There is an interesting psychological phenomenon that happens when you do something over and over. It’s called “decline effect.”
Decline effect, simply, is when you first go out and measure something then put some focus on bettering that one thing. As you continue to do it, you don’t get better results the more you do it, you actually start to see declining results.
I bring this up as I see so many articles recently written on declining employee engagement. Almost all of those articles focus on the economy and the lack of additional choices for the employee as being the primary culprit for the lower engagement scores.
A huge focus on increasing engagement
That could definitely be one answer, and it fits well with the timing of our economic collapse – although I think many companies actually saw engagement scores increase as the economy started to go south. So, maybe this psychological decline effect fits for some organizations.
But here’s my theory. Over the past 5-10 years, employee engagement has been a huge focus of HR shops around the world. An entire consultant industry has sprung up to support increasing organization’s employee engagement levels.
As organizations do this — meaning we usually go right ditch-left ditch — we focused on engagement! We began by measuring our baseline, we then implemented programs, and we saw the fruit of our labor by increased engagement scores.
Every year we went out to increase those scores, because, damn the torpedoes, we need more engagement. I don’t care if you have 100 percent engagement, Google has 105 percent engagement and we need that as well!
So we double-triple-quadruple our engagement efforts, but something strange started to happen – our scores weren’t getting better, they started to creep the other way. Oh no, they’re actually getting worse!
Why giving “more” isn’t really the answer
It has as to be those lazy managers. More leadership training is needed, and more focus, but still lower scores. Oh wait, those lazy employees, we need to change some of them as well. But, still lower scores. Must be that crappy engagement vendor we are using – go find a new one! We do, but still lower scores.
When I bough my first house, I was very happy with it. I had never had a house and my first small, cozy house was perfect. It was 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a lawn – and I was happy. Then I bought my next house and it had more — it had more bedrooms, more bathrooms, more lawn – and I was even more happy!
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Then I bought my next house and it had all my last house had, but also more garage and it was on the water and it had more space. But, I really wasn’t happier – it seemed like more space created some issues as well – because it cost more, it took longer to clean, and it was just a lot more work.
Eventually, giving more gets you less
We spend so much time and effort on making our employees happy. New chair – you’ll be more comfortable. Free lunch – you look hungry. Let me wash your cat – you look overworked. Have a free massage – you look tired. Let me fix your boss – he doesn’t seem very nice.
Then all of sudden we don’t have more to offer or anything else to make better. It’s not that our employees weren’t engaged before all of this, because they were. We just wanted more, but more comes with a price.
To keep more, you have to keep giving more and eventually you’ll run into a wall where more isn’t the answer. When more won’t give you more, it will actually start giving you less.
Employee Engagement is tricky. Don’t fall into the “more” trap; you won’t like what you will create!
Come see Tim Sackett speak on What Your CEO Wished HR Would Do at the TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on attending this event.