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Gary Cattermole

The Survey Initiative


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Are your employees cynical about employee engagement?


Gary Cattermole explains why staff are often turned off by employee engagement, but how with careful planning, and management support, staff will become more active in the workplace.

Employee engagement is a term that is both overused and misunderstood. Whilst many organisations are beginning to be truly aware of the benefits of a workforce that is emotionally connected to its work and the organisation as a whole – cynicism is creeping in, very quickly, especially from employees.

Employees see the term 'employee engagement' bandied around, they take time to do a bit of research to find out what it is about, and they see highly engaged companies creaming off the profits. Recent evidence shows that organisations with employee engagement in the top quartile (top 25%) can benefit from: (Source: Engage for Success: Nailing the Evidence)

  • 2 x net profit
  • 2.5 x revenue
  • 12% higher customer advocacy
  • 18% higher productivity
  • 40% lower staff turnover

This is great from an organisation’s point of view, but quickly, and quite rightly, employees come to the conclusion that employee engagement is merely about an organisation getting its pound of flesh (and then some) from its workforce. Therefore, is it a surprise that employees can become cynical towards engagement programmes and projects designed to ‘engage’ the workforce? It might surprise you to know that where this happens, people can actively work against your engagement programmes and strategies.

The single biggest piece of advice I can offer is this - stop talking about employee engagement. The reality is, creating an environment where your employees can thrive and connect has distinct benefits that aren’t solely for the organisation. As an organisation works towards creating this, ensuring that its people are aware of how their contribution makes a difference, stretching them, giving them opportunities to take ownership and responsibility will create an emotionally and physically healthier place for its people to work. The evidence is clear – those organisations where their employees are connected see less sickness and absence and fewer accidents.

So, how do we overcome cynicism?

The key is how you position the work you undertake in this area. Be it a piece of research such as an employee survey or focus groups, or one-to-ones to understand what turns your people on about work and what the blockers are. Or it could be introducing a new way of working, changes to policies and procedures to streamline things and make it as easy as possible for your people to give great customer services. Or maybe it is wider and deeper, such as a cultural change moving towards a more empowered workforce, for example.

By being strategic and intelligent about how you position the work you are implementing, you can quickly overcome a large amount of cynicism. The reality is that this work shouldn’t be a one-off exercise – it should become part of your culture, how you go about business and how you interact with your customers and each other. It should be part and parcel of a leadership team’s monthly meeting through to the appraisal process and team meetings.

So to truly avoid cynicism, stop talking about engagement and start undertaking actions that will create the environment where your people will thrive. 


  • Stop talking about employee engagement
  • Start undertaking research and actions to understand what is turning your people on and what is driving them crazy
  • Involve your employees when making changes, talk and listen to their feedback and what can be improved
  • Ensure the changes you make, things you implement and do are communication to your people but that they are part of a wider project
  • Make sure you leaders are on-board – there can be no ‘say do’ gap

Gary Cattermole is the co-founder and director of The Survey Initiative, a leading staff survey provider specialising in employee engagement

Author Profile Picture
Gary Cattermole


Read more from Gary Cattermole

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