Warning: Employee Engagement Is Fragile

by David Zinger | Posted | Engagement

Warning: Employee Engagement Is Fragile

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall / All the king's horses and all the king's men / Couldn't put Humpty together again.

When you have a good performance program and higher wages, you’ve found the answer to ensuring employee engagement. Right?

In my experience, this isn’t true. Let me tell you about an experience with an organization where engagement was shattered because they offered to pay me more money.

The fragility of engagement

For almost 25 years, I taught academic and continuing education courses for a major Canadian university. During that time, if the enrollment was lower than the minimum number required for the division to make money, instead of outright cancelling the course, they would offer to proceed with the course if instructors would also agree to teach for a reduced stipend.

I loved to teach and my time was already committed in advance to countless courses over the years so every time this offer was made, I agreed. That changed the last time this offer was made to me.

The course programmer phoned and asked if I would teach a course for a reduced stipend because of low enrollment. But I was busy with other projects and, for the very first time in my long history of teaching, I declined. We ended the call and I immersed myself in other work.

Less than twenty minutes later, I received a call from the program coordinator saying that the division had thought it over, and would now proceed with the course and pay me a full stipend.

This should have been good news for me as I was offered more money but my response caught her off guard as I responded to this by saying, “You’re not serious, are you?”

“Yes, I am,” she replied, thinking I would be happy to receive more money.

Instead of accepting the generous increase I said, “I won’t take it and I won’t work for you again.”

I was angry. She was confused. Engagement was broken.

Broken trust, broken engagement

With the suggested increase, they destroyed my trust in my dealings with them over our 25-year history. I wondered if every time I had said yes before whether they would have phoned back an hour later and paid the full stipend. I felt disrespected, cheated and resentful.

I loved teaching but in a single moment I had lost trust. And trust was essential for my engagement with the university.

Don’t get me wrong; very few employees leave an organization because they are offered more money. But we must realize that money isn’t everything, or the only thing, that matters at work. Issues around trust, loyalty, integrity and respect swirl around a wide variety of workplace interactions.

Protect engagement in your organization

Employee engagement is more fragile than most of us care to admit. It can be broken by bad behavior, lack of integrity, poor organizational practices, lack of trust, or a host of other elements.

As you examine engagement for yourself and your organization, pay attention to where engagement, the connection between an employee and their work and the connection between the employee and their organization is vulnerable.

Ask what would destroy the trust you’ve built with employees. Explore what you need to do to prevent it.

You only have so much time to spend on employee engagement, so do this before you begin to add programs or new initiatives.

Sometimes, when engagement is broken, it can be repaired. Other times, it can shatter into so many small pieces that it can’t be put back together again. Don’t allow the engagement you’ve already built teeter from the organizational wall and leave you picking up the pieces of shattered engagement.

Focusing On Strengths And Passion: A Fresh Take On Employee Engagement

Get a fresh take on how to deal with employee engagement and drive positive outcomes.


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Focusing On Strengths And Passion: A Fresh Take On Employee Engagement

Get a fresh take on how to deal with employee engagement and drive positive outcomes.


Watch Video


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