PR and internal communications campaigns do not deliver employee engagement.
Never have. Never will.
While they provide important channels, content and techniques to spread information, they miss the fundamental ingredient that sits at the heart of human engagement.
Not the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ type of desire, but the personal, emotional connection with an idea or activity that underpins long term commitment and loyalty. An intrinsic, individual feeling of wanting something that propels consistent behaviours and actions.
Instead, traditional engagement initiatives focus on the message, not the audience. On information, not emotion. On extrinsic incentives, not intrinsic fulfilment.
And as they measure their success based upon how hard people work for the company, rather than how engaged they are with the company’s mission, they end up compounding the error.
They focus on alignment, rather than engagement.
But engagement doesn’t come from employee of the month awards, the latest company news, organised ‘fun’ away days, or conspicuously over-excited support of the company’s wheelchair basketball team.
Engagement is about feelings. It comes when employees can act in-line with their personal desires, and is magnified when they are valued by those around them for doing so.
People are not ‘engaged’ by information, rewards or corporate virtue signalling.
Don’t believe me?
Take climate change. There must be barely a person alive in the western world that doesn’t know about the impending catastrophe. We all know that if the world’s temperature rises by 2%, then we’re in irreversible trouble. There have been conferences, accords and protocols. The information is irrefutable, widely available, shockingly stark.
And yet how many of us are actively engaged in the fight against climate change? How many of us have substantially and permanently changed our behaviours to avert disaster?
Knowing all the facts, figures and consequences does not mean anyone is engaged by them.
Let’s make it even more basic. How many of us support a sports team?
Tell me – did you decide on that team because you were won over by the CEOs five-year growth and investment vision? Perhaps you’ve been persuaded to stand by your team on a ten-game losing-streak because the club’s latest newsletter interviewed other supporters? Do you chant your team’s name from the terraces because the club offers gift cards?
How about your favourite band? Did you choose them because their management company ran ‘Fan of the Month’ rewards? Perhaps it was content in their fanzine that was the clincher? Or was it because they once played a free gig for charity?
OK – I’m exaggerating for effect. But you get my point. You’re not likely to stand in the rain at a concert, endure a humbling at the hands of derby rivals or go vegan to save the planet because someone offered you vouchers for Bed, Bath and Beyond.
You do it because of the way you feel inside. Because of the deep longing to have, experience or accomplish something.
So why would we expect employees to stick with companies through thick and thin, go the extra mile for customers, or strive to create killer new products and services because they’ve been invited to Taco Tuesday?
I’m not saying PR and Internal communications don’t have a place in engagement – far from it. They provide important infrastructure and tools to help organisations share information effectively and efficiently. But on their own, the best they can ever achieve is alignment.
And alignment is not the same as engagement. PR and internal communications initiatives might provide the mechanism, but they do not provide the meaning.
It’s a bit like when your kids realise there’s no Father Christmas.
They’re still subject to a torrent of ‘heart-warming’ adverts reminding us all of the meaning of Christmas (thank you John Lewis). Their favourite retailers constantly remind them that they are thinking about those less fortunate and giving something back. Global influencers pop up in their Tik Tok feed to legitimise some company’s Christmassy credentials.
But does any of this make them as excited, passionate, absorbed or committed to Christmas as when they thought an obese man who ran a sweat shop for diminutive mythical creatures broke into their homes every year?
I’m willing to bet that if you asked them how ‘engaged’ they are with Christmas, despite all the advertising, product placement, virtue signalling, giveaways or ‘brand experiences’ on offer, you’ll mostly get an eye roll, a shrug and at best, a resigned ambivalence to all the festive hoopla.
The same look you get at most company AGMs, executive town halls or top down corporate missives about how the company brings its values to life.
If you’re serious about employee engagement, stop focussing on the mechanism and start focussing on the meaning.