Ever wonder why employee engagement remains unchanged over the past decade? I imagine it's unchanged over the last two decades but there are no charts to show that, no research reports or annual state of the workforce reports like Gallup's. Maybe, there were; I never saw them.
Employee engagement is a hot, hot, hot topic. You see it bandied about everywhere if everywhere includes business journals. Frankly, a lot of it reads like snake-oil salesman or Twitter posts by social media mavens/rockstars circa 2006-8. But, there are good sources. I've reviewed some good books here and listed my go-to sources for employee engagement writing.
But one thing rarely discussed is ... this chart. You see corporate profits going up, wages going down. Employees see this trend, they live it with their families. As their hours lengthen, the demands for more-more-more rise, as benefits are cut and wages frozen, as hiring freezes stretch on yet another company announces lay-offs just after they announce record profits ... employees see this.
Any discussion of the trend in this chart is hidden in soft phrases like Corporate Culture, Alignment, line-of-sight communication, authentic leadership. Positive case-studies and profiles are cherry-picked. Surrogates for employee engagement are offered, like candy to children. Surveys (Why don't you talk in-person with your employees?), pretty shiny things for recognition which is the adult's version of bribing a child to brush their teeth (We're all tired and overworked like parents who use that tactic; understandable.), slogans and announcements and my new favorite ... gamification.
This chart offers a snapshot of corporate practices that continue to overwhelm the best intentions of passionate, dedicated, talented leaders who want to bring a culture of engagement to their company. Among them are:
Despite the markets at all-time highs, profits at all-time highs and cash-balances at all-time highs ... business leaders continue to downsize, blaming the U.S. employee, the ones who delivered those records, as being uncompetitive.
Digression. Every day, it seems, you hear business leaders blaming the 'uncertain' economy and the growing regulations and tax rates that make it impossible to compete. All the time they're hoarding record amounts of cash ... making the only uncertainty in this economy to be when are they going to re-invest that cash into the employees and the economy that drove their record amounts of cash. The only uncertainty is that as they continue to hoard this record amount of cash the economy, US and global, continues to stumble.
That leaves 9% for R&D, rainy days, pay raises, benefits, and training.
That's enough for now. When we start including these decisions in our conversations about employee engagement, two things will happen. First, they will ignore us, then they will attack us, the messengers. Assuming we survive that fight, change will happen on a systematic, nationwide, basis.