Employee engagement is just not improving, despite many efforts and initiatives. Since 2011 Gallup surveys show engagement hovering around 27 and 31% and stagnating during 2015. Of course there are serious hypotheses why this is e.g. economic down turn means low turnover meaning the disengaged are staying. But as light relief at the end of the year, I am awarding the 2015 Pipsy Engagement Bloopers for the way some companies have managed to make sure their engagement scores have stayed low….or got even lower.

1. Blame it on the employees

In October when the VW diesel emissions scandal first broke, the Head of VW US, Michael Horn blamed it on a “couple of rouge software engineers” under oath at the House of Representatives panel. Not surprisingly no one on the panel believed him. By December with VW’s credibility already in tatters, chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch admitted that the diesel emissions scandal was a result of “a whole chain” of failures within the company, and cannot be attributed to rogue engineers alone.

If VW did not have enough to deal with the scandal, they can now add a huge loss of employee’s trust in management, and a fear that a company would make them scapegoats if only they could have got away with it. I don’t need any data to guess that VW employee engagement scores have gone the same way as their share price – down.

2. Cronyism is dead, long live cronyism

At Credit Suisse the new CEO, Tidjane Thiam was welcomed by employees, especially when he started to exit some of the management team who were cronies of the former CEO. But it seems that finding the right leadership team is never a level playing field. Mr Thiam’s new management team comes from the same mould as him.
The new CEO announced restructuring and massive job cuts. Staff in Switzerland were told the cuts would be “brutal but executed with compassion” and staff reduced over 3 years as a result of natural attrition. However with the old senior manager exiting and the new management team coming in, the people reporting to senior management are now fighting for jobs. The staff went into the Christmas break wondering whether “compassion” and “natural attrition” had been redefined. It seems the honeymoon for Mr Thiam was short and engagement is probably back to the level as it was in the past.

3. Motivational talk in your own time

A motivational talk is about exactly that, motivating your employees. Employees of one nameless consulting firm were invited to listen to the typical amazing feat motivational speaker, a man who had biked across USA. So you think – finally an example of a company interested in engaging their staff. But wait there is a catch. In the email inviting the staff to the talk, but they were told they had to take it in non-working time. Now that is how to spend money on improving engagement but to waste it before the event even happens.

4. You can’t take the google out of Google

There is nothing wrong with benchmarking against another company with great engagement to get some ideas about how you could improve engagement in your company. Google, where employee engagement is high, is naturally a target for such benchmarking. A very traditional insurance company visited Google and decided they would try a small pilot of creating a google-like work space at their company.
So they converted just one of the eight floors in their building. They bought in the micro-kitchens with free food, the pool tables and the bean bags. But what about the other floors in the building that didn’t have this? Not surprisingly it actually was demotivating for people on the other floors. And got even more demotivating when an email was sent around telling the employees of other floors to stop “stealing” the food. Number 1 lesson – fairness in how you treat people is more important than bean bags and free food in creating engagement.

Hopefully these companies take their blooper award and use it as motivation to find ways to really improve their engagement in 2016. I am looking for company stories to be considered for the 2016 awards, please contact me.

Stories are how culture gets transmitted. These stories tell about cultures with low trust in management, injustice and unfairness, all leading to low engagement. For pragmatic advice on how to improve engagement in your organisation then contact Pipsy HR consulting.

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