How to Kill Employee Engagement, Once and For All

Did this headline give you pause? That's good. Of course, employee engagement is the secret sauce for every company's success in today's economic environment. You want to foster it as well as you can and, as a manager or as a Human Resources specialist, it is your job to ensure a corporate culture in which engagement can thrive.

In order to do that, though, it is helpful to be aware of the factors that stifle employee engagement. So let's pretend you didn't want your staff to be self-motivated and engaged, but quite the opposite. What could you do to kill their proactive behavior and intrinsic motivation, once and for all? Here's a list of very efficient, i.e. very deadly, measures.

1. Make sure that things are done the way they were always done. If your processes and methods worked fine in the past, why change them? Innovation is a synonym for trouble. Don't listen to people's suggestions for "improvement" or "optimization". Instead, adhere to the golden rule of sound management: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

2. People in charge make decisions, everybody else follows orders. An organization can only work if everyone knows their place and their duty. There are people who are responsible for how things are run - and then there are subordinates who do what they're told. All this talk of flat hierarchies, self-determination, and co-management only leads to anarchy and chaos.

3. Carrots and sticks is the best motivational principle. You want your employees to be motivated? Easy: Reward them when they've done something right, punish them when they've done something wrong. People are not as complex as most modern psychologists want you to believe - they basically work like lab mice. All you need is some sugar and a cattle prod.

4. Discourage dissatisfaction. Who likes complainers, right? The best way to deal with people complaining about inefficient processes, discrimination at the workplace, too much work etc. is to simply not listen. Don't give them a chance to voice their complaints - and make it clear that employees who are being difficult will have a rocky career path ahead of them.

5. When things go wrong, find someone to blame. The most important question you should ask when something has gone wrong: Whose fault was it? Don't go down the path of analyzing the problem, finding root causes and all that - it'll take you forever and possible raise additional inconvenient questions. Finding a scapegoat will enable you to move on quickly and get rid of the problem without any hassle.

6. Trust is good, control is better. It's an old saying, so it must be true, right? Actually, trust isn't even good to start with: If you trust people, they can betray you and chances are you won't even notice. The only way to avoid being cheated on is a firm hand and strict rules that are enforced no matter what.

7. Work is work, period. There are a lot of new confusing - and potentially dangerous - concepts about "new work" floating through the internet. They talk about "work-life balance" or even "work-life blend", recommend finding meaning in what you do, and offer so-called tips to prevent stress. Don't let those fake philosophers fool you. Work is work: It's never fun, it's always stressful, and your colleagues are not your friends - so don't mix up your professional and private lives.

Of course, you knew beforehand that all of the above are the opposite of recommendations - but did you catch yourself agreeing to some of the statements? If yes, you should re-read those points and reflect on whether these may be aspects where your company may still have room for improvement...

If you would like to read more about the topic "Employee Engagement", then download the eBook The power of Initiative, Challenge and Enthusiasm: Towards engaged performance management by Robert J. Engelbrecht. Also, have a look at our website where you'll find many more educating eBooks at bookboon.com.