The Only Sustainable Employee Engagement Tool That Really Works

I wrote a post last week (The Employee Engagement Trap: Why Giving More Eventually Gets You Less) that some people had some issues with about employee engagement and the decline effect — the basic premise being the more you do “stuff” to increase employee engagement, the less effect it will ultimately have, and in fact, eventually the engagement will start to decline over time.

That’s not earth shattering stuff, but for those folks in the heat of fighting the employee engagement battle right now, they don’t really want to hear that kind of stuff.

So, I thought about it and asked myself this one simple question:

What thing (or things) could you do to increase employee engagement – that wouldn’t be impacted (or impacted less) by the decline effect? 

Everyone will tell you financial compensation-type things have little impact on employee engagement. That is one of HR’s biggest lies, by the way, because they do impact engagement but they are hardly sustainable long term.

Sustaining engagement long term

You will always find someone willing to spend more than you, buy better benefits than you, and do more “stuff” than you to help increase the engagement of their workers. (And yes – I get the difference between satisfaction and engagement! But for the HR manager working in the trenches, employee satisfaction and employee engagement run parallel 99.9 percent of the time – that’s the real world, folks.)

Autonomy and flexibility are huge drivers for engagement, but again, very difficult for most organizations to sustain long term. You begin with the best intentions, then business imperatives shift quickly – and your once great driver of positive engagement becomes a huge drag on employee engagement. Once you give Mary every Friday off and the world is great, asking Mary to begin working every Friday again will not work out well from an engagement standpoint.

Communication, transparency, hard-skill development, charitable causes, etc., are all great things that help in driving positive employee engagement, but all are hard to sustain over an extended period of time, especially as leadership teams evolve and change.

So, what is it?


  • Timely
  • Frequent
  • In the moment
  • Formal
  • Informal
  • Individualized
  • Group
  • Positive
  • Constructive


Article Continues Below

Why feedback is what matters most

Feedback is the one thing organizations can commit to, long term, that will have a driving, lasting impact on employee engagement.

Our worlds are always all rosy and happy, but sometimes we have professional messages that suck. It’s easy to drive high employee engagement when the organization is highly profitable and hiring and throwing Friday afternoon BBQ’s each week.

But, it’s really freaking tough to sustain high engagement when the real world hits your organization in the face. Creating a culture that is going to deliver consistent feeback in good and bad times – where employees know exactly where they stand (good or bad) and can engage in the feedback process – will always ensure you have the highest engagement possible for your organization.

No big implementation plan here, like printing up and hanging of posters or bi-annual surveys. No, this is just good old straight-in-your-grill feedback. It’s all we really wanted to begin with.

It’s also the hardest thing to do in your organization! That’s why we try everything else first.

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. 

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


2 Comments on “The Only Sustainable Employee Engagement Tool That Really Works

  1. Great post, Tim! Feedback is so important for not only engagement, but motivation as well. Employers should have open and honest communication with their employees. 

  2. Interesting Article Tim and I whole heartedly agree that Feedback plays an extremely important role and, as you rightly say, it is indeed sustainable.

    I would like to query one quote though:

    ‘That is one of HR’s biggest lies, by the way, because they do impact engagement but they are hardly sustainable long term.’

    I’m not sure I can fully agree with that statement.  I think it would be more accurate to say that if your employees are not paid ‘fairly’ and therefore their basic needs cannot be met, then in all likelihood any work around employee engagement is moot.  It simply won’t have an effect.  Basic needs (not just pay/benefits but resources and equipment for example) need to be met before embarking on any type of engagement programme.

    There is plenty of hard evidence (Daniel Pink ‘Drive’ as one example – that clearly illustrate that for jobs that require even a modicum of cognitive skills money doesn’t work as a motivator and certainly won’t affect your engagement scores.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share.

    Gary Cattermole
    Partner – The Survey Initiative

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