What if employee engagement is a consultant-driven scam?

Employee Engagement = Scam

Employee Engagement = Scam

I personally love the idea of “employee engagement,” even if no one seems to truly understand it, because it seems logical to me that we should care and/or have empathy for the people working for us and helping us make the products and processes that make us money. Right?

Here’s the essential problem, two-fold: most people don’t see it as tied to revenue (and anything not tied to revenue = less of a priority at most places) and people love trying to solve it with software, but that’s fraught as well. You can’t solve a person/empathy issue with a computer program. That’s not life.

Recently I’ve had this other thought, right? Companies love to hire consultants, and consultants — while often focused on the bottom line, as they should be — often do bring in issues and concepts around engagement, culture, ideation, etc.

Well, what if … and bear with me here for a second … what if, in the last decade, consultants started coming in to organizations, and the leaders of those organizations started saying “Look, we’d prefer to pay these people less and get more work out of ’emif we could…”

A consultant’s job, essentially, is to take that and run with it. So what if they concocted this idea of “employee engagement” — Freaky Fun Friday! and iPads instead of bonuses! — basically as a way to pay us all less and keep the extra slush for the management?

It does seem like “employee engagement” as a concept has only taken off in the last decade. Conventional logic is that we have a new generation coming up, and we’re supposed to care about different things. (That might not even be true.) What if the actual logic is that the whole idea is a scam designed to keep earnings down while “boosting morale?”

Possibility, no?

Ted Bauer


  1. True employee engagement isn’t something that needs to be forced, or even measured. It’s organic/natural, and the management of any company, regardless of size, should be able to tell if it’s positive or negative. It’s a cliche to say that a happy employee is a productive employee, but so is saying the sun will rise in the east…they’re both truisms.

    Companies that give lip service to employee engagement create red herrings like free beer fridays and hold silly inter-departmental kick ball tournaments, and have ping pong tables. All that shit is designed to distract workers from real perks like autonomy, decent benefits, and flexible work schedules, to name a few.

  2. Employee engagement isn’t a scam because the intent behind it is pretty openly acknowledged. Most companies exist for a the purpose of generating shareholder value in a very narrowly defined way — for public companies it’s usually stock price/dividends and for private companies it is profit to the owner. Unless the company has an altruistic private owner or novel charter (example: b-corps) then why would employee engagement have any other rationale other than to increase productivity, lower costs and generally externalize costs to employees by persuading them to contribute discretionary time and effort? It sounds like you are disappointed that the managers of firms that are designed for profit would use all tools at their disposal to generate profit. I mean, it’d be great if everyone were a little bit nicer and less exploitative…but…imho, there is no moral dilemma here (e.g. “scam”). Where the dilemma comes in is with internal comms and HR practitioners trying to imbue their efforts with altruistic purpose where there is none and lose sight of what they are really there to achieve. Same goes for consultants, of course. As a practitioner, it’s important for me be honest with myself about what I’m doing and for whom I am doing it. Oh, also it helps that I work for a very benevolent philanthropist…but that was a choice too 🙂

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