• Onboarding, 
  • Recruitment

  June 9, 2016

Avoiding Employee Engagement Pitfalls

Employee engagement is dropping around the world, according to recent statistics. The proportion of organizations with falling engagement scores tripled over a two-year period, and nearly 50 per cent of 900 organizations surveyed internationally saw a significant drop in employee engagement — the largest decline in 15 years of employee-engagement research.

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As the economy continues to stabilize and competition for top talent picks up again, employers need to take action to boost employee engagement and avoid common mistakes that can inadvertently sow the seeds of disengagement.

The most common mistakes that can disengage employees involve the perception of the benefits of employee engagement, employee surveys, strategy, inclusiveness, skills and approach.


Employers may assume what is good for the organization is good for employees and yet fail to ensure employees know and experience the benefits of engaged working. These benefits can include reduced stress and increased happiness, enjoyment and interest.

If employees are not taught the benefits of engagement, they may view employer efforts to boost employee engagement as a self-interested ploy to gain more work and discretionary effort from employees.

  • Fixes
  • Communicate the benefits of engagement to employees.
  • Ensure engagement efforts include both employees’ professional and personal well-being.
  • Work with employees to ensure they know and experience the benefits of full engagement, from well-being at work to career development and the personal satisfaction derived from making a meaningful contribution to the organization, other employees and customers.


Employee surveys are the most common method of measuring employee engagement; however, they can also contribute to disengagement.

If employees haven’t received feedback or seen action based on their responses to previous surveys, they could become cynical about future engagement surveys and see them as a waste of time.

While surveys provide a lot of meaningful data, employers often ask too many different questions, which make it hard to develop action plans in response to the data gathered.

Anonymity encourages employees to participate candidly, but it can also make employees feel as if they are invisible and they shouldn’t be publicly critical of the organization for fear of retribution.


  • Engage employees in the entire process, from question formulation and data analysis to recommending action.
  • Shorten time intervals between the surveys, releasing the results and taking action.
  • Shorten the survey or use more frequent pulse surveys.
  • Allocate resources to implement action plans in response to survey results.


Many employers see engagement as an event rather than part of a process. For example, an employer might bring in a motivational speaker and devote a half-day or full day to employee engagement, yet ignore the subject for the rest of the year.


  • Integrate employee engagement into strategic plans and processes.
  • Weave employee engagement strategies and tactics into daily interaction within the organization
  • Don’t house employee engagement responsibilities only within HR or internal communications.  While these departments can be the champions, it’s important to ensure that employee engagement is everyone’s responsibility.


Senior leadership and upper management often fail to realize they are employees too, referring to employees as “them.” This kind of thinking can foster an “us versus them” mentality and create divisions in the workplace.


  • Ensure that leadership and management understand they are employees too and receive education to foster their own engagement.
  • Don’t allow anyone who plays a part in the organization to feel separate from the organization.


Too often, engagement is viewed as a motivational problem, and motivation and engagement are used as interchangeable terms. Motivation is beneficial, but employees need skills, not just the will, to be engaged.

These skills include how to manage focus and attention, how to communicate with others in the organization and how managers and leaders interact with staff.


  • Fuse willpower with skill power.
  • Show employees how to do things. It is not enough that they want to do something.
  • Educate managers on engaged work, using tools that include conversation, authentic recognition, appreciative inquiry and other methods.


Engagement is often viewed as an extra initiative or task foisted upon employees who are already feeling overloaded. Employers may fail to weave employee engagement into all work and integrate engagement as a way of working, rather than as a bit of jargon or a fluffy extra at work.


  • Weave engagement into the way of working, from conversational approaches to co-created strategy and performance management.
  • Actively listen to employees and take action based on their feedback.
  • Communicate the big picture to employees and engage employees in the big picture. With the advent of inexpensive and powerful social media tools and social business software, it has become easier than ever to give employees a voice in the crafting of results and strategy.

By David Zinger. Reprinted with permission from HRReporter © Copyright Thomson Reuters Canada Ltd., December 13, 2010, Toronto, Ontario, (800) 387-5164. Web site: http://www.hrreporter.com/. David Zinger is a Winnipeg-based global employee engagement expert and founder of the Employee Engagement Network, which has 3,150 members.

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