Engaged but Disengaged

S Cat

I met a man recently, whom I would describe, in true Schrodinger’s cat style, as both engaged and disengaged.

Engaged with his job, his colleagues, his day to day. His job has meaning for him. He has friends there. The hours suit him fine and the pay isn’t too bad. The working environment makes the grade. He knows what is expected of him, he has all of the right tools and equipment, the opportunity to do his best every day. Willing to do the discretionary effort thing, when it’s needed. Proud of a job well done. He even has a best friend at work.

Many of the Gallup measures ticked off, right there.

Although he wouldn’t fill in any kind of survey, if you asked him.

The last time he was sent one, he said that They could stick it right up Their arse.

When he told me this story, he mimed it too. Screwed up an imaginary piece of paper into a ball, tossed it into an imaginary waste paper basket. And followed the imaginary trajectory with a not at all imaginary two fingered salute.

They don’t understand what it’s like on the shop floor.
They don’t know what it’s like outside of the nine till five.
They sit in their ivory bloody towers in the head office.
They send out surveys and they take no bloody notice of what you say anyway and they put a number on it so they can trace it back to me if they want to so I’m saying nothing.
They gave us these stupid values. What a joke. As if anyone has got any time for all that when there is a job to be done and anyway, They don’t follow them. I know They don’t.
They change everything every five minutes.
They makes us go on all these training courses just to tick a bloody box.

Engaged but disengaged. Engaged with the job but not engaged with the company, the management, the leadership, Them.

Meaningful work, made.
Discretionary effort, done.
Performance, reviewed and approved.
Objectives, fully achieved.

So where exactly does this fit into the neat little employee engagement box?

And then it dawned on me. That the They that he talks about, is me.
Not me personally maybe, but someone just like me. Sitting in an office, crafting policies. Sending out surveys. Launching initiatives. Making people plans.

And all the time, he is seen, but unseen.

Engaged but disengaged.

13 thoughts on “Engaged but Disengaged

  1. Very common situation. Engagement only requires that you care – and that you work to make changes that make sense. There are many, many employees that are engaged – yet unhappy – engaged – yet not satisfied. Engaged is neither happiness or satisfaction.

    Engagement is simply caring – enough to want to help make changes.

    If you’re not willing to help make the changes then you are simply a whiner.

  2. See it often – I love my team, hate my employer. Love my manager, hate my CEO. Damn the man, but love the man (or woman) who protects me from the man. Stems from managers who take the easy way out by creating an ‘us vs them’ mentality and not attempting to translate the wider context into something more understandable. ‘I’ll never let them get you, mate’ says the manager; meaning ‘you’ll never get it, mate’.

  3. I tend to agree with Woody. Also poor internal communication, relying on messages being passed down rather than execs taking an active involvement in the day to day operations of the company.

  4. And then there’s the Him/Her in the CEO role who’s fabulous. But surrounded by f***witts. How many times have I had a fantastic CEO yet a shite crew around them? I know it’s partly their role to assemble people around him/her to do their great bidding but no matter how much they inspire or bang the desk, there are f***witts all over the place. And in many cases the line managers who SHOULD protect people from the ivory tower dwellers, don’t and they’re worse.on morale than we can possibly imagine.

    It’s an epidemic. Spoilers, narcissists, klutzes.

    Your tale is an all too often seen damning indictment of the ills of “modern” work.

    So what’s the answer? Well there isn’t one answer as there isn’t one question. Except perhaps that we, they, them have to do better even in tiny ways.

    Make a positive difference even for 5 minutes per day. Seek out this bloke. Talk to him and let him know he counts. Not that he’s counted in a fricking survey.

    The survey machine is dead. Long live the human conversation.

  5. Interesting piece and very topical.

    My own observations include some employers seeing Engagement as an ‘initiative’ or a project rather than a sincere philosophy or the bedrock of a culture that recognises that an engaged workforce needs to be a basic aspiration of any business that recognises that without bought in talent – it will always be playing catch up.

    Perhaps we’ve effectively re-badged existing and long standing values and principles (respect, openness, equality, common purpose, common sense, accountability, shared ownership and others) as ‘Engagement’ to freshen them up give them an identity and renewed purpose.

    As far as measuring Engagement is concerned; beyond measuring responses to surveys, attrition/retention, participation in forums, contribution to innovation and other initiatives only go so far. Ensuring that all employees could describe in detail the businesses 3-5 year vision and strategic plan to deliver it AND translate this to what this means to them and their careers is a sure fire way of helping to ensure that people understand and can make informed choices about joining the journey.

  6. Interesting post thanks Gemma. When I worked at BT I had more to do with employee engagement than was good for me – for a time at least. I visited and spoke with many people, and I saw and heard lots of what you describe. I found that the survey was a big part of the problem, at least on the surface. In itself the survey fed back data showed growing lack of trust. I wasn’t aware of much action happening around this growing problem. Lots of people refused to take part in the surveying for two main reasons. 1) – they lacked confidence that action would be taken and 2) – they simply didn’t believe it was confidential, despite the much talked about ‘forced anonymity’. I think we should have a choice around anonymity – if someone wants to ask me questions I should be the one who decides to remain anonymous in my answers or not. No one else. And regards taking action – the general impotence concerned me. So – not only are people lacking the belief that things will change, they lack the oomph to change things themselves.

    I made a suggestion that each new set of data was contaminated by the past and we should just break the chain – stop for a while. Lead balloon.

    I shared my learning with the group CEO and he responded angrily and with a good degree of disbelief. He was so used to being told what other people thought he wanted to hear, that my feedback simply didn’t fit his view of the world. I carried on.

    When I first got my hands on the BT survey it had 97 questions. Too long, too boring, and at some point in the process it dawns on you – if my employer needs to survey us in such detail, they are simply showing just how little we know about what really goes on around here. I tried to get the number of questions down to under 20, and settled at 40 something as part of a team trying to overhaul the whole thing. Cutting the crap is hard.

    Despite reams and reams of reporting and good intent, those who measure engagement at a macro level persistently report no or very little change. We’ve blown the concept of doing the right thing, or as Paul says, ‘caring – enough to want to help make changes’, into something bland and shapeless.

    So what’s to be done about it?

    Build on your chintz chucking
    Build on Paul Hebert’s notion of caring
    Build on Perry Timms’ enthusiastic and sometimes anarchic tendencies
    Build on David Zinger’s ‘Never do anything about me, without me’

    And if I may – I offer three things from the Stop Doing Dumb Things Lexicon:

    What’s the least you can do today to make a positive impact? Do it.
    Proceed until apprehended.


    Without people, you’re nothing.

    • Thanks for the comments Doug. What really interested me about this individual is that he is a people manager, who really cares about the wellbeing of his team and is trying to lead well whilst simultaneously holding all these feelings. The contrast was so stark. The same day I saw an article suggesting surveys show you care. Hmmm.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

      97 questions. Wow.

      • What a timely blog post. I can totally relate to being both engaged and disengaged. I’ve realised it’s because I’ve come from many years of working in inclusive cultures, where my ideas and opinions were heard (maybe not acted upon) but the feeling that I was heard,was and is important to me.

        I have recently completed our organisation’s first engagement survey; the results are out on Monday. I can’t wait to hear how people feel.

        I’m now in a culture where some people are micro-managed, not trusted to make the simplest decisions (or think that they need permission to do so) and where, when I offer my help to people in a very genuine way, it is viewed with suspicion. It makes me sad but I can see lots of small, iterative ways in which I think I can make a difference.

        I like Doug’s three suggestions, especially ‘proceed until apprehended’. It’s worked for me so far…..

      • Sometimes it is the little things that count (even One Direction agree!).
        Recently heard someone talk of asking their employees to go the extra inch instead of aiming for the ambitious extra mile. A concept that maybe could apply to HR initiatives too!

  7. Great blog Gem. We only seem to find this a problem given our own corporate insecurity that requires a manifestation of his engagement on a pro forma inside a survey. We demand metrics to prove the dial is turning and we need to keep control of the happy factor at work. All bull if you ask me but symptomatic as others have said with what we associate at work – the group of guys around us rather than the CEO and his HR cronies. That’s the area that matters to this guy’s world and the sooner we focus on productivity rather than the ‘engagement’ factor tyne better. More conversations and less surveys as Perry says. It’s harder, it may not even be quantifiable but not everything that gets measured is useful.

  8. I’ve read this blog – and the comments – several times and I keep asking myself “why is this a problem that we need to worry about?”

    We have an employee who is doing a great job who – for whatever reason – doesn’t care about the company’s overall aims/management and is actively quite cynical about them. So what? Organisations aren’t cults and we don’t sell our heart and soul to them in return for a monthly salary (as an aside, this is one of the reasons I hate the word “passionate” in a business context). This person is fulfilling all his part of the employment relationship – and more.

    If there is a problem, it’s with the senior management and their communication and way of doing things, but if it’s not having an overall effect on individual performance (which it doesn’t appear to be) then what benefit would the business get from spending time, money and effort to correct it?

    • Good point Simon. I guess it would be an issue if this person was allowing his views to be seen by others (especially direct reports) but that doesn’t appear to the be the case. You are right – he is fulfilling his side of the contract – but the company has only engaged him with the formal written contract, and not the psychological one. Maybe that doesn’t matter that much after all.
      But there is something that just sticks in my mind about it. Maybe its the thought of the HR person at their place, whoever they may be. I wonder if they know how people think and feel about some of the people stuff that they are trying to do? I wonder how many of us really know whether people at our place feel the same?

  9. Pingback: Employee engagement hyperbole | Flip Chart Fairy Tales

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