What does ‘engagement’ really mean in the communications world?
In the communications biz, we like to throw the word “engagement” around a lot. We’re always trying to figure out if our workforce is “highly engaged,” or “somewhat engaged” or “disengaged” or some other kind of engaged.
But the problem that none of the high-priced engagement consultants want to admit is, it’s really, really hard to tell if an employee is engaged in his work, and in the company as a whole.
Supposedly, these consultants, like Gallup, have ways of telling. They do intensive surveys, and ask magic questions (such as, “Do you have a best friend at work?” and “Do you feel your coworkers do great work?”) that will reveal the level of someone’s engagement.
Which is all bullshit, of course. Because you can’t tell anything from a survey like that. Here’s an example:
Let’s say that you are a male employee in a manufacturing environment. And let’s say that you are having a torrid sex affair with a female coworker.
It’s a scenario everybody should be allowed to experience once in their lives: sex at work!
And you have all kinds of cool code words and phrases with your coworker/lover.
For instance, if you say: “I’m going to get a bagel. Do you want one?” It really means:
“Grab the grease gun and go wait for me in the janitor’s closet.”
And, “Where are you going for lunch?” really means:
“Go in the tool shed and take off everything except your hard hat and your boots.”
And all kinds of cool stuff like that.
So you’re having sex two or three times a day, while you’re supposed to be working? And why can you do that? Because you’re not really doing any work! In addition to screwing your coworker, you’re also screwing the pooch on any one of a number of projects.
And how can you get away with this? Because your boss doesn’t give a shit! He’s been on the job forever, and he’s just treading water until retirement. On top of that, he’s a raging alcoholic who suffers from back-breaking, mind-crushing hangovers every morning, up until 11:30, when he goes to lunch for two hours and drinks seven beers.
Then, in the afternoon, he sits at his computer and plays with the stock market.
Now, let’s say you’re that employee who is having sex on the job rather than working. And now, the annual “Engagement Survey” comes in. You’ve got to answer all these questions about your boss.
What would you do? I know what I would do . . . I’d give the son of a bitch the highest ratings I possibly could, that’s what! Because if I grade him low, they’re going to make him actually work! And I don’t want that!
If you think this is unrealistic, you’ve never heard of the “Mark Five to Survive” mentality. I first heard about it when I was doing some focus groups for a large company that did this kind of engagement survey every year. In the group, I asked the participants about it.
“Oh, yeah,” said one woman. “We call that the ‘write five to survive’ survey.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked, in my best focus-group-moderator voice.
“It means if you just give the manager all fives across the board, they’ll leave you alone,” she told me. “If you give him lower ratings, they’re going to start messing with you.”
Of course they are! Who wants someone from corporate to come nosing around, trying to fix your work group when it isn’t broken to begin with?
That’s why I’m so suspicious of those engagement surveys.
Communicators, where do you stand? Do you think it’s worth it to spend the tens of thousands of dollars that some companies spend to try and measure “engagement?” If so, why? If not, why not?