Engagement – the 21st Century loyalty

The current preoccupation in internal communications is the latest phrase: “engagement”.  Lots of discussion about how to engage employees and whether engagement is something that can be coerced, etc.  And then, as has happened recently, someone asks “what is engagement?”

I’ve come to the realisation that engagement is the new version of loyalty.  It’s a down-graded version of loyalty, and one riddled with the same basic flaw.

In the 80s and 90s, much of the goal of internal communications (such as it was in those days) was to inspire company loyalty – I still remember being asked why I wasn’t more loyal to the organisation.  Yet the idea of inspiring loyalty was fundamentally flawed – it’s a two-way thing.  Once the organisation had proved that it was not loyal to you – as most did repeatedly in those of “downsizing” and “re-engineering” – it became apparent to all but the most hardy companymen, that loyalty to the organisation was not a long-term secure prospect.

In the 00s, we’ve abandoned the concept of organisational loyalty, been through internal branding and are now onto engagement – how do we engage our employees?  And yet the same applies: engagement is a two-way contract.  And while our organisations are very keen to ensure our people are engaged, how engaged is the organisation with our people?

Until the organisation becomes engaged and concerned about the well-being of its people, engagement is going to be a limited concept – and one doomed to fall in the same manner as loyalty did.

Any predictions for what comes next?