Why employee engagement is not important

Employee engagement is all the rage these days. I’d even go as far as to call it the management fad of the millennium. But here’s the thing. It’s just a rebrand of something that’s been around forever — employee satisfaction — and it’s not at all clear that the surveys do companies a bit of good.

Sure, we all want our employees to care about their jobs and the success of the company. But some experts say there’s no compelling evidence that employee engagement surveys and strategies improve business results. One even flat out called employee engagement a racket. And I happen to agree.

So why have so many companies jumped on the bandwagon? Because, that’s how management fads like this work. It’s popular, it sounds good, and it’s easy. You just hire Gallup, do a survey, announce some strategies, and poof, instant engagement.

Companies do half-baked stuff like that all the time. I’ve seen it over and over. Half the time it backfires because they’re not measuring the right factors, they don’t make the right changes, they fix one thing and screw up another, or they don’t follow up at all. In reality, there’s a high risk of actually losing credibility with employees.

And get this. When it comes to management priority, I’d say that employees should be more or less at the bottom of the list. Yeah, I know that’s not a popular sentiment and it’s probably going to piss off a lot of people, but just hear me out.

A couple of weeks ago I did a mock interview with an executive I’m coaching. One of the interview questions I posed was this: “You have employees, external customers, internal customers (stakeholders or peers), and your boss. Put them in order of priority in terms of serving their needs.

Regardless of the type of company or organization, here’s the answer and why:

1. External customers

The purpose of any company or business is to win and keep customers. Without customers, there’s no business, no shareholder value, and no jobs. Since there are a finite number of customers, in practical terms, they are irreplaceable. They’re always the highest priority.

2. Your boss

Your boss is more important to the success of the company than you and your peers. You may not like hearing that, but in just about every case, it’s true. You may think you’re more competent than your boss and you might even be right. But that doesn’t change the fact that his function incorporates yours and is higher up on the org chart so, by definition, his needs top yours or your peers.

3. Internal customers (stakeholders or peers)

Each and every one of you has peers, stakeholders, internal customers whose functions are intertwined with yours and whose needs are important. Marketing folks, for example, should count product groups and sales as their stakeholders. You should make it a priority to meet with them periodically and ask them how you’re doing. Next to paying customers and your boss, they’re needs matter most.

4. Employees

So, here we are. The dirty little secret no executive, business leader, or manager ever wants to admit. Nevertheless, it’s true. Employees are at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of how important their needs are to their management. That’s all there is to it.

Don’t get me wrong. Creating a culture where employees are empowered, challenged, and supported, where they can really make a difference, should be huge for any company. But all things being equal, as priorities go, employees come in dead last on that list. Sobering as that sounds, it’s entirely as it should be.

Push comes to shove, guess who gets the short end of the stick? Which is precisely why each and every one of you should take complete responsibility for your career, your success, and your happiness. At the end of the day, nobody else cares about you anywhere near as much as you do.