Five Reasons Your CEO Doesn’t Care About Employee Engagement

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Dec 30, 2010
This article is part of a series about Editor's Pick.

Editor’s Note: This week, TLNT is counting down the most popular posts of 2010. This is No. 7 in our Top 25. We’ll continue to do this through New Year’s Eve. Our regular content will return on Monday January 3, 2011.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard about employee engagement at various webinars, lunches, and conferences. We talk about ways to improve it, ways to measure it and ways to sell it up and get it implemented.

Wait a second, strike that last one. We never talk about why having strong employee engagement (a no-brainer in most progressive HR circles) doesn’t resonate with the CEO.

Don’t get me wrong, she might shake her head agreeing with you or he may say everything your saying is right on. They might even believe it (or believe they believe it). And everyone knows they like to talk it up too, especially to new employees.

But then comes the time to take action. Whether it is developing or moving a manager who shouldn’t be in their role, managing your compensation, or changing the tiny pieces of your culture that robs engagement, there is resistance. And while it isn’t explicit, there are five reasons your CEO rejects improving employee engagement.

1. The company isn’t ready

It seems funny that the very reason one should start improving employee engagement is the first in the line of defense against it. “Look,” they say, “I understand the advantages but we just aren’t ready.” And guess what: they are probably right. But let’s also be frank that they are probably right about another thing: THEY aren’t ready. I’m sure you’ve all tried to implement something with a CEO’s half-hearted support (if you haven’t, the short version is somewhere between partial and total failure). You’re either going to have to build readiness through the CEO or through your fellow executives.

2. Jobs that don’t lend themselves to engagement

If you work for a hip, high tech firm and you think that employee engagement should be a simple, you’re right (at least for you). There are plenty of jobs out there that aren’t fun and don’t draw natural enthusiasm. Does that mean a guy working on a factory floor isn’t great at his job because he isn’t enthusiastic? Is it worth the cost of trying to “fix” engagement in jobs that are physically or mentally exhausting? Or is it better to think of proven processes that allow for stress relief while on the job and keep mistakes from being made? Your CEO knows the answer.

3. There’s no ROI

In order to drive employee engagement, you’re going to have to suffer some initial pain. Do you make enough money to make the pain worth it though? If you can’t answer in a concrete manner about the hard costs and expected benefits of increasing employee engagement, and only talk about soft benefits or are unrealistic about the impact, just forget about it. There are instances where fixing employee engagement might make sense, but you’ve got to make that case.

4. Oh, hey look — another touchy -feeley HR initiative

Sure, we want people to be satisfied with their job and know they are making a difference. If you can swing that, pay everyone what they want, and still be in business, that’s even better. But if you have to prioritize between certain jobs or if part of one of your worker’s job description is “Change sewer filter and empty storage container,” there might be better ways to spend that money. Mainly, by giving that guy a bonus and a pat on the back (before he starts of course).

5. Engagement isn’t a real objective

If you want an employee to be engaged in their work, there is no training for that. Engagement is a matter of employee selection, leadership, and creating an environment that doesn’t get in the way of (and encourages) an engaged employee.

When you break it down, many managers aren’t asking for employee engagement, they are asking things like if an employee is thinking about the impact of their decisions on their company. Are they proactive in dealing with issues? Do I have to babysit them instead of telling them my expectations, giving them resources and trusting they’ll complete the work or ask for assistance? Especially think about this last one.

Honestly, a solid dose of communication, transparency, and performance management (not the “yearly evaluation” type either) could go a long way in taking care of that. And in the long term picture, dealing with those sources of pain you know exist but don’t have the guts to truly tackle (whether it be compensation, internal politics, or bad managers).

What do you think? Do CEO’s respect the idea of engagement but don’t do it when it comes down to take action?

This article is part of a series about Editor's Pick.