. However, employees now have LOWERED perceptions of leadership and company practices. What can we learn from this type of “improvement”?
  • Companies Cannot Increase Employee Engagement By Robert Bacal- A fundamental error with employee engagement is that it ASSUMES that the company can control the variables that control engagement. Like motivation, employee engagement cannot be improved by company fiddling.
  • Does employee engagement matter? By Vassilis Engonopoulos- Key takeaway here: Rational and emotional “engagement” are different things. As an aside, the important part is the emotional part, which isn’t really measured properly in employee surveys.
  • Employee Engagement Doesn’t Cause Business Success By Robert Bacal- if employee engagement is over-rated why is it that successful companies seem to have more engaged employees? Here’s the explanation.

Make sure you are following or connected so you won’t miss any subsequent posts of relevant articles on the employee engagement “movement”.

If you want to look at more articles that focus on both the positives and negatives of employee engagement investments, click here.

For articles by Robert Bacal on employee engagement, and why it’s because a fad slavishly followed by organization decision-makers click here.

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