When too much engagement leads to disengagement

Engagement. Everybody’s talking about it, and for good reasons. In a participation economy where people can’t be forced, the only way to succeed is to have others engaged. In a knowledge economy, it’s a productivity lever. And in a crisis economy it’s what make a group stronger to keep on moving forward.

That said, engagement is not an easy thing. Outside of the enterprise, customers are distrustful by nature (and for good reasons). Inside, and whatever the study we refer to, numbers are at an all-time low and keep on falling.

We could even make fun of it if the matter was not that critical, saying that the more we talk about engagement the more it decreases. Hey ! Wait a minute. Maybe it’s the root cause : while engagement is something businesses talk a lot about, they take the problem by the wrong end.


Engagement : a catch-all for disengaging practices

On the customer side many things have been done to increase customer engagement. And what’s an engaged customer ? A customer who buys, like, promotes and defends the brand. And how do businesses try to engage customers ? With engaging…content. As far as I remember, I’ve never read in any dictionary that content was a synonymous for hook.

Then comes employee engagement. And what do we hear ? “Employees must engage”. “We won’t tolerate disengages employees”. “We want engaged employees”. As if engagement was employees’ responsibility. They’re held responsible for what is an enterprise matter, a management issue. Employees want to engage but not without any compensation, not if the signals sent to them scare them, not if “engage” means “do everything you can and even more, you’ll get a medal posthumously”. The problem is not for employees to be engaged but for businesses, management, managers to be engaging.

Next is managers engagement. Obvious. Engaging employees is impossible without engaged managers. “Be sure you’ll be able to count on the engagement of the  C-suite to help you in your mission”. Understand : you’ll have to do more with less, don’t even think asking for more means or budget so…we are wholeheartedly with you. We can’t do anything to help you but we will support you with our thoughts and voices.

In short, engagement has become a catch-all and has been lead astray to become a cocktail of  poorly engaging things in a trendy wrapping.


The more one talks about engagement the less he gets the nature of the problem

Should we take offense of businesses’ behaviors ? Not at all. They do what they can with what they have. The only thing wrong being leading a word astray, turning a very positive idea in something that’s quite hard to live. Turning “everybody together” into “cope on your own, that’s your problem, we can’t do anything to fix it”.

So there’s no surprise that the more businesses talk about engagement the more employees are disengaged. Engagement is a matter of talks, not of actions. Maybe employees would prefer to hear things like “times are hard, get ready to suffer, we have very few means to fix it but we all must to cope with the situation until better times come”. Not en engaging discourse ? Not sure since it’s a transparent and frank one. Nothing is more disengaging that hiding reality behind nice words and good intentions.

We can even wonder if the level of engagement is not conversely proportional to the number of times the word is said by leaders and managers.

Engagement is not the result of individual decisions but of peripheral factors. Let’s deal with the factors and stop making employees feel guilty of not being engaged.

Engagement is not what others should do to help the enterprise but what the enterprise should do to make them feel like getting engaged.

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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