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Three Examples of Employee Engagement Failures

Paul Warner

Paul Warner

September 17, 2014

It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space

Initech is the fictional software company from the movie Office Space that probably doesn’t even know how to spell engagement; the employees either stare at their desks, war with the printers, (although sometimes you cannot help this), or kill time shuffling papers from place to place. On a scale of one to engaged, Initech ranks in at a -23. Don’t be Initech. Hawaiian-shirt days are a no-no. Even though this company is fictional, unfortunately companies that lack serious engagement for their employees still exist.


Find that hard to believe? Here are three examples of employee engagement failures:


  1. In 2011 Wells Fargo, worried its recent announcement of a $3.8 billion profit wasn’t “sexy” enough for Wall Street, launched Project Compass. Project Compass, a “bottom-up initiative” that would ask their employees to produce ideas that would trim costs and increase efficiencies. This doesn’t sound too bad, except for the fact that the main expense employees were asked to help cut was their own jobs. It’s hard to make employees feel empowered when you’re asking them to help decide which of their friends will be let go.
  2. Torbay Hospital in England was awarded the Acute Healthcare Organization of the Year Award for 2011. Twenty of its leaders enjoyed a lavish dinner and an awards ceremony in London. Sounds fancy. How did they reward the 4,000 employees who helped make the award possible? Kit-Kat bars. Actually, let me rephrase that – the staff got vouchers for Kit-Kat bars.
  3. More and more companies seem to be spending money on incentive bonuses to try to keep their people from leaving in the growing job market. According to salary data website,, 72 percent of employers awarded incentive bonuses in 2012, compared to only 53 percent in 2010. Despite the cash offers, engagement scores overall haven’t budged much across most organizations.


The reason these and other efforts of employee engagement don’t work is simple: they have very little to do with engagement. The cash bonus is a short-term satisfaction factor to make the employees happy, but what we’re looking for here is long-term engagement of the employees. Employee engagement isn’t easy to come by but once it happens, it can transform your organization.


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