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Why engagement fails

By January 11, 2017 May 6th, 2020 No Comments

Why engagement fails or the Core Reason Leadership Approaches to Employee Engagement Fail.

Managers want to engage employees of all levels to commit, give their all, be reliable, and perform well.

Entrepreneurs, business owners, HR leaders, department directors, line managers, and team leaders all face the same employee engagement challenges and can fall into the same trap.

I came across the following case study which identifies these traps well.

A business owner of a large office cleaning company and his HR director wanted to reduce absenteeism among their employees who cleaned customers’ office buildings. Last minute calls due to sickness and general absenteeism created a significant business challenge. These were hourly paid employees and many came from difficult home lives.

The HR director outlined a traditional approach of awarding points for people who showed up, and points lost for absenteeism. She then wanted the line managers and team leaders to keep track of the points, document them, and then address poor performance.

The line managers and team leaders resisted. They believed performance was important, yet they didn’t want to be the constant bearers of bad news. They explained to the HR director and the business owner that the point system did not incent people to show up, and didn’t lower absenteeism. And worse, deducting points was seen as a major issue and was demotivational.

The classic mistake

The approach was failing miserably because it wasn’t about employee engagement. It was primarily about documenting employee performance. The HR director believed it was employee engagement because it included reward points.

Yet it didn’t touch what the employees cared about beyond their pay packet, which included the following:

  • Being valued and knowing they matter and make a difference
  • Being respected and honoured even though they are doing a lower-level job
  • Being encouraged to recommend ideas on how to make things better
  • Being trusted because of their contribution and hard work

When the business owner and the HR director called me to talk about it, I was surprised at the HR director’s resistance to trying an inspirational approach. As I started to outline an alternative, she interrupted and said, “Documentation and measurement are important!” The business owner pointed out that I wasn’t disagreeing with that and encouraged her to listen. He underscored that he had read of inspirational approaches working.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t shift gears. She continued to focus on the HR obligation to document performance and overlooked the essentials of employee engagement.

The employee engagement lesson

Engage through inspiration, respect, listening, learning, and empowerment.

Then measure the results!

The drive to measure, measure, measure, clouds leaders’ and managers’ views of employee engagement. The measurement focus is backward.

Engage first, measure second. Otherwise, what are you measuring?

Employee engagement essentials

  1. Employee engagement is about human connection. Showing respect is the first step. It’s even more important for employees at lower job levels because they don’t inherently feel respect through their titles or jobs.
  2. Everybody wants to know they matter and that you care. When leaders and managers stay at a distance by using a measurement approach to engage employees, it fails because it’s not personal. Employee engagement is uniquely personal.
  3. Get to know your employees. Amiable personality types will thrive with mega appreciation. It doesn’t stifle their growth; instead, growth is fueled. Drivers benefit from seeing the high bar and being praised when they reach it. If you always move it just before they reach it, they’ll disrespect your ways as fickle.
  4. Get to know why your employees work. Ask them: What do you get out of work? What would you like to get out of work? What inspires you in everyday life? How much does work currently inspire you? Beyond the paycheck, why do you work? Growth or Self-fulfillment? Helping others? Living a purpose? Creating and innovating? Your interest and questions increase your engagement currency. Listen very carefully to their answers. It is a map to engaging them. It is a guide to facilitating teamwork. It tells you what type of recognition and appreciation they want. It even shows you how to help them resolve conflicts and stay productive.
  5. Show appreciation to create a growth culture fueled by high morale. Appreciation, correction and coaching keeps the employees engagement momentum going. It tells them your commitment to them individually, to the team, and to the organisation’s goals is the real thing. It builds their respect for you, and their trust in you.
  6. Recognise growth as well as performance achievement. Lessons learned and quickly applied for tangible success are worthy of high praise. Some leaders focus mostly on the mistakes. Successful ones focus on lessons learned and reapplied. Don’t assume hourly paid employees doing lower-level labor jobs don’t grow and achieve.
  7. Applaud talents that sustain the business. One of the biggest employee engagement mistakes leaders make is taking employees’ work for granted because it is always there. Let employees know how important they are to the business. Inspire a team spirit. Feature them on the website and build their commitment to excellence.

There are so many ways to inspire and engage employees, if you believe it is worth the time and effort. When leaders push that aside and focus only on measurement and documentation, they fail at employee engagement.

Brownie Points is acknowledged as a thought leader in employee engagement, with thousands of users being recognised for real contribution and commitment. To learn how we can help you motivate and inspire your employees, call the team today on 03 9909 7411 for a no obligation discussion, or email us at

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