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Employee Engagement Ideas Will Make You Crazy

What's your biggest challenge at work?

Biggest Challenge at Work Commentary are Tim’s thoughts on real-life challenges submitted by readers like you. Want to send us your challenge? Take the Biggest Challenge at Work Survey

“Thinking up employee engagement ideas for the Employee Engagement Council I am on.”
IT Business Analyst

Recently, we talked about shitwork and what makes it so. It’s not so much the work itself, but the way it is managed that creates shitwork, which in turn breeds disengagement. We talked about things like on-the-job learning, creative freedom, and appreciation to help people emotionally connect to the work they do.

However, as I go through the Biggest Challenges at Work responses, I see a number of companies who still think they can have their employee engagement “on the side,” so to speak. Leave everything as is, spray some Febreeze in the air, and see if people stop holding their noses and start working with both hands.

This kind of creative employee-engagement thinking is very popular today. I know this because, besides 22 Surefire Ways to Boost Employee Engagement, I’ve published another ebook, called 49 Employee Engagement Ideas, and it too is going like hot cakes. The 49 ideas are just that—a big brain dump of stuff you could try that probably won’t hurt you. Imagine, all kinds of people willing to read through 49 pieces of highly questionable advice from someone they’d never heard of.

I am not just talking about my ebook. The Internet is chock-full of employee engagement lists, tips, hacks, cheats and tricks that may or may not have ever worked for anybody. One thing is for sure, though: the searches are not slowing down.

So, this Analyst’s company decided to do something less off-the-wall than to look for employee engagement ideas on the Internet.

Job Title Biggest Challenge at work?
IT Business Analyst "Thinking up employee engagement ideas for the Employee Engagement Council I am on."

They created an Employee Engagement Council, so that their own employees could tell them what’s missing and what they need to turn things around. Each department nominated a representative. Some declined, because they were on too many councils already, and some enthusiastically accepted. Next, the Council solemnly convenes in the big conference room—and this is where it gets off-track.

Instead of talking about their own problems, these people suddenly decide that their job is to engage some hypothetical employees, who for some hypothetical reason, don’t want to be engaged. Consequently, the action item is to come up with ideas. And it falls to the most junior council member to follow through. Our IT Business Analyst does what he’s done since grade school when someone asked him to do something new: he googles it.

Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if, while internet-fishing for employee engagement, he, at least, found some for himself. That is, if he felt excited and energized by his task. But that’s not what’s happening. How do I know?

Okay, why would he call coming up with a few crummy employee engagement ideas his “biggest challenge at work?” Obviously, because he hates it. Why does he hate it? Judging by his title, when he got this job (I am guessing not so long ago), he was told he’d be analyzing businesses and creating IT solutions. Instead he got stuck with the employee-engagement council. Incidentally, the council could be dealing with legitimate business problems and IT applications. But how do I know that this is not happening either? Because he is searching the Internet all by himself with no sense of direction, just so he can get this employee engagement item off his shit-to-do list.

So, it seems as though our council is not making any headway in the business of engaging employees. In fact, it seems to compound the problem by taking employees away from their assigned duties and sending them on a wild goose chase.

Let’s go back to the root of the problem. Why are these people not discussing their engagement? For example, why is our IT Business Analyst not writing down a list of things that would make his job better? Does he have particular interests or ambitions? Does he have access to important people for mentorship and guidance? Would he like to organize his workplace differently? Does he care about health, environment, or social issues? And does his workplace support his values?

Of course, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But let me—again—state the obvious. In order to talk about my engagement, I have to first admit that it’s an issue. My issue. I have to shine the spotlight on myself and I have to come up lacking. Our council members chose not to go there, at least not in their official capacity. It’s hard to imagine these same employees not bitching five times a day about everything from management to toilet paper. But, as soon as they are asked to do something about it, it becomes somebody else’s problem.

What’s going on here? Two things.

One, these people don’t feel safe discussing their real needs at work. They are used to pretending that everything is just fine with them, personally. Saying what the manager wants to hear. Doing things that don’t make any sense to them. Want to talk about culture? This is culture.

Two, even those who dare show their real face to the management, don’t believe it changes anything. They don’t believe that the management cares about their needs. They don’t think the council on employee engagement is about them, because nothing ever is about them. Can you blame them?

Finally, what can you do about employee engagement at this company? If you are a first-year-IT-Business-Analyst-employee-engagement-council-member, realistically, not much. However, there are people in the company who can do a lot. Like the person who came up with the idea of the council in the first place. Or the person who gave it his lofty approval. Top management, in other words.

If a manager wants people to talk about what bothers them at their jobs, he could start with himself. The CEO could get up in front of the company and say, “Hey, I really hate this constant pressure from the Board to cut costs. It makes me want to shut down my email and go home to my cat.” That would change the culture. Instantly. This is something I know first-hand. Not that I have a board or a cat, but being honest with people about pressures I am facing has helped me make sure they speak their minds around me.

The other part is letting them know I am willing to help. Of course, you have to do it with your actions, not just words. Then your people will know you care. Even when you choose not to honor their wishes.

So, do I read employee-engagement trick lists on the Internet? As a matter of fact, I do. And I even follow most of what I read. And it always works. But I don’t think that it’s the tricks themselves that work. It’s why I use them.

If your people know you care about them—and not just using a moronic trick to manipulate them—then go ahead and use the moronic trick. They will love it. Otherwise, well, you can start an employee engagement council and have them search the Internet…


If you like smart ideas then you might like my book, because, while researching it, I’ve stumbled on many brilliant ideas. (I found a few dumb ones too, but I didn’t put them in.)

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Tim Eisenhauer
About Tim Eisenhauer
Tim is the author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's also a co-founder and president of Axero, a technology company that makes intranet software for businesses. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and other top publications.

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