Why Employee Engagement is Not a Priority

employee engagementEmployee engagement is not a new concept, it’s been around as long as I can remember. It used to be called employee satisfaction, meaning that employees need to be satisfied with their work and environment. There has always been a belief that if employees are satisfied they will be engaged at work, which translates to productivity. Is that true or is that what someone in human resources decided and has now become the fad for companies? In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how the topic of employee engagement became the topic around the C-suite table, what’s important to know is that employee engagement should not be a priority for companies.

I suspect many of you reading this article are saying, “what?! Of course employee engagement is a priority.” If employees aren’t engaged they won’t be productive and less work gets pushed out, all of which affect the bottom line. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that creating a culture where employees feel challenged, appreciated, and empowered isn’t important. Of course it is. I’m just saying that in the grand scheme of things, employees are at the bottom of the list of what’s important to a company. That may not be a popular view and it’s as it should be. Hear me out.

Think about the various types of people that interface with you and your company. External customers are obvious, stakeholders/board members, vendors, peers and team members, internal customers, affiliates, employees, and your boss. You may come up with other examples, and for the purpose of this article let’s focus on these examples.

When you put these in order of importance, based on serving their needs, here is what I suggest most of you would say:

  1. External customer — The life blood of any company. Companies are in business to win and serve customers. Without external customers there is no company, no jobs, and no employees.
  2. Your boss — Kinda sucks that pleasing your boss falls right behind pleasing external customers, but it’s true. Your boss can change the trajectory of your career and success and whether you get the juicy projects and the plum assignments. If the boss ain’t happy with you it will be difficult to progress within the company. Period!
  3. Stakeholders/board members — Maybe your stakeholders are investors and they need to be satisfied, especially if you are going with your hand out for more funding. Even small companies have boards and having unhappy board members is never a good situation.
  4. Internal customers — These are anyone you have to interface with regularly and whose function is intertwined with yours. Examples would be if you are in sales you will likely interface with marketing and product development. If your role is in manufacturing you will work closely with sales, accounting, and engineering. Focusing on serving them and making sure their needs are satisfied should be a priority for you. When you need something from them it helps grease the wheels and get them to yes.
  5. Peers and team members — Peers are anyone you have to work with in another department and team members are obvious. It’s not your job to make them happy, however, it is your job to make sure their needs are addressed and focused on to the best of your ability. Want to take the lead on a project or take on a new challenge? When your team respects you, is inspired by you, feels their opinions matter…it makes work easier and lighter. Minimally, it’s one less thing you have to stress over.
  6. Affiliates and vendors — These may be behind employees, but maybe not. Affiliates can send potential customers your way and provide you with referrals. A key vendor relationship could have a huge impact, good or bad, on your firm. When you have additional needs for what they provide or need a quick turnaround or anytime you are asking to be put at the top of the list, it won’t happen unless they have felt satisfied along the way.
  7. Employees — Employees are at the bottom of the list in terms of how important their needs are to management. Now that truly isn’t what anyone wants to hear, but it’s true, and as it should be.

Look at the six listed above employees. Is there any category there you think is less important to leadership than employees? What this means is that while every company needs to invest in their people, demonstrate they care about their success, and provide an environment where employees can grow and succeed, when push comes to shove as to whose needs get satisfied, employees are dead last.

Saying that employees’ needs shouldn’t be a priority is difficult for me. I believe that the single biggest asset a company has is their employees. Yet business realities are business realities, and if the other categories of needs aren’t met, it really doesn’t matter if employees’ needs are met.

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