51 Ways Employers Disengage Employees


From the sales floor to the board room, a growing number of businesses are focusing on employee engagement. After studying more than 3,000 examples of places where people say they’re engaged and reviewing 350 research studies on the issue, I summarize all the various definitions of engagement this way: Employee engagement is the sustained connection a person has to the work they do within them and the workplace around them.


Engaging employees often comes as an afterthought to well-meaning managers and business owners. However, the science shows a particular necessity for focusing on it: Gallup’s 2013 “State of the American Workplace” survey showed almost 80% of all employees feeling disengaged from work in some way. That means that 4/5ths of all employees don’t have a sustained connection to their work. That is a massive problem.


Disengaged by Engagement

Toward that end, a lot of companies have instituted employee engagement programs designed to address the problem of worker disengagement. However, they generally suck, or as Inc. magazine says, “Most so-called employee engagement programs are misbegotten, unwieldy, ineffective rolling caravans of impractical or never-going-to-be-implemented PowerPoint presentations.”


Here are some ways employers fail at employee engagement


51 Ways Employers Fail to Engage Employees

  1. Managers see and treat employee engagement like a special activity that only fits in a certain place at a certain time.
  2. Managers ask one particular employee over and over to participate in activities with managers.
  3. Managers talk about employee engagement without actually talking to employees.
  4. Managers treat employees favorably for becoming engaged in ways that managers approve of, while employees who take initiative to become engaged on their own are reprimanded for not following expectations.
  5. Managers consistently ask employers to speak about being an employee in manager meetings or at special planning sessions without doing anything about it.
  6. Managers only engage employees for certain issues at work instead of addressing everything employees are concerned about.
  7. Managers will implement employee engagement programs to employees, without letting employees implement programs for themselves.
  8. Managers hold a celebration dinner for managers at the company and invite five employees to join 500 managers.
  9. Employees are only asked about topics that affect them directly, rather than the entire company or industry as a whole.
  10. Employees are not taught about issues, actions, or outcomes that might inform their perspectives regarding becoming engaged.
  11. Managers tell employees they have a voice and assign them the specific ways they are expected to express it.
  12. Employees concerns are listened to specific issues seen as worker-specific challenges like company uniforms, picnic themes, workplace bullying, and technology.
  13. Managers install specific employees in traditionally managerial positions without the authority, ability, or background knowledge managers receive in those same positions.
  14. Managers constantly tell employees about their experiences when they were workers, instead of listening to actual current workers’ experiences.
  15. A single employees’ busiest time of year revolve around the industry calendar—outside regular company activities—because they’re attending conferences, meetings, summits, and other industry activities that require managers to invite them.
  16. Managers don’t tell employees directly the purpose of their involvement in workplace committees or industry conferences, except to say that they are The Employee Voice.
  17. Workers are told that sharing their voice is as good as it cans get.
  18. Employers control who hears, sees, or communicates employee concurs.
  19. When employees walk into a meeting, every manager knows there are employees attending without knowing their names, where they’re from, or what jobs they do.
  20. During a meeting managers expect one employee or a small group of employees to represent all employee and to be fully engaged.
  21. Employees and managers see that employees are being tokenized by management without doing anything about it, thereby undermining employees’ engagement further.
  22. Employees are treated as if or told it is a favor for them to participate in decision-making.
  23. In meetings, employees are given little or no opportunity to formulate their own opinions before speaking.
  24. Employees are not taught about the economic necessity of employee engagement.
  25. Employers invite employees to share their knowledge, ideas, opinions, and more, and then ignore what they say.
  26. One employee is invited to talk at an industry conference, at a board meeting, or in an article written for the company website.
  27. Employees who attend an industry conferences are singled out for their attendance.
  28. Employees only invite workers who are not likely to assert themselves, make demands, or complain, to manager meetings or other activities.
  29. One worker is treated as unique, infallible, or is otherwise put on a pedestal by managers in the name of employee engagement.
  30. Managers take employees away from regular jobs for employee engagement activities without giving workers any recognition in the form of time served during the activity.
  31. Employers only choose articulate, charming employees to inform management activities.
  32. Workers are given representative roles that are not equal to manager roles in employee engagement activities.
  33. Employer/employee power imbalances are regularly observed and not addressed in workplaces, while employee engagement banners and programs hang all over.
  34. Employers are not accountable in any way to employees in employee engagement activities.
  35. Employers refuse to acknowledge the validity of employees they disagree with.
  36. Employees are punished when employer engagement activities don’t meet manager expectations.
  37. Companies use employee engagement activities to address some issues, and ignore it regarding others.
  38. Employers take pictures and videos of employees in the name of employee engagement without listening to what those same workers have to say.
  39. Employers seek out a small percentage of workers for an employee engagement program and claim to engage all their employees equally.
  40. Employees are not given the right to raise issues or share their unfettered opinions with management.
  41. Employee surveys are used to back up management problem-solving without actively engaging employees in problem-solving.
  42. Nobody explains to employees how they they were selected for an employee engagement activity.
  43. Employers allow employees to talk on their company’s Facebook page or twitter account but not to participate in company decision-making or board meetings.
  44. Managers interpret and reinterpret things employees say into language, acronyms, purposes, and outcomes that managers use without acknowledging the validity of exactly what was said.
  45. Employees become burned out from participating in too many employee engagement activities.
  46. Employees are not seen or treated as partners in the workplace by managers.
  47. Employees think its obvious they have a lack of authority or power or that their authority is undermined by managers.
  48. Managers don’t know, state, or otherwise support the purpose of engaging employees and the relevance to organizational success.
  49. Employees are limited to becoming engaged on the local building level, but not in the district, regional, national, or international corporate activities.
  50. Employees don’t understand which whether they are supposed to represent themselves or all of their peers.
  51. Employees are asked to become engaged one time and that activity is never repeated.



Why Employers Fail at Employee Engagement

Many of these employee engagement programs lead to a reality called tokenism. While many people associate tokenism solely with gender or racial representation, the term actually applies to any situation where one person has authority over another. In the case of employee tokenism, employers (including supervisors, managers, owners, shareholders, and others) include a small number of workers in managerial, oversight, or similar type activities in order to give the appearance of employee engagement within a workplace.


With the increased interest in employee engagement today, tokenism is bound to happen throughout workplaces. Tokenism happens whenever employees are in formal and informal roles only for employers to say they are engaged, instead of purpose, power, and possibilities to create change at work. Without that substance, employee engagement is little more than loud whisper into a vacuum.


When managers appoint employees to represent, share, or promote employee engagement, they are making a symbolic gesture towards engaging employees. This step is generally meant to increase or demonstrate employee engagement in ways managers think they need to be engaged through. It can also be meant to appease employee advocates and stop people from complaining.


When employees specifically seek to represent, share, or promote employee engagement, they are generally seeking a portion of control over their workplace experience. In many companies, agencies, and organizations, this can look like joining a committee, starting a special activity, or holding an event related to work.


Unfortunately, these approaches to employee engagement actually reinforce employee disengagement. They do this by reinforcing employers’ power over their employees and highlighting the inability of employees to actually change anything of substance within their workplace without their employers’ permission.


Tokenism happens in organizational policy and through activities in the workplace every day. It is so deep in business that many managers never know they’re tokenizing employees, and employees don’t know when they’re being tokenized. Employees often internalize tokenism, which takes away their ability to see it, and managers are very invested in it, which takes away their ability to stop it. It is important to teach employees and managers about tokenism in the workplace and how it can affect employee engagement.

Youth Engagement in the Economy by Adam Fletcher

Over the last six months, I have written more than a dozen articles about youth engagement in the economy. For the first time, I’ve compiled them into a publication and added some important information. A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement in the Economy is a guide addressing youth employment, youth entrepreneurship, youth training, youth banking, youth programs, school classes and other activities. Covering the most forward-thinking about economic youth engagement, this publication is for employers, youth workers, teachers, and others committed to building the economy through youth engagement. Learn more by downloading it today, and share it with your friends, colleagues and networks!



A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement in the Economy
by Adam Fletcher
81 pages
Published by The Freechild Project
Olympia, Washington, USA

Adultism and Classism

After getting prompted to expand on it in the “I Fight Adultism!” group on facebook, tonight I’m thinking about the inseparable connection between adultism and classism.



Adultism is bias towards adults. Classism is discrimination against someone because of their social class. Class is the grouping of people according to their social, economic, or educational status.


When the middle class was built up in the 19th century, Western cultures designated 18 as the wholly arbitrary marker for admission to the new class. At 18, you could suddenly vote, sign contracts, drink alcohol, and so much more. The most important part though was access to money.

Instead of how it’d been for a thousand years earlier, class stratification made it suddenly wrong for children to earn money, and increasingly wrong to bond children of Western European descent into indentured servitude. Note that it was completely different for African American, Eastern European, and Native American children.


This new fiscal empowerment proved to mobilize whole families by showing kids can be in largely docile childcare and schooling rather than volatile work environments, showing the effects of ecology on children and youth. The stabilization of a middle class culture allowed for trickle down upper class attitudes, such as “children are better to be seen and not heard” and so on. This became the fetishization of childhood, and in modern times, the infantalization of youth.


I think these two phenomenon led to the amelioration and eventual glamorization of the image of white, middle class youth in America. Held on a pedestal, the image of Alex P. Keaton became the standard against which all others were measured. Too black or brown? Forget about it. Too poor? Nadda chance. Too gay? No way. If you weren’t a heterosexual, middle class, educated white male you weren’t worth a toot according to adults, and in many cases it’s still this way. There’s a reason why upper management in most major businesses, along with most politicians and the vast majority of lawyers, doctors, and others in the middle class are heterosexual, middle class, educated white male – and that reason is the intersection of adultism and classism.


Adultism is a tool of classism used to ensure the stagnation of social class status. The bias toward adults is always colored with perception of who the adults are; how the adults should behave, act, think, or feel; where the young people and adults are located; why they are there; and whether there are alternative social classes present.

Whether at home, in school, out of school, in community programs, through government, by the law and legal systems, or through cultural activities, young people of all ages are routinely made sure they stay in their social classes according to adults’ standards. In the U.S. and increasingly around the world, this is ensured through a system of commercialization which has ensured social class conformity. The way they’ve done this? Adultism. Marketers routinely and deftly mask classism in a cloak of adultism, often coupled with racism and sexism, in order to make sure young people “act right”.

This demonstrates why and how adultism and classism are inextricably linked. More complicated are the relationships between young people and adults that ensure they stay that way, if only because adultism is pervasive throughout all social classes – but for different reasons. Next time…


Privatizing Afterschool, and Privatizing Society

I just read about a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 3498, that will expedite the process of privatizing afterschool activities across the country. This greatly concerns me as a career-long youth worker, as an advocate for nonprofit social services, and as a lowercase “d” democrat.

Let me begin by suggesting that in addition to being aware of wholesale efforts to privatize public education, every single privatized area of public education needs to be strategically cataloged and made apparent to the Public. They range from curriculum to assessment to professional development to food services, now tutoring and teachers, and so many other areas. The process that got us to this point started in the 1950s, caught steam almost three decades ago, and is well underway.

This process was not the gateway into our possible future as a privatized society; it’s just the biggest door to indoctrinate young people. The original doors were utilities, the military, hospitals, prisons, and transportation. Once all regarded as public essential bastions of democratic living, now almost all these institutions are privatized across the United States.

Social services are one of the last great pillars holding up the roof of the so-called “public good”. Once a public service, most mental health services are privatized today. Social welfare management is increasingly private, as are services for developmentally differently-abled people. Libraries, public health, social security, and so much more sits squarely in the sights of private corporations and people committed to profiteering off a unconcerned and disengaged Public. Schools are high on their lists, and afterschool programs are next.

Young people are obviously the best objects for privateers to target, both because of their susceptibility, and because of the long-term impact of “teaching them right”. Since the decimation of public schooling is well underway, the battlefield for the next wave is afterschool programming. I am watching this unfold right now as standards for afterschool programming are emerging across the U.S. and internationally. As public schools proved, the process of standardization lends itself to professionalization, which in turn morphs quickly into privatization.

Unfortunately, The Radical Left has been largely useless in fighting the privatization movement. As demonstrated by what is happening in public schools, their voices have been co-opted by The Right to fight against the institution of public schooling, rather than the process of privatization. Even the non-radical Left has historically reduced school privatization to anti-unionism, which is a myopic perspective at best. By taking these stances, The Left is actually contributing to the further decimation of the democratic infrastructure that built the American middle class and provided a utopian ideal to motivate social mobility, particularly among the poor.

All of this critique examines the heinous nature of neoliberalism, which describes the process of privatizing all public services, including education, social security, water, prisons, public transportation, and welfare services. Neoliberals believe that when the government, acting on behalf of The People who vote for them through democratic process, is a bad manager of these services. They think all these institutions need fixed, and the only way to fix them is in through privatization. History has shown us there are very few benefits for The Public in privatization, while large corporations controlled by small groups of people make great deals of profit. I first learned about neoliberalism and its effects on young people from my mentor Henry Giroux, and I have continued to examine the ill effects of neoliberalism throughout society through the writing of many other writers, including Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen.

From all of this I arrive at the belief that we need a new conversation in our society that goes beyond revolution for the sake of revolution and “anarchism as hope”, because both of these fail. We have to make plain the mythologies of history. Let’s examine our social capital and the social contract. Take our afterschool programs, along with our schools systems, social services, community development activities, democracy building movements, and let’s critically explore their intentions, outcomes, and assumptions. Let’s peel this onion throughout our society in order to make meaning of the chaotic disembowelment democracy is experiencing today. However, let’s not abandon the positive powerful future we could all share together.

Who is to write that future? I have an idea that I’ve written about before – let’s start with young people.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

False Choice Kills Social Change

We are faced with piles of choices every single day. Advertising pumps tons of clothing and cars, household cleaners and soda for us to choose from. Our friends and communities make these choices seem more real, as we are surrounded by people who want the same things, and everyone strives towards similar goals. 

However, at what point are those false choices? At what point do those choices distract and take away from the real choices we need to make in our lives?
Renata Salecl, an economist in London, recently claimed in an RSA video that, “The ideology of choice is actually not so optimistic and it prevents social change.” She laid out a compelling argument that highlights how the majority of choices we are faced with everyday are simple consumerist myths that perpetuate our sense of choosing without actually giving us a say about what we’re choosing – they are false choices. She identifies how these choices drive some of us to believe we are being impinged on by false choices, driving us to create new options that in turn become placebos for meaningful decision-making. 
Worst still, Salecl implies that these choices are distracting us from more serious decision-making by filling our minds with rubbish. This “fullness”, apparently re-enforced by a New York Times article called, “Too Many Choices: A Problem that can Paralyze“, which puts consumer choices on par with substantive choices like who should govern us or whether we should go to war. Or, the NY Times is apparently honing in on the outcomes of this rubbish by reporting on a study about “decision-making fatigue“, which apparently seeks to absolve the Average American from their responsibilities over their lives and work and families by acknowledging that we are simply faced with too many choices to be able to function successfully every single day. All this, and personal exposure to younger and older people who “suffer” this way, leads me to agree with Salecl.
We are surrounded by a cacophony of phony, the allure of the unreal. It seems incredible to me that so many people- young and old- actively choose to fill their lives with impediments to their power. It is as if we are actively surrendering our ability to make the world we want to live in. It was Paulo Freire who first taught me that the highest order of being human is to be a maker rather than a consumer. However, as a people we are suffocating under a pile of consumption.
Social change requires the active belief that we are fully capable and desirous of making the world we want to live in. We must actively choose to do that every single day, be it through actively eschewing television and teaching our kids to stay away from it, or by denying the commercial overload that would take over our lives by living simply and within our means. False choices are killing social change.
It is from that place of unhindered decision-making that we can develop the critical consciousness and social awareness necessary to change the world. It is from that place that we can make a real difference.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Becoming the Problem

For a long time it seemed to me that the problem was aging out: Every youth becomes an adult. At some point after that, adults become voters, workers, and taxpayers. It appeared that in that process most lost touch with their own experiences as children and youth. They develop indifference towards young people today, and even as they become parents, they get more adamant about their righteous discrimination against kids. Those who do take careers as youth workers, teachers, counselors, and in other kid-focused occupations often go even deeper, using their discrimination against children and youth to justify adultism and adultcentrism.

Well, time has afforded me different perspectives, or at least compassion for other adults. Alas, even from that view I can still see that in some ways, all adults are the problem- in much the same way that in some ways, given the right conditions and experiences all domestic animals could transmit rabies to adults.

I have recently been challenged by a few different adults for the perspectives I take on schools and the education system. These types of debates can exhaust me; however, I know they’re essential to keeping me in check, and I appreciate them.

My friends, colleagues, and acquaintances do this because I put myself out there. So I want to put this big fat disclaimer out there: I know that I might be the problem- in much the same way that all adults are.

That’s me simultaneously taking responsibility AND couching my culpability in the blanket of social ills. I need a paycheck, so sometimes I work for dubious issues; I want published, so sometimes I tone down my rhetoric.

However, there are places I won’t back down from. I’ll expand on those in my next post. In the meantime, it’s important to me to state that my own perspectives are informed by my own experiences as a young person and as an adult; as a learner, a student, a teacher, and as a friend to children and youth; and as a father, an uncle, a cousin, a son, and a brother. Every single person has unique experiences, and you don’t know what informs my thinking because of that.

Maybe instead of challenging we can simply accept; maybe instead of negating we can inquire. Let’s go together into the brave new days ahead of us.

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.com

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

For Fighters: Do More, Please.

My friends, these are perilous times we’re living through. They began more than a decade ago, and my seven-year-old daughter has lived her entire life through the worst of them. Wars, terrible unemployment, increasing violence, floundering education systems, huge government cuts, failing social welfare… these are tough times. Of course, you already know this because you are living through these times, too. No matter what your station in life, as a youth or parent, teacher or business tycoon, you have felt the impact. Those with fewer resources at the beginning have felt it most. The reports keep pouring in, too, that things are bad and getting worse all the time.

A lot of people find themselves wondering what they can do to change things. A lot of us read self-help books about changing our lives, watch do-it-yourself shows about fixing our things, and look to hopeful movies to get regular injections of positivity in grim times. Other folks are simply throwing their hands up in frustration and giving up. It’s tough being out of work for months at a time, having to rely on friends and family for charity and understanding, or simply for support while you bite your fingernails at the prospect of layoffs at work. Television offers salve, and hikes through the woods calm your soul when it’s most worked up. But for you and I, these things aren’t enough, none of them.

We are fighters. Growing up in fat times, we learned quickly to wean ourselves from the dependence many people have on exterior recognition, internal placation, and cultural subjugation. We became vegans, bought locally, and drove less. We shared meals and greeted strangers, volunteered and opened nonprofits, and wrestled with the social demons that a lot of people ignored. When I started traveling to light up the youth movement, you took a job as a social worker, you brought up three kids on your own, and you helped people learn about how to take care of themselves. Thank you for what you have done and what you are doing right now. We are fighters, and we have been doing great things.

However, our ranks seem to be surrounded, and the enemy seems to be moving in. How can we simply keep going? My answer is this: We don’t. We don’t give in, we don’t give up, we don’t turn around, and we don’t just keep on keeping on. Now is the time to switch up our style and go faster, further, and more; now is the future.

If you have been working with youth, work with them more.
If you have been raising your own kids to be active, start teaching them to be activists.
If you are a teacher, teach better.
If you are a fighter, fight harder.

We need more education for everyone, everywhere, all the time. More hungry mouths exist than ever before- take personal responsibility for feeding them. Offer rides to strangers, especially if they are moms with flocks of kids standing at bus stops in the rain. If you have power, make jobs and employ the unemployed- not people who are hopping from one job to the next, but the unemployed. Lend friends and family anything you can. Share dinner at your house, volunteer at the food bank, talk to the stranger on your way to coffee. Teach a class at the library in your favorite topic, or find your local free school. But do more, please.

Here are Five Steps to Change the World, NOW.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Crossing The Capitalist Fjord

I don’t much get into workforce development for youth for a lot of reasons. One is that I believe its our society’s responsibility to create citizenry with a higher purpose than generating capital for a Machiavellian marketplace. However, I am finding myself increasingly leery of the ennobled purposes of dodging the conversation about creating jobs for youth.

So, what does that mean for my work? Well, literally it met that I’ve been a bit of an entreprenuer all my life, since I was 6 and made a sign for my advertising agency for the front door of the hotel room my family lived in at the time. I did the paper route and snow shoveling and lawn mowing and tried Junior Achievement and participated in an Urban League Young Financial Leaders course before I took my first “real” job when I was 14, when I was hired to teach in a program based on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. Ever after I’ve been involved in different social entreprenuership schemes, and at my last count I’ve began more than 50 youth-oriented projects. I’ve experienced more hesitation at doing this work as an adult than I ever did as a youth.
All that said, I’m about to start addressing ethically responsible ways to help young people meet their own economic goals, because I believe this is an essential consideration for social change led by and with young people. If you would like to help inform me as I move into this area reply to this post or send me an email to adam at freechild dot org.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!