Breaking the Rule of Engagement: New Opportunities for Internal Communication


Mike Klein

The push for employee engagement has begun its decline, which is something that should cause the spirits of internal communicators to soar.

It may be too early to declare victory, but prominent articles in Harvard Business Review and Forbes reflect increasingly vocal skepticism among HR practitioners and internal communicators at the idea of employee engagement as an almighty purpose for our profession. The unwillingness of the international IC measurements standards team to include engagement in its work underscores this skepticism.

The waning faith in the real value of employee engagement is also reflected in more frequent challenges to the main unwritten IC rule that’s been in place since the turn of the century: The goal of internal communication is to drive high engagement survey scores, across the board, and all other goals and activities were either secondary or immaterial. Now, we see increasing appetite for selective and strategic IC interventions unconnected to the employee engagement agenda.

Why now?

The value of high employee engagement scores has always been difficult to measure. Even with a much-lauded relationship between employee engagement and various measures of organizational performance, the relationship between investment in employee engagement initiatives and actual performance is far more elusive. Indeed, there does not appear to be an established relationship between spending on employee engagement initiatives and employee engagement scores.

The damage unleashed by the enforced focus of internal communication on a one-size-fits-all strategy is much easier to assess: