When Employee Engagement Goes Wrong

Employee engagement questions

Companies who truly want to build an engaged workforce must look at employee connection and involvement.

We all have been part of an ’employee engagement’ initiative, whether an individual program or a full-fledged organizational imperative. Many times, these programs become a flash-in-the-pan, not truly geared towards building a healthy organizational culture, but a reaction to when employees are disengaging and attrition numbers are up.

Companies who truly want to build an engaged workforce must look at employee connection and involvement as part of their organizational DNA, and tend that garden each and every day. Those that look at employee engagement as transactional, often bring to the table initiatives that might have good intentions, but often miss the mark and even worse, have unintended negative consequences. Take for example the following:

Employee Feedback Fail

Amazon implemented a tool they called the “Anytime Feedback Tool”. It was created as a way for employees to provide peer feedback whenever they felt like it. The feedback could be good or bad, and the evaluations went to the management team. While management knew who submitted the feedback, the employee in question usually did not. This system was designed as a way for employees to provide feedback on each other, in hopes of improving employee culture, productivity, and increasing the amount of engaged employees. Instead, it turned into something much worse. Employees began to plot against each other and utilize it to undermine their peers within the organization.

Incentivized Fraud

Wells Fargo was embroiled in a massive scandal when it was revealed that over a four year period, thousands of employees had opened approximately two million bank and credit card accounts for customers without the customer’s permission – or even their knowledge. Some customers’ credit scores were even impacted. All because of a poorly conceived incentive program created by the Wells Fargo CEO. Employees were intimidated into fraud due to the unrealistic expectations set by their superiors. While some incentive programs can improve employee engagement, this did the opposite. Employees grew to despise the company. And they actively defrauded customers.

Recognition Gone Wrong

In 2011, Torbay Hospital was named Acute Healthcare Organization of the Year. This was a prestigious reward, and twenty senior employees attended the lavish award ceremony in London. The rest of the 4,000 hospital employees? They received vouchers for a Kit-Kat. That’s right, they didn’t even receive a Kit Kat outright. While there were only about 30 formal complaints made from employees, the story was picked up and went worldwide. Not only did this employee engagement failure hurt their employees, it hurt the company’s reputation as well.

A Dollar for Frowns

A midwest manufacturer (name withheld) wanted to incentivize employees to “share positivity” throughout the organization. They instituted a “smile jar”, where executives and leaders would have employees put a dollar in the jar if they caught them not smiling. Needless to say, this initiative did the opposite of generating positivity, with employees simply smiling to avoid the fine and hassle.

In short, employee engagement endeavors must be a sustained commitment by the organization and always include three core elements:

1) A clear, measurable, and genuine benefit to the employee.

2) Reflects and supports a behavior you want to foster for the long term.

3) Supports the growth of healthy organizational communication and collaboration.

Otherwise, your employee engagement ‘initiative’ may end up being a tale of when things went wrong and cause more harm than good.

About the Author

Andrea Belk Olson Andrea Belk Olson has a 20-year, field-tested background that provides unique, applicable approaches to creating more customer-centric organizations. A 4-time ADDY® award-winner, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic marketing efforts at two global industrial manufacturers. In addition to writing, consulting and coaching, Andrea speaks to leaders and industry organizations around the world on how to craft effective customer-facing operational strategies to discover new sources of revenues and savings.

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