3 Reasons Why Your Employee Engagement Program Is Meh!

Relationships aren’t built in a day (or a staff meeting). It takes time and plenty of respectful interactions in order to create engaged, empowered employees.

We’ve all witnessed it. The mandatory company-led birthday parties attended with all the enthusiasm of a colonoscopy. The barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland that is your Office Potluck sign-up sheet.

Employee engagement is a finicky beast, but it seems like fun-time activities, parties and treats should be just the ticket to get your employees out of a slump. I mean, who doesn’t love an excuse to eat cake in the middle of the day? But ultimately, employee engagement isn’t about pastries, it’s about personal connection.

Here are three reasons why your employee engagement efforts may be falling flat:


  1. Your Employee Recognition Is Meh

    There’s nothing like the gift of a fuzzy-troll pencil topper to show someone how little you understand their day-to-day needs. Sure! Your monthly staff meetings are comprised of letting high-performing employees choose a small prize from a box of trinkets.

    It sounds like a good idea, until your employees realize their rewards were cheap, children’s party favors. In that case, a box of treats at your office party is more like a box of insults.

    Find out what your employees actually like – maybe stress balls, scented candles, or tea bags. These are equally cost-effective, but much more thoughtful. Employees aren’t asking for expensive gifts – they just wanted to feel like you consider what might actually brighten their days, instead of buying the cheapest “rewards” possible.

  2. Your Company Culture Sucks

    There’s not enough corn syrup in the world to distract someone from a toxic workplace. Just the way you can’t slap a Band-Aid over a gaping wound, you can’t expect a jelly donut or a novelty pencil to cure your employee-engagement woes. Fun initiatives like parties, contests, and gifts can be an important part of creating highly motivated employees, but it can’t be the only part.

    If you want to create a truly engaged workforce, you have to find ways to make the work itself meaningful to each employee. This starts by understanding what your company’s higher purpose is – and letting your people have a sense of their important role within it. Remember: your incentive program should complement an already-engaging environment. Otherwise your morale-boosting office party is just a lot cake and confetti.

    Start by creating a challenging workplace characterized by respect, positivity, and personal connection. And then, by all means, throw a party!

  3. You’re Not Consistent

    During staff meetings, it is great when you publicly recognize employee accomplishments. It makes your team feel valued … until you hold their private meetings later. When employees show up for a performance review, back behind closed doors, things change.

    There, they are told their efforts are okay, but still needed lots of improvement. They aren’t showing enough hustle – why aren’t they working harder? Didn’t they know their jobs were on the line? Yikes. If you aren’t treating people with respect outside of the conference room, then praising them publicly is only going to go so far.

    Public praise is nice, but it’s not going to compensate for tactless feedback and poor-quality interactions. At best, you seem inconsistent. At worst, disingenuous.

Relationships aren’t built in a day (or a staff meeting). It takes time and plenty of respectful interactions in order to create engaged, empowered employees.

After all this …

It’s easy for your employees to feel discouraged about what makes a good employee engagement program. But the main thing to remember is that employee engagement isn’t simply a matter of buying the right treats or planning the coolest party. In the meantime… save us a donut, would you?


This article has been edited and condensed.

Feliza David is the co-author of “This Is How We’ve Always Done It: Insights & Anecdotes from the Heart of Healthcare.” She writes and designs for Recourse Resource, a Midwest-based consulting company specializing in improving the total healthcare experience. Feliza resides in Indiana, where she lives with her husband, two dogs, one cat, and the occasional goldfish. Connect with @emdt on Twitter.



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