100+ Years of Employee Engagement

In the last few months, employee engagement has been derided by some as nothing more than the latest industry buzzword or HR bandwagon that everyone is rushing to jump on as the savior of employee loyalty and productivity from the recession. What these pundits miss is two truisms about employee engagement summarized well in this Personnel Today article:

1) Employee engagement is not new and hasn’t been for more than 100 years. Beginning with an example in 1864 and continuing through the 1920s, the article highlights several companies that implemented what we would now define as employee engagement with the aim of “making employees feel secure, loyal and engaged.”

2) The benefits of engagement are real, but the motivation behind working toward an engaging culture must be sincere. As the article says:
“Employee engagement is such a hot topic because after ruthless cost-cutting, knee-jerk decisions and general short-term panic during a difficult economic downturn, company leaders want to sweeten up their staff so they don't run away to other employers once the recession has ended. If you are thinking about launching an employee engagement programme to make up for the pain and suffering staff have been through during the downturn, you are already too late.”

David Zinger, a widely respected guru of employee engagement, made this statement the first of his 15 Employee Engagement Beliefs:
“Employee engagement is an experience to be lived, not a problem to be solved.”

If you are sincerely interested in employee engagement, then your primary concern should be to create culture in which employees want to engage. Be sure to catch my next post on Wednesday when I will discuss David’s latest vision of an employee engagement model.

4 comment(s):

At November 23, 2009 7:06 AM, David Zinger said...


Thanks for the link to the article on some of the older history of employee engagement. I look forward to what you will say about my model.


At November 23, 2009 7:49 AM, Derek Irvine said...

You're welcome, David. Your statement on engagement is a powerful one, indeed.

At November 23, 2009 10:33 PM, marisa said...


I completely agree with you (and David). I do not think that employee engagement is a fad or a buzzword.

However, I do think certain people and organizations throw the term around too much. They make claims about caring for their employees, having strong cultures, having core values, etc. when really,they haven't focused on creating an environment that encourages employees to volunteer their best every day. Those organizations still have a lot to learn.

Great post, I look forward to reading more.

Marisa Keegan

At November 24, 2009 11:02 AM, Derek Irvine said...

Thanks, Marisa. You are right -- engagement claims without action are fruitless. As you say, employers are responsible for creating an environment in which employees WANT to engage...only then can engagement become a reality. The same is true with recognition -- an insincere "Great Job" with no specifics, no authenticity is hollow. True, strategic recognition requires appreciation tied to core values with specifics on contribution.