Human Capital Reporting: Breaking the Impasse
“The Paradox of Being Human” and Its Implications in Organisations

Why Employee Engagement Efforts Aren’t More Effective

In his book, “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek expounds on how the human species has been biologically programmed for survival. He describes the chemical stimulants that the body produces under different circumstances. He identifies 6 different chemical reactions and the situations in which they are produced. These are, briefly, as follows:

Biological Chemical Survival Mechanisms

However, having just read that expenditure on employee engagement exceeds $74 billion I cannot help wondering if this also explains why there has been so little improvement in employee engagement generally with levels of disengagement continuing to hover around the 70% mark.

Why would I think this?

Well, having long maintained that employee engagement is an umbrella concept that covers many issues, not least the fact that people are all different, I may well be prejudiced towards doing so. Nevertheless, I feel this provides other sound reasons for thinking this.    

Firstly, engagement is an attitude or state of mind. This, inevitably, makes it entirely subjective. It also suggests that it is likely to be susceptible to circumstances, which would make engagement more mood-like, and – as a consequence – more likely to fluctuate and hence be a transient condition. The biological science that Sinek describes reinforces that logic and, by confirming that our responses are chemically induced, proves that susceptibility.  All of which makes measuring employee engagement a moving target and a questionable exercise.

And, while logic may suggest otherwise, the consistent levels of employee engagement may bear this out and could simply be the result of attempting to homogenise the classification of people. Ultimately this inherently runs counter to the concept of recognising an employee’s individuality. When people want to feel that they “make a difference” and to be recognised and appreciated for their contribution this is counter-productive. It completely fails to recognise and address what Dan Pink identifies as the three drivers of motivation – autonomy, mastery and purpose – and does nothing to give employees any sense of that.

Consider Oxytocin for starters. It produces trust, and if you continue to run an environment in which command and control are the order of the day, where people are judged by the amount of time they spend at their desks or by their ability to achieve ever more “stretch” targets you will never build the trust you need to gain the engagement you are looking for.

Similarly, an environment in which there is a constant threat of losing one’s job, or the justification for most new technology or change initiatives, is how many jobs it will ‘save’, means that people will continue to be paranoid and produce the cortisol which is the ultimate cause of stress and ill-health. This is likely to be a significant factor in your sick days lost and/or absenteeism. In such an environment how can you ever expect your people to be engaged?

I am sure there are many other examples that would reinforce the point. The question you need to ask yourself, however, is how much do your employees trust you? Even if you have given them assurances that their jobs are secure, how do they know that you mean it and that their jobs will be not be in jeopardy the moment there is a deterioration in your trading conditions? If you haven't earned that trust you haven’t a snowball's chance in hell of ever securing greater employee engagement, no matter how much money you throw at the project. 

Next time I will share more about how you can achieve your employee engagement objectives more effectively, but if you don’t want to wait you can always contact me directly.


If you like what you have read contact me today for a free 30 minute conversation about how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model can provide the catalyst to help you create an organisational culture of ‘Love at Work’ : one where everyone cares and the business becomes our business, so embracing change and transforming – and sustaining – organisational performance.


Bay Jordan

Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.


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