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The Employee Engagement Racket

The Employee Engagement Racket
Photograph by Getty Images

Every decade or so, a bright new theory about managing people gets HR chiefs all excited. In the 1980s, it was the 360 Evaluation. In the nineties, we had Automated Applicant-Tracking Systems and Comprehensive Performance-Management Systems. These days, Employee Engagement is hot.

What is Employee Engagement? It’s a made-up construct that seeks to measure how well our employees like us. We used to talk about employee morale; now the preferred term is “Engagement with the Mission.” To me, employee engagement surveys and the notion of employee engagement itself are unfortunate vestiges of the Mad Men era when overzealous social scientists set out to measure every human process in organizational life.