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When Employee Engagement Sucks

Admittedly, there are many organisations that we can talk about when employee engagement sucks but the most recent is to do with the open letter to Brewdog.

There are many reasons why we should encourage employee engagement but the inability to grasp the how is a problem.

When we consider the future of mental health, we know that employee engagement and experience is crucial but maybe we need to ditch the statistics and be more human.

WHy Bother?

There’s a host of reasons as to why we want to understand our people – the largest budget allocated in your enterprise.

Here’s a list and let’s remember the caveat to this: just because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t mean that a) organisations will do it or b) organisations say that they do it and really do do it.

  • Gives everyone a voice for their opinions and to give / receive feedback that allows people to believe that they have an influence on the direction of the enterprise
  • Opens up a dialogue to improve workplace environments
  • Creates a culture of equal voices where employees speak without fear of criticism or censorship
  • Offers anonymity where confidentiality can encourage honesty
  • Discovers the truth by removing the contamination of management levels that can filter the news to the leadership
  • Tailors employee benefits and personal development based on their needs and wants
  • Builds employee loyalty through listening and acting up their input
  • Understands employee motivation and align compensation, benefits, and opportunities to them
  • Uses the data for trends to see where the future lies for your people
  • Increases trust as employees appreciate that management is open to listening
The problem is that the 10 reasons above are Corporate BS. 
why your employee engagement sucks

So we can agree on a few things:

There are eight primary problems.

  1. Humans aren’t data – having employees respond to formulaic questions by using a rating scale gives some analytics but no insight – not to mention that one person’s view of a situation is different to that of someone else.  For example, “is the office too hot?” may gives us an answer predicated with “it depends…” – and there’s no scale for that
  2. Organisational inability to define employee engagement means that you can be looking in the wrong places for the wrong things
  3. Feedback is seen as an event where, usually every 12-18 months, a big deal is made out of doing it (we know of at least three organisations where failing to complete the employee survey can lead to disciplinary action).  It’s a big, unwieldy activity that is giving old data (for organisations to, possibly, ignore anyway) – and employees see it as an inconvenience.
  4. It puts a barrier between employee and organisation as there is no conversation and no rapport – it feels like the survey goes into a black hole and no one cares
  5. The data is contaminated by managers who interpret data in their own way – it’s never, “the data tells us”; it’s always, “how we choose to interpret the data is…”.
  6. There’s no central commitment – we know of just one organisations with a Manager responsible for Listening & Engagement.    Many employee engagement surveys feel like a side project that distracts leaders from their real work.  This means that it always falls down the agenda where (any) actions may happen months after the survey (if something else doesn’t come along in the meantime).
  7. And this means that no action is taken

Our favourite one here is number 8 – the Consultancy BS of benchmarking.  Collect the wrong data for the wrong questions and then compare them with organisations who are statistically in the same boat.   What’s the big deal with seeing how you compare with others?  Isn’t it better to focus on getting your own house in order?


We have a view on the benefits of employee engagement (and the blocks to it) – so what?

Well, at least we have a map of what the future of employee engagement looks like.

  • Multi-channel, multi-touch platforms giving everyone the ability to have an opinion in realtime about anything – and the platform intelligently draws it all together for leaders to see 24/7 unfiltered snapshots of the organisation (effectively, 24 / 7 employee engagement surveys)
  • Give / receive feedback in realtime – praising (and recognising / rewarding)
  • Forums that capture and encourage dialogue through anonymised conversations
  • Create a culture where employees can speak honestly
  • Retain anonymity as an option until employees trust the leadership
  • Data Transparency – allow everyone to see the analytics and insights in realtime on your intranet – let everyone see the sentiment, opinions, and feelings about your organisation
  • Map the values of the organisation – your enterprise’s values are a demonstration of what you already do; not what you aspire to
  • Understand employee motivations, wants and needs to enable personalised training, benefits and more
  • Speed up the process of feedback and action so that employees start to feel heard and valued

The open letter to BrewDog was pretty damning but, in our experience, it’s not unique.

Historically, we have facilitated numerous workshops where senior leadership teams have just had sight of the latest employee engagement survey.  The most common response is one of denial, followed by the dawning realisation that the leaders simply don’t know what their people think.

Sure, they are skilled in reviewing sales figures and management accounts.  Likewise, customer acquisition costs are monitored closely.  But what your own people think about the business?  Well that’s when they wait for an annual survey to be constructed, data captured, and forced into spreadsheets.

The human condition is not built this way.

The business will understand more by recognising the psychological aspects of the employee and hearing individual stories.

Imagine that you’re an organisation with 500 employees and your latest survey asked 12 questions.  What are you hoping to achieve with 6,000 datapoints?

Isn’t it easier to ask what the sentiment is towards a particular issue today, this minute?  Is the workforce happy, right now?  What dysfunctional behaviours are we, as the leadership, allowing to manifest in the enterprise today?

A final element here is crucial (just ask BrewDog) – prove what you say that you are doing.  If you are delivering social value, prove it.  If you are improving the strength of the psychological contract with your employees, prove it.

In this technological time, feedback cycles are compressed (which doesn’t fit with annual engagement surveys, does it?) and the voice of the employee is heard clear and loud.  Capture all information relating to the good work that you say that you do.

If you’re happy with the way your employee engagement sucks, then fair play to you.  When an open letter about your business hits social media, rest assured that there will be case studies written about it!

Neil Fogarty is an experienced business leader who set up his first SaaS software development company in 1997.  

He has been building businesses through collaboration for over 30 years and is a co-founder and the CEO of Litha Group – a psycholinguistic AI enterprise based in the UK.

Working within both SME and PLC environments, he has consulted Central Civil Government. Local Government and an international array of private sector clients as far afield as Central Europe, Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean.

His primary role within Litha is that of strategy, governance, and investment as this omnichannel psychology & linguistics company brings groundbreaking technologies to market.

For more information, contact us or email Neil directly.

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