I Ash You: How Toxic is Employee Engagement?

An employee engagement bedtime story?

Mike Klein wrote a powerful and engaging toxicity report on employee engagement suggesting it might be time to say good night to employee engagement, perhaps even kill it while it is sleeping. Mike stated:

No way.  Indeed, it’s time to kill the term “employee engagement” and spread its ashes all over Iceland.  To our industry, it’s become no less toxic than the term “sub-prime mortgage” in the finance world….not hide behind a sweet-smelling but easy-to-see-through fig leaf called “employee engagement”.

Click here to read the full post and the many comments the post generated. It was very engaging.

I loved the conversation created and chimed in with my own perspective. Here is the comment I put on the site:


This was a very engaging read.

There was passion, opinion, debate, perspective, villains, victims, bad terms, good terms, and even a little bit of discretion, even effort in that discretion.

I found it a thoroughly engaging conversation and Mike, I believe you are a master of stimulating that.

I personally have no problem with engagement at all. I loved how engaged everyone was here. I see engagement as connection and when we only connect the term to one concept (employee) that is disconcerting to me and a disservice to employees.

Employee engagement has become a common term and I have often suggested we change it and will be thrilled if you are successful in moving it in an altered direction. Yet I also believe hundreds of people on the employee engagement network have been striving to make work better for employees, managers, customers, organizations, leaders, etc. I don’t think they merely see it as – sucking discretionary effort out of overtaxed employees. They have provided wonderful examples of engagement. I am thinking of such fine people as Michael Stallard, Judy Bardwick, Mike Klein, Robert Morris, Ben Simonton, Terrence Seamon, Jonena Relth, Karen Schmidt, Abhishek Mittal, and I could go on and on.

Let’s never forget that managers and leaders are employees too (they sometimes forget this themselves). We certainly don’t need villains, victims, and helplessness in our workplaces and I need to guard myself against the possible “villainization” of the term: employee engagement.

Mike, you are one of the most engaged people in the field, you even belong, heaven forbid, to the employee engagement network and your voice is so much needed.

It is tough to see you say “goodnight” but every “goodnight” can be an entry point to a “good morning” so when I wake up and the workplace wakes to a new improved term please start a network with a new term and I would be delighted to join it because I know you are a good leader. Of course you also said good night with a question mark so maybe you haven’t put the term fully to rest yet!

In the interim, I am not prepared to give up on engagement and I hope not to shrink it down to a new term but to expand the concept so that it is engagement for the benefit of all and that we extend beyond a simple and simplistic focus on just employee engagement. Employee engagement, the concept, has provided the interest and impetus to have organizations get involved in some very meaningful practices and conversations to enhance work.

Thanks to all the participants (Dan, Kevin, Geoff, Jennifer, Sean, Asaad,Indy, Kristen, etc. in the comments) for making the last 40 minutes such an exquisite and engaging time for me.

I trust you will engage along with me and let me know about my blind spots, warts, and trusting innocence that we can enhance work in 2010. In closing, I really do see employee engagement not as a problem to be solved but as an experience to be lived fully by the employee (even the CEO who is an employee) for the benefit of all.


What do you think? Is employee engagement making an ash of itself? Is it a toxin or a sweet-smelling but easy-to-see-through fig leaf?

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David Zinger, M.Ed., is an employee engagement writer, educator, speaker, coach, and consultant. He offers exceptional contributions on employee engagement for leaders, managers, and employees. David founded and moderates the 2350 member Employee Engagement Network. His website offers 1000 posts/articles relating to employee engagement and reached over 1,000,000 page views in under 4 months in 2010. David is involved in the application of Enterprise 2.0 approaches to engagement and the precursor, creating engaging approaches to communication, collaboration, and community within Enterprise 2.0.

Book David for education, speaking, and coaching on engagement today for 2010.

Email: [email protected]  Phone 204 254 2130  Website: www.davidzinger.com


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