Employee engagement is the responsibility of the employee

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Fistful of Talent has a provocative post up called The Long Con of Engagement. Essentially, William’s point of the article is this:

American businesses NEED more yield out of each and every worker bee. So they conjured up the concept of engagement… you should love your work, you should be engaged by you work. In fact, if you are NOT engaged by your work… then something is wrong with you. Spooky, spooky… voodoo bulls#*t. Again, take the rose colored glasses off for a minute. Engagement is crap… it’s a big, sophisticated, con.

Work IS work. Get over it.

He is speaking from the viewpoint of a company, of their management. Instead of a company striving for engagement, he advocates that there are only two needs for the company: performance and retention (of really good workers).

Now, as an employee, it’s great to have a company try and get you to engage in your work. Even love your work. They use engagement as differentiation from other employers. Be on the charity committee. Come to the summer picnic. Join the bowling league the company sponsors. You’ll note, however, that not much of any of that is about work. It’s about things other than work.

The truth for Cubicle Warriors is, in this case, simple: only employees can engage in their work. Only employees can produce results that, yes, help the company but also build an employee’s job skills and show their performance so that the employee can achieve employment security.

Companies don’t have to promote engagement. A company’s responsibility is to provide work for people with job skills so as to help the company reach its business goals. Our employment security comes from having the job skills to do the work and produce results so that we can show other employers we have the skills and produce results. And that we could do that for them as well.

It’s transactional. Employees are commodities with skills to perform certain types of work. Thus, employees are merely widgets fitting into the slots the company provides to do work and get business results. Given the recent job market, if you haven’t felt like a commodity at some point in time with your company, you probably are not paying attention.

When I first learned I was merely a commodity (“Have job skills, will travel…”), it hurt. I started out in the Bell System where the company, regulated, really did take care of you and your career…and for those of you too young to know what that is, it was what AT&T was like before the antitrust breakup in 1984 or so. You know, when dirt was formed. I was employed after the breakup at Ameritech, one of the regional operating companies. Ameritech downsized from 105,000 employees when I started to 54,000 employees while I was there. It was clear one person simply did not matter. Hell, 10,000 people didn’t matter.

Yet we expect the company to help us feel engaged in our work? Naw. Companies care about you producing results. Maybe a manager cares about you, the person, but the company does not. Given a choice between improving the bottom line and keeping you employed, the company will choose to improve the bottom line. They will lay you off in a New York minute.

And, yes, some people do love their work. For a while. Then the department gets reorganized and the work changes and the love of the work goes away.

Is this cynical? Yes! But it’s reality for hundreds of thousands of employees everywhere on the planet. Companies are not here to take care of you. They are not here to enable your engagement with the work. You are working for them to help them achieve their business goals and objectives. To have any other view on the employer-employee relationship simply means danger to you.

You are responsible for how you engage in your work. That engagement is what enables you to practice and learn job skills and produce results. That allows you to show other employers (in the company or in a different company) that you can do the work and produce results for them.

That is what gives you employment security – and not being co-dependent on some faceless corporate entity trying to help you feel engaged in your work.

  • I agree with your points here. As an employee,it is my personal choice not to develop any personal relationship with my co-workers but instead focus on producing results for the company.

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