Is Your Focus On Engagement, Hurting Your Engagement?

There is an interesting Psychological phenomenon that happens when you do something over and over, it’s called “decline effect.”  Decline effect, simply, is when you first go out and measure something, then put some focus on bettering that one thing, as you continue to do it, you don’t get better results the more you do it, you actually start to see declining results.  I bring this up as I see so many articles recently written on declining Employee Engagement, and almost all of those articles focus on the economy and the lack of additional or more choices for the employee to change, as being the primary culprit for lower engagement scores.  That could definitely be one answer, and it fits well with the timing of our economic collapse – all though I think many companies actually saw engagement scores increase as the economy started to go south.  So, maybe this decline effect fits for some organizations.

Here’s my theory.  Over the past 5-10 years employee engagement has been a huge focus of HR shops around the world.  An entire consultancy industry has sprung up to support increasing organizations employee engagement levels.  As organizations do, meaning we usually go right ditch – left ditch, we focused on Engagement!  We began by measuring our baseline – we then implemented programs – and we saw the fruit of our labor by increased scores.  Every year we went out to increase those scores, damn the torpedoes, we need more engagement, I don’t care if you have 100% engagement – Google has 105% engagement – we need that as well!  So we double-triple-quadruple our engagement efforts, but something strange started to happen – our scores weren’t getting better, they started to creep the other way – oh no – they’re getting worse!

Has to be those lazy managers – more leadership training is needed – more focus. Still lower scores.  Oh wait, those lazy employees, we need to change some of them as well. Still lower scores. Must be that crappy engagement vendor we are using  – go find a new one! Still lower scores.

Give up?

When I bough my first house, I was very happy with it.  I had never had a house and my first small, cozy house was perfect.  3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a lawn – and I was happy.  Then I bought my next house and it had more, it had more bedrooms, more bathrooms, more lawn – and I was even more happy!  Then I bought my next house and it had all my last house had, but it more garage and it was on the water and it had more space. But, I really wasn’t happier – it seemed like the more space had some issues as well – it cost more, it took longer to clean, it was just more work.

We spend so much time and effort on making our employees happy.  New chair – you’ll be more comfortable.  Free lunch – you look hungry.  Let me wash your cat – you look overworked. Have a free massage – you look tired.  Let me fix your boss – he doesn’t seem very nice.  Then all of sudden we don’t have more of offer, anything else to make better.  It’s not that our employees weren’t engaged before all of this, they were – we just wanted more – but more comes with a price.  To keep more, you have to keep giving more and eventually you’ll run into a wall where more isn’t the answer. When more won’t give you more – it will start giving you less.

Employee Engagement is tricky – don’t fall into the “more” trap – you won’t like what you will create!

3 thoughts on “Is Your Focus On Engagement, Hurting Your Engagement?

  1. Tim,
    I appreciate your perspective and take on this and the trap of more fused with the decline effect. I really liked the line: “To keep more, you have to keep giving more and eventually you’ll run into a wall where more isn’t the answer. When more won’t give you more – it will start giving you less.”

  2. Engagement will go up again as soon as companies realize you don’t buy engagement with more benefits, more money, more comfy chairs and more massages. Engagement is an issue of connecting what I like to do and what I’m good at – to what the company needs done. If that connection isn’t made – regardless of the perks – people will not be engaged. They may be happy, they may be satisfied, they may be content… but they will not be engaged.

    And truth be told – there is no such thing at 100% engagement – impossible. Don’t even try. You will always have a distribution, from engaged to dis-engaged and every color in the middle – shoot for a majority engaged – makes. You wouldn’t expect someone to hit 100% of their free throws would you? Why shoot for 100% engagement. That’s just chasing a statistic – not success.

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